The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California on November 14, 1986 · 8
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The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California · 8

San Francisco, California
Issue Date:
Friday, November 14, 1986
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mi prison Firsthand survey of jail torture By Ron Ridenhour SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER Five imprisoned members of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of El Salvador have released a jailhouse survey documenting the "routine" and "systematic" use of at least 40 kinds of torture on political prisoners. The five men, who were arrested in early summer, conducted interviews with more than 400 fellow inmates at a prison outside El Salvador to document the treatment they received after their arrests. The tortures allegedly used include beatings, electric shocks, burning, submersion, suffocation, mock executions, deprivation of food, water, sleep and toilet facilities, the "hood," the "rack," the "hammock," and various forms of psychological torture. The survey findings were denounced by U.S. and Salvadoran officials, but other international human rights organizations said the survey was consistent with their previous work in El Salvador. Torture, according to the study's frequently vitriolic analysis of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government's counterinsurgency policies, is a deliberate and routine element of the United States' "low-intensity warfare" strategy. But, the study also says, torture is a long-established, institutionalized habit among the Salvadoran military and police forces. What is new to torture in El Salvador, according to the study, is that it is now a systematic part of the U.S. counterinsurgency program there. Low-intensity warfare is a Pentagon concept to deal with wars like those in El Salvador, Angola and a number of other Third World trouble spots. The basic goal is to conduct insurgencies or counterinsurgen-cies in which military means are not the sole way to win. One of the fundamental features of low intensity warfare, according to Sarah Miles, who wrote a long study of the strategy for the North American Congress on Latin America, is a vastly increased reliance on intelligence operations and the control of the populace. In Washington, El Salvador's ambassador-at-large, Ernesto Ri-vas Gallont, denied the allegation that torture was a systematic element of the government's treatment of political prisoners there. "Human rights is not the big issue anymore," Rivas Galiont said Thursday. "In 1981, 1982, human rights abuses could be? termed an iastitu-tional element of the government. Since then there has been a substantial and constant improvement in human rights in El Salvador," he said. "It is going to be made an Issue by the non-governmental Human Rights Commission, but we know that most of its members have direct connections to the FMLN," the Spanish acronym for the main Salvadoran rebel group. "I'm not saying that the authorities are not concerned with the isolated instances of human rights abuses that do occur, but they are working to put an end to them very, very soon." U.S. State Department spokesman James Callahan called the charges in the commission's report "absurd" and "totally without foundation." He labeled the study's authors a communist "front organization." "We don't have any doubt that the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador is a front for the FMLN and it is trying to discredit the Salvadoran government and U.S. policy there," Callahan said. "That is definitely a piece of propaganda," he said, referring to the study. The FMLN is the coalition of several Salvadoran revolutionary factions that have been trying to oust the CS.-backed government of President Jose Napoleon Duarte and his predecessors since at least 1979. Early last spring a Salvadoran woman associated with the human rights group, know n by its Spanish initials CDHES, was arrested and held for several weeks before she appeared at a press conferences In late May and early June to denounce five commission members The pinata victim is suspended then beaten (Drawings taken from The hammock Two 'Sectors II' squad members hold the prisoner by hands and feet, banging him against the wall - as belonging to the political arms of the FMLN. The five, Miguel Angel Rogel Montenegro, Herbert Ernesto An-aya Sanabria, Reynaldo Blanco Ro-jas, Joaquin Antonio Careres Hernandez, and Rafael Antonio Tere-zon Ramos, were arrested shortly thereafter and charged with being "enemies of the state." They are still being held at El Salvador's main prison for political prisoners, "La Esperanza" (Hope) in San Luis Mariona near San Salvador. They were moved there after having been held incommunicado for 15 days. Soon after their imprisonment there they began the study on torture, interviewing all prisoners captured and interrogated since Jan. 1. Thomas McCarthy, an official with the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, aid in a telephone interview that CDHES is a U.N.recognized human rights group. While not personally familiar with this study, McCarthy said, the group's work has been reliable in the past. Spokesmen for two other human-rights advocacy groups, Amnesty International and Americas 'There has boon a substantial and constant improvomont in human rights in El Salvador' Ambassador Ernesto Rivas Gallont Watch, said they had not yet read the study on torture, but from what they knew of it, its findings generally matched their own. Holly Burkhalter of Americas Watch said CDHES had taken a decidedly anti-government stance in El Salvador in the past Nevertheless, Burkhalter said, "the testimonies CDHES has taken (previously) comport with the testimonies we have taken." "Torture is real in El Salvador," Burkhalter said. Rona Weitz, the Latin America