Tuesday, October 06, 2015

CIA lawsuit implicates Archbishop Romero



The University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UW CHR) has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with potential ramifications for the investigation of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.  The complaint filed in federal court in Washington State alleges that the CIA failed to properly respond to the UW CHR’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the declassification of documents regarding the alleged involvement of retired Salvadoran Colonel Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez in war crimes, including the El Calabozo massacre on August 22, 1982; the Santa Cruz Massacre of November 14, 1981; as well as Ochoa Pérez’ questionable links to the Romero assassination on March 24, 1980.
Ochoa Pérez, a retired legislator and diplomat, has dismissed reports of his alleged responsibility for the Santa Cruz massacre as vague and therefore false.  With respect to the Romero assassination, Ochoa Pérez is not typically included among the participants in the plot to assassinate Romero.  For example, Ochoa is not named in the 1993 U.N. Truth Commission Report on the assassination; nor in the 2000 OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights investigation report; nor in a 2004 U.S. federal court adjudication regarding the case.
Ochoa P­érez was, however, personally and ideologically close to those accused of perpetrating the crime.  Ochoa Pérez was a member of “la tandona”—the 1966 military academy graduating class that also includes Maj. Roberto D’Aubuisson, the accused mastermind of the Romero assassination, and Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, convicted for the 1989 massacre of the Jesuit staff at the Central American University in San Salvador.
The UW CHR complaint makes passing reference to “at least one document,” declassified by the CIA, “in which Col. Ochoa is alleged to have been connected to the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.”  [Complaint at ¶10.]  The reference is to an October 1980 memo which reports that “Lt. Col. Julio Agustín Trujillo, former commander of the telecommunications garrison and a leading supporter of Colonel Adolfo Majano of the Revolutionary Governing Junta (JRG) said on 3 October 1980 that Subsecretary of Defense, Colonel Nicolás Carranza, has told several military officers that one of those responsible for the murder of Archbishop Romero is Lt. Col. Sigrido [sic] Ochoa.  Trujillo found this information to be completely credible.”
There is some confusion relating to names.  A second declassified CIA document dated March 1983 reports that the suspect listed in the 1980 memo “may be identifiable with one Ltc. Sigfredo (Ochoa) Trujillo”—a different maternal last name than Ochoa Pérez (in Spanish name conventions, the names of the father and the mother are customarily used).  Additionally, the documents are inconsistent as to the spelling of the subject’s first name (Sigrido, Sigfredo, Sigifredo, etc.), and hard to follow as to the man’s military rank at various points in time.

Additionally, there is a history of false accusations in the Romero case, often motivated by politics.  At one point, the D’Aubuisson camp produced a falsified videotaped confession suggesting an imprisoned man was responsible for the crime.  It is conceivable that Ochoa was falsely accused by people with an axe to grind: Ochoa himself turned states’ evidence and testified against Benavides in the Jesuit case.  Perhaps, such doubts will only be clarified if all the relevant documents are released, though the documents principally sought appear to relate to the other massacres and not to the Romero assassination.
The UW CHR complaint attaches an August 10, 2015 sworn statement by Lord Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding Archbishop Romero, whom he characterizes as “a moral leader of exceptional stature, and an outspoken critic of the widespread violent crimes perpetrated by the then government against its own people.”  He notes that Romero was recently beatified by the Church.  To be declared a martyr means that someone is recognized as having given their life in defense of the Christian faith,” Williams writes.  Echoing Mgr. Romero's call to the government of El Salvador to act transparently and ethically, I would make the same plea to the US government,” he says, urging the release of the documents.
In addition to its legal obligations under FOIA, the U.S. government has a moral responsibility to support the cause of truth and justice in El Salvador, especially given the extent to which the U.S. supported the Salvadoran military during the country’s civil war,” UW CHR Director Angelina Snodgrass Godoy said in a statement released to the press.

In recent comments, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chavez, appealed for a reinvigorated investigation of the case Romero. “There is a very large deficit with respect to Archbishop Romero, they (justice) have abandoned the request that the case be investigated seriously,” the bishop lamented.

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