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JOURNAL Jesuit Criticizes Investigation in El Salvador DALLAS Almost a year after the brutal killing of six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter in El Salvador, no one has been brought to trial. Of the nine men arrested, the highest ranking is a colonel. Two are lieutenants, and others are enlisted men. Was the crime solely conceived and executed by these relatively low-ranking soldiers or were others involved? If the men under arrest were the trigger men, were they following orders of a higher authority? If so, who was that authority? These questions were raised by Reverend Joseph Berra, S.J., who addressed 150 members of the religious and lay communities gathered at the Jesuit lecture hall in Dallas early last month. Another question on the minds of El Salvador watchers is: Why is the investigation taking so long? Since the investigation began, Berra has closely followed it. An Austin resident and native of St. Louis, Berra was assigned to the Jesuits’ Central American province in 1982. At the Central American University he became both a colleague and student of the slain Jesuits. Since the killings he has served as liaison between the United States Jesuit Conference, the Jesuits’ Central American Province, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a New York-based organization monitoring the investigation for the U.S. Jesuits. Berra acted as an interpreter for the Association of United States Jesuit University Presidents during their February 1990 fact-finding tour, and helped arrange the resettlement of an initial witness, Lucia Barrera de Cerna from El Salvador to the United States. In Dallas. Berra discussed what has been thus far discovered about the killings: The killings were carefully orchestrated, according to Berra. On November 13, 1989, three days before the killings occurred, a unit of the notorious Atlacatl Immediate Reaction Battalion, then on a training mission with U.S. advisors, was ordered back to San Salvador. Two hours after their arrival in the capital, Atlacatl soldiers searched the Jesuits’ residence on the campus of the Central American University. The priests reported that the soldiers concentrated their search on the residence, showing little interest in the rest of the campus. The soldiers’ principal concern was the plan of the building and names of residents, Berra said, making their presence on the campus seem more a reconnaissance than a search. Hours before the murders, the Atlacatl unit stationed itself near the university, and some members told local residents there might be “fireworks” that night. The killings took place in the early hours of the following morning, under the cover of a mock rebel attack. Four hundred troops were positioned in the area to guard the nearby military facility that housed a military school and high command headquarters. None of the soldiers responded to the shooting and flares when the Atlacatl unit supposedly came under attack. “I think that this is strong evidence that there was a wider conspiracy,” Berra said. He also raised the question of how Colonel Guillermo Benavides, now accused as leader of the Jesuits’ killers, could have collaborated with junior officers of the Atlacatl unit to carry out the attack. Benavides was head of the military school and had no connection with the Atlacatl Battalion. Berra asked how this could have occurred without the direction of someone in the military high command. In December 1989, amid growing pressure from the U.S. Congress, the military appointed an honor commission to investigate the massacre, and nine soldiers were hastily indicted. At that point, the investigation stalled. The Salvadoran judicial system gives the presiding judge broad powers of investigation, but does not put independent investigators at his disposal. Judge Ricardo A. Zamora, who is considered an honest and impartial judge, must rely on the military investigators or sources who voluntarily come forward with information, Berra said. Neither has been very productive. Emerging from the question of a wider conspiracy in the killings, according to Berra, is growing evidence of a cover-up conspiracy of the investigation. For months the army stonewalled the judge’s request for testimony from the gate guards on duty at the high command headquarters on the night the priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were killed. Logbooks showing who entered the high command on that night were burned and officers responsible for the records blame each other and claim a misunderstanding, rather than intentional destruction of evidence. The behavior of U.S. officials suggests U.S. complicity and is hindering the investigation, according to Ben -a. “What happened to the witness demonstrates they [the U.S. State Department] don’t have the best interests of truth and justice in mind,” Ben -a said. After testifying before Salvadoran authorities, Lucia Ban -era de Cerna was brought to the Unites States for her protection, with the understanding that the Jesuits would assist in their resettlement. Upon her arrival in Miami, she was interrogated for several days by FBI agents and a Salvadoran army investigator. Held in isolation and not allowed legal coun sel, Barrera de Cerna was intimidated until she changed her story, Barrera said. The State Department sent word back to El Salvador that the woman was not a reliable witness. The U.S. part in the investigation, according to Berra, has taken the form of noncooperation. In January, a U.S. intelligence officer told reporters that on the morning after the murders, Salvadoran officers attending a meeting at the high command applauded when informed of the Jesuit killings. The participants in the meeting denied it and when Judge Zamora asked for testimony from the U.S. officer, the State Department refused to make him available. U.S. Major Eric Buckland, alleged to have knowledge of the cover-up which implicates Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Antonio Rivas, the chief military investigator in the case, has been transferred back to the United States. The U.S. has not allowed him to testify, claiming diplomatic immunity. The U.S. Army has refused to make Buckland available to meet with the press. Questions about what U.S. advisors knew and when they knew it remain. The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights wrote to the Defense Department, the State Department, and the CIA, asking for all documents relating to the case. The Defense Department responded that it has 21 documents, but they are labeled “Not Available for Release” due to national security interests. The lawyers wrote again, asking what national security interests these documents could possibly jeopardize. They have not received a reply. Father Ben -a quoted Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Joe Moakley, who conducted a fact-finding mission for the House Speaker’s Special Task Force. “I believe the high command of the Salvadoran Army is implicated in a conspiracy to block the advance of justice in the case of the Jesuits … I don’t believe that could be done without at least the tacit consent of the high command.” According to Father Berra, the only hope for putting the investigation back on track is that someone, among of all the subjects who have offered up contradictory testimony, will be proved to be lying and the cover-up exposed. Berra said he doubts this will happen, because the Salvadoran officer’s corps is a tight-knit club. And as time goes on, the information becomes softer and less accessible. Cooperation by the United States could also advance the investigation, but that is unlikely, according to Berra. “There’s an important piece in the puzzle that the U.S. could provide,” Berra said. “But they won’t make it available.” KENNETH EPPS Kenneth Epps is a freelance writer living in Dallas. 16 OCTOBER 12, 1990