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 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.
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.