At least 59 Salvadoran National Guardsmen implicated in murders, rapes and other crimes have been dismissed since October 1979, according to a list given visiting U.S. congressmen by Salvadoran officials this weekend.
The intent of the document, according to a source close to the congressmen, is to demonstrate the Salvadoran government's good faith in attempting to clean up human rights abuses by the Salvadoran military, particularly the "security forces" such as the National Guard.
The document, however, does not include any names of guardsmen accused of participating in the murder of political dissidents or mass killings of noncombatants that have caused most criticism by human rights groups and others arguing that the United States should not support the Salvadoran government.
The list, which offers brief case histories, does include five National Guardsmen handed over to a court last week to be tried for the 1980 murder of four American churchwomen. All of the guardsmen on the list have been handed over to the civilian court system for prosecution. There is no information on the outcome of most of the other cases on the list.
El Salvador's highest ranking church official, Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, meanwhile, expressed skepticism about the government's contention that only low-level noncommissioned officers were responsible for the murders of the four churchwomen. President Jose Napoleon Duarte told reporters yesterday that lie-detector tests had convinced him that no higher ranking officers were involved in the slayings.
"The thing that troubles me," Rivera told reporters after mass, "is how can a subsergeant give such orders if beforehand, at least in some general form, someone has not opened the way for decisions of this nature to be taken."
Asked about the decision to put on trial the five men accused of the crime, Rivera said, "I hope this is not simply a gesture to gain publicity and promote further U.S. aid, but rather a sign that justice is beginning to be applied impartially."
The document, which was shown to American reporters, also gives no evidence of a trend toward improvement in the process of cleaning up the National Guard.
The guard, an elite force modeled on Spain's Civil Guard, has an estimated strength of more than 3,000 men and a tradition of virtually limitless authority that has been only slightly abridged, if at all, since a coup by young, relatively liberal officers on Oct. 15, 1979. Since the coup the government has been reorganized several times, and most supporters of social and economic change and tighter control over the military have left the government and gone into the opposition.
Human rights organizations and leftist political groups working with guerrillas to overthrow the U.S.-backed government here frequently have charged National Guard troops with the torture and murder of political dissidents and involvement in several massacres of civilians.
The defense minister, Gen. Jose Guillermo Garcia, told a reporter earlier this week that he is "the first to say that there have been abuses" by men under his command. But he added that he is trying to correct the situation.
"I believe there never has been an army that hasn't done some of this," Garcia said.
The document given to U.S. Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) does not appear to deal with the kinds of political abuses and murders for which the government is often criticized.
Rather, one official who accompanied the congressional delegation here said, the case histories seem to show that "if you're a guardia what you do on Sunday is you get drunk and you murder your neighbor."
Of the 59 guardsmen who were discharged for criminal activities, 31 were accused of murder. Among the other cases in the report are 12 rapes, two forced sodomies and assorted lesser crimes.
In one case, in September 1981, four guardsmen at the Cerron Grande outpost near the town of San Martin got drunk at a beer stand, sodomized two young men, raped two young women, another woman and her daughter, then killed three of the young people and wounded the woman, according to the document.
In another case, two guardsmen abandoned their posts outside the Electoral Commission here in the capital, got drunk at a house of prostitution, dragged off one man, whom they killed, and robbed another.
According to western diplomats here, there has been only one known prosecution of anyone accused of killing a political figure since the October 1979 coup.