9. TORTURE IN EL SALVADOR: THE CENSORED REPORT FROM
In late 1986, a 165-page report was smuggled
out of the Mariona men's prison in El Salvador. The report was compiled by five
imprisoned members of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES). The
report documents the "routine" and "systematic" use of at
least 40 kinds of torture on political prisoners.
The report made three
main points: first, torture is systematic, not random; second, the methods of
torture are becoming more clever; and finally, U.S. servicemen often act as supervisors.
What is new to torture in El Salvador, according to the study, is that the use
of torture, together with the continued (although diminished) use of death-squad
kidnappings of the "disappeared," are all a systematic part of the U.S.
counterinsurgency program there.
The Marin Interfaith Task Force, from Mill Valley, California, assembled
the smuggled report from Mariona prison into a document titled "Torture
in El Salvador." Starting in September, 1986, the Task Force has
tried to generate media interest in the story. Suzanne Bristol of the
task force, said the group sent the report to the nation's major newspapers,
including THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE BOSTON GLOBE,
and the LOS ANGELES TIMES, as well as to the wire services. By February,
1987, when Alexander Cockburn wrote his article for THE NATION, UPI
had run a Spanish-language story and the report had received coverage
on Spanish-language radio, in Mexican periodicals and in Europe. Follow-up
calls to the above papers produced nothing, except for two letters in
December from Art Seidenbaum of the LOS ANGELES TIMES, who first wrote
"You send plenty of homework," and later wrote "We really
have ... no staff for making a 1500-word article out of a large series
As Cockburn noted, it was "during this period, on November 22,
Secretary of State George Shultz asked Congress to approve nearly $7
million in police aid for El Salvador in 1987, providing the necessary
certification that the government of El Salvador had 'made significant
progress during the six-month period preceding this determination in
eliminating any human rights violations, including torture, incommunicado
Apparently only one newspaper gave the
actual report substantial coverage. The SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER ran two excellent
articles by free lance journalist Ron Ridenhour, who quoted State Department spokesman
James Callahan saying that the CDHES, the only Salvadoran human rights group recognized
by the United Nations, is a communist "front organization." (It was
Ridenhour's charges that led to the revelations about the Army's massacre of civilians
in My Lai.)
On October 26, 1987, assassins, probably belonging to the Salvadoran
security forces, murdered Herbert Ernesto Anaya, head of the Salvadoran Human
Rights Commission and the last survivor of that commission's eight founders.
also was one of the five original researchers and authors of the smuggled report
from the Mariona men's prison.
THE NATION, 2/21/87, "After
the Press Bus Left," pp 206-207, and THE NATION, 11/14/87, "The Press
and the Plan," pp 546-547, both by Alexander Cockburn; SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER,
11/14/86, "In prison, Salvador rights panel works on," by Ron Ridenhour,
p A-8; Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America, 7/2/87 letter and various
documents, by Liz Erringer.