An immigration judge has found that a former defense minister in El Salvador, a close ally of the United States during a civil war there in the 1980s, should be deported because of his involvement in a number of human rights violations, including the assassination of an archbishop and the massacre of more than 1,000 peasants.
The decision by the judge, Michael C. Horn of Immigration Court in Miami, against the former officer, Gen. José Guillermo García, was issued on Feb. 26 but only released on Friday after a Freedom of Information Act request by The New York Times.
The ruling went beyond earlier court decisions and found that General García had played a direct role in some of the most egregious killings and torture in El Salvador at a time when Washington was supporting the Salvadoran military in its battle against leftist insurgents.
Judge Horn found “clear and convincing evidence” that General García “assisted or otherwise participated” in 11 violent episodes that scarred the Central American country, including the 1980 murder of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero as he was saying Mass in the capital, San Salvador.
The judge also found that General García helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who killed four American churchwomen later that year. He “knew or should have known” that army troops had slaughtered the villagers, