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SOA graduates held responsible for torture

August 2, 2002 | Page 2

FINALLY TWO graduates of the U.S. government's terrorist training camp--the School of the Americas (SOA)--have been exposed as war criminals.

Last week, a federal jury in Florida awarded $54.6 million to Juan Romagoza Arce, Neriz Gonzalez and Carlos Mauricio. The three, originally from El Salvador, were tortured by Salvadoran security goons commanded by Gen. José Guillermo Garcia and Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova.

Garcia and Casanova were trained in "counterinsurgency" techniques at the SOA, and both received U.S. Legion of Merit awards from the State Department. The men held top posts, including minister of defense, in the Salvadoran government during the 1980s, when tens of thousands of people were killed by death squads linked to the army and counterinsurgency sweeps --all supported by more than $1 billion in aid from the Reagan administration.

During the trial, the three plaintiffs detailed horrific stories of abuse. Neriz Gonzalez, a church worker, was kidnapped in 1979 by four National Guardsmen--because she was teaching local peasants how to read.

Although eight months pregnant, she was brutally raped and tortured over a period of two weeks--subjected to electric shocks, cigarette burns, submersion in ice-cold water for hours and cuts with a razor blade on her fingertips, thighs and breasts. Her infant son was born with multiple injuries and died two months later.

The generals' lawyer claims that Garcia and Casanova don't have the money to pay the award or appeal the verdict. But for the victims, the verdict itself is vindication. "I'm so happy to have won and to be able to punish the generals and torturers responsible," Gonzalez told the Washington Post.

Now it's time to hold the U.S. government responsible--for training and backing these monsters.

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