The U.S. State Department has responded with outrage to the release of those accused of killing four U.S. Marines in the 1985 Zona Rosa shoot out ("Salvador Pardoning of Americans' Killers Hit," Part I, Nov. 15). In one light, this indignation over the blanket amnesty declared by President Jose Napoleon Duarte's government is a welcome sign. By labeling this misapplication of justice as "morally wrong" the State Department is finally injecting a note of ethical concern that has been tragically lacking in our government's policies in the region for the last eight years.
Sadly, our government takes exception with the amnesty law only to defend the rights of "Americans," something that rings particularly hollow in contrast to the State Department's deafening silence over the killing of some 40,000 Salvadorans at the hands of death squads and security forces.
The State Department is worried that a dangerous precedent is being set with the release of the accused Zona Rosa killers. But if we are going to strike such a high moral posture we must look at the larger implications of the amnesty law, how it reflects on the more fundamental question of justice in El Salvador, and also how it impacts the peace process in the region that precipitated the amnesty in the first place.
Duarte's amnesty is broad and unconditional, far wider than the Arias peace plan called for. It not only frees political prisoners, it also completely absolves members of the right-wing death squads and security forces for the thousands of killings over the last few years. Such absolution only encourages the murders to continue and destroys any chance for what the peace plan calls "a full guarantee of authentic political processes of democratic nature, based on justice, liberty and democracy." The death squads have already taken at least five lives, including human rights advocate Herbert Anaya, since the amnesty law was proposed.
The Arias peace plan calls for a much narrower amnesty, for "insurgent forces," or guerrillas. There is a big difference between amnesty to death squads and amnesty to insurgents.
It is time for our State Department to get morally outraged about what's happening in El Salvador, but to focus this only on the absence of justice in the murder of four U.S. Marines--in the face of 40,000 murdered Salvadorans--is wrong. This is the real moral outrage of El Salvador's current policy.
Human Rights Department