TORTURE IN EL SALVADOR:THE CENSORED REPORT FROM MARIONA PRISON
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 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 of reports."
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 detention ...'"
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.
Anaya also was one of the five original researchers and authors
of the smuggled report from the Mariona men's prison.
SOURCES: 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.