coordinator for Amnesty International, echoed that sentiment. "El Salvador is one of the many countries where Amnesty considers torture to be a systematic, routine practice that usually occurs when a person is held incommunicado for a certain period," Weitz said. The kinds of torture described in the report is certainly consistent with what is commonly known to occur in El Salvador." The State Department's Callahan called Americas Watch "an organization with which we dis by hands, thumbs or feet and report on jailhouse survey) agree very strongly." He said the group is "highly politicized." Callahan had no comment regarding -the views of Amnesty International. Since December 1980, El Salvadorwhich has both a governmental and non-governmental human rights commission, has been on the United Nation's watch list of countries with particularly bad records of human rights abuses. For each of those countries El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Afghanistan and South Africa a special U.N. official, known as a special rapporteur, has been designated to keep tabs oh the , progress of human rights. El Salvador's special rapporteur, Spanish attorney and law professor Jose Antonio Pastore Riduego, is to present a major report on human rights conditions in El Salvador next week at the United Nations. , y ' Pastore Riduego was in San Salvador in late September when the CDHES study on torture was completed and reportedly was given a copy at that time. Efforts to reach Pastor Riduego through the United Nations and at his office in Madrid were unsuccessful. CDHES was formed in the mid-1970s, largely in response to El Salvador's death squads. The governmental Human Rights Commission was organized at about the same time that Duarte took office in 1983. San Francisco attorney Karen Parker, a specialist in international human rights law, said that she had helped organize the study of torture in El Salvador. i Parker said that she and the members of CDHES, with whom she said she has been working "for years," were credentialed by the United Nations as "non-governmental representatives" to the world body on human rights. Each is a member of the International Federation of Human Rights, a U.N.-sanctioned human rights watchdog whose headquarters is in Paris. Parker and other members of the federation are not employees of the United Nations, but their U.N. credentials allow them to testify and present evidence before the United Nations as independent, unaffiliated specialists in human rights issues. When the Salvadoran government's Human Rights Commission testifies before the United Nations, Parker said, it speaks as the voice of the government It is an important distinction, Parker said, particularly in the case of a country like EI Salvador, whose record on human rights is sufficiently tarnished to warrant a special rapporteur. So when the five members of CDHES were arrested and imprisoned last summer, Parker said, she and two other Ui. attorneys went to their aid in El Salvador. Soon after their detention at The hood allegedly used in questioning Salvadoran political prisoners; made of rubber and coated inside with caustic lime The horse Interrogator puts on rioor and grabs nair or jaw to Mariona began, according to Parker, the five CDHES members began to interview their fellow prisoners. " ' Mariona is considered some- 'Thokindof torturois consistent with what is kno wn to occur in El Salvador' i ' -'. Rona Weitz, Amnesty . '' ' ; . International thing of an anomaly in El Salvador, a place were political prisoners enjoy more autonomy inside the prison than out. With certain restrictions, prisoners assigned to the political section at Mariona are self-governing and enjoy easy access to each other and to the materials required to produce the study on torture. Parker refused to discuss exactly how the study had been taken out of the prison or how it had made its way to the United States. "This study came out of Mariona in the same way that we get reports of human rights violations from the Soviet Union, from Iran, from Pakistan and from all the other places where they occur," Parker said. 7 The five commission members discovered that all the prisonerslike themselves were held incommunicado for "interrogation" for at least eight days after their capture and without being able to speak to an attorney for at least 15 days. It was during this period, particularly the first eight days, according to the study, that the tortures occurred. Again like everyone else, after their initial 15 days of detention, the members of the commission were consigned to "La Esperanza" prison. t- The study on torture is based on interviews with 443 of the 2,165 men it says were imprisoned there for "crimes against the state" between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year. Although there were Just under 1,000 political prisoners at Mariona when the five members of CDHES arrived, according to the study, they chose to include in the study the interviews of only those arrested since Jan. 1. As the study was nearing completion, one of the U.S. attorneys, Elisabeth S. Brodyaga, a Texas immigration law specialist, took the sworn statements of eight men whose affidavits are included in the study. All but two of the men interviewed, the study charges, reported having been tortured by sol handcuffed prisoner face down J pull head forcefully back . diers of the Sectors II" of the armed f orces or police. Sectors II . are intelligence units in El Salvador, the rough equivalent of the U.S. military's S-2. In addition to their role as keepers of. Salvadoran political , loyalty, Sectors II also gather polit-, ical and military intelligence. I The systematic use of torture on Salvadoran political prisoners, the study concludes, together with the continued (although diminished) use of death-squad assassi-nations and the kidnappings of the "disappeared," are all part of EI ' Salvador's,U.S.-conceived and -backed counterinsurgency campaign. ' "I' ' , ' J . " There is a routine, Orwellian practicality to the world of torture described in the affidavits and the narrative that accompanies them. All military and police units have Sectors II or "political police" elements, the study asserts, whose role is to suppress not just members of the FMLN guerrilla organizations, but all who oppose the Duarte government. The usually heavily armed political police of every unit, according to the study, routinely patrol in civilian dress, using exactly the same manner, look and method of operation as El Salvador's infamous death squads. While the activities of El Salvador's death squads have diminished, they have not ceased. The similarity between death squad Tho report is 'absurd' and 'totally without foundation from a communist 'front' State Department's James Callahan kidnappings and political arrests, according to the report, is deliberately designed to escalate the cap-. tives' sense of fear and uncertainty- Once a suspect is in custody, according to the study, the general pattern is for the interrogations and the torture to begin almost immediately. The interrogation generally begins with demands that the captive "confess" to being a guerrilla. . "There exists one master accusation," according to the study. "They indiscriminately accuse Innocent people ... of being sympathizers, collaborators or militants of the rebels In arms." . Demands for confession to these charges, the study says, are interspersed with beatings administered in a variety of ways to different parts of the body. v, As the days wear on, accord- ing to the study, different tortures are introduced, including the application of electric shock to different parts of the body. Prisoners also are routinely , deprived of sleep, food, water and use of a toilet Prisoners almost always are blindfolded or "hooded" much Of thetiirie." ' - Death threaW against the prisoner and his. family are another; constant theme during these interrogations, according to the study, with mock executions reported in a great number of interviews. : ' Suffocation, . burnings, sut mersion, forced or deceptive us6 of drugs and various forms of psychological torture are also widely used, the study says; , ' " After the eighth day of detention, according to the provisions of Decree 50, prisoners accused of political crimes must be made available to the International Commit tee of the Red Cross; 1 - to t Decree 50 is the provision o1 Salvadoran Jaw legalizing the detention of political prisoners incommunicado for the first eight days of captivity and the denial of access to an attorney for the first IS days.- 1 . rr-ni- r ' Decree 50 was originally pro mulgated as a compromise ,0$ tween the Salvadoran governmenj and human rights groups to pr vide people arrested on political charges with some basic human rights.,,.- .,VH Under Salvadoran law, people; arrested as common . criminals-must either be released or charged' with a specific crime within a short time after their arrest : ! Of the 443 men interviewed the study states, 441 said they had; been tortured. Of those, it iayst1 only one, failed to sigh a "confess sion" as a result. 'r . Adding insult to injury, the, study says, detainees are frequenU ly required to sign "confessions e that are blank sheets of paper; the' actual crimes being confessed .to are added sometime later. , - After the confession is made; the study says, the prisoners are usually required to name or point) out other people and charge them with being coconspirators of some sort. At that point, according to the study, the torture begins anew. All the while, the study states, repeatedly, the Duarte governs ment and U.S. Embassy constanm affirm their adherence to the pr&w ciples of Duarte's announced pC2 cy of respect for human rights. That posture, according 22 Parker and the study, is a reacting to intense international pressing; on both governments tq reduaS human rights violations in El SaEj vador. . , j That pressure according tol Parker, explains to part ; thej through-the-looking-glass - reality; of the condition of human rights she believes exists in El Salvador. The picture on one side of the) glass, the everyday lives of work- ing class and poor Salvadorans, ac-j cording to the study, is the daily; routine of selective assassinations, arrests, disappearances and the kinds of torture described in the! study. Torture is practiced there, the; study says, m a manner designed to obscure its existence under a shroud created by the stated poli- cy of 'respect for human rights.' " On the other side of the glass, according to Parker and the study, the U.S. and Salvadoran govern ments paint an insistent public vi sion of an unruly but basically tamed Salvadoran military. Parker said she was told by Salvadoran officials in June that the army, like any army, still has certain elements who make occa sional human rights "errors." But; the officials deny that there is any systematic governmental cam paign to do so. That is the position of the U.S. government, as well, Parker said. Callahan at the State Department vehemently denied all the allegations contained in the study While some torture may be com mitted by renegade elements of the military and police in El Salva dor, he said, "it is certainly not an officially sanctioned policy." The suggestion it might be an officially sanctioned policy "com pletely discredits that report," Cat lahan said. Ron Ridenhour is a writer based in New Orleans. He has writ ten for major US. newspapers and magazines. In December 1968, he was discharged from the US. Ar my after serving in Vietnam and wrote a letter of complaint to members of Congress and others urging an investigation of atroci ties in South Vietnam. That letter led to the revelations about the Army's massacre of civilians in the. village of My Lai.

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