Consent to Killing? | Sojourners

Consent to Killing?

The brutal murder of six prominent Jesuit priests and their two co-workers at the University of Central America (UCA) in November 1989 shocked the world. It also gave rise immediately to the question: Who in the Salvadoran high command ordered these military-style killings? This question has yet to be answered.

In a speech on July 1, 1991, at the same university, Rep. Joseph Moakley of Massachusetts, the member of Congress most involved in the case, put it this way: "I am convinced that, at a minimum, the [Salvadoran] high command of the armed forces knew soon after the murders which unit was responsible for the crimes. At a minimum they sought to limit the scope of the investigation in order to protect certain officers from prosecution."

Another question of potentially greater importance for the United States now looms. How much did our military and diplomatic personnel in El Salvador know about plans to kill the Jesuits? This startling inquiry has as its basis testimony given the FBI by U.S. Army Special Forces Maj. Eric Warren Buckland on January 12, 1990. A transcript of Buckland's statement recently came into Sojourners' possession through the Jesuit Social Ministries office in Washington, DC. Jesuits in El Salvador got a copy from the presiding judge in the case, Ricardo Zamora, who had obtained the transcript of the one-hour testimony, but not the unexpurgated video, from the U.S. Embassy there.

Maj. Buckland's statements illustrate the narrowest of military mentalities at work in the highly politicized and complex Salvadoran world of the 1980s. Buckland fancies himself a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia (in his words, "Eric of El Salvador"), using the fatuous nom de guerre "Cheli." Above all, the major's loyalty is to his counterpart in the Salvadoran military establishment, Col. Carlos Aviles, the man who let him in on the plan to invade the university and kill its personnel.

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