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Declassified Documents Provide Key Evidence in Jesuit Case Arrest Warrant

May 31, 2011

The "Audencia Nacional", or "National Court" of Spain

Yesterday, a Spanish judge issued indictments and arrest warrants for 20 high ranking El Salvadoran officials for their alleged involvement in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s 16 year old daughter. The defendants are charged with crimes against humanity and state terrorism for the murders, reports a Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) press release. The indictments and arrest warrants were issued after the case was originally filed in the National Court of Spain by the CJA in 2008.

Former Minister of Defense Rafael Humberto Larios is the highest ranking official indicted in the 77-page report issued by Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco. Also included in the list of 20 defendants is former Minister of Defense, René Emilio Ponce, who died earlier this month.

The lengthy report indicates the evidence and testimony that will likely be used in the case, including the expert witness testimony of the National Security Archive’s Senior Analyst Kate Doyle. Doyle will likely be called to testify on declassified United States documents from the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense.  Stanford University Professor Terry Karl will draw upon declassified U.S. documents to provide testimony on the context of the armed conflict in El Salvador.  Judge Velasco writes in the report that information provided by Doyle, Karl, and others will provide the court with a context of the war which culminated in the violation of human rights, and in this specific case, xenophobia toward the Jesuits at the Central American University in El Salvador where the massacre took place.

In his report, Judge Velasco writes:

An abundant amount of information, collected and carefully analyzed, is contained in thousands of documents declassified by United States government agencies, thanks to President Clinton and requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the majority of which was not available in previous investigations.

But the judge also called for the declassification of thousands of still secret records relating to the Jesuit case:

The agencies in charge of making the information public have identified 3000 other documents that remain secret and are not available; the reasoning given is that privacy is needed to protect sources and methods. Many of the documents, from the CIA and the Defense Department, are not available…

Drawing on research submitted to the court by Kate Doyle, the Spanish ruling noted that some documents had been “reclassified.” “In an unusual practice, some of the documents, once available to the public, have been reclassified as reserved material.” The ” declassification of these and the rest of the documents related to the Jesuit case is essential,” the ruling concluded.

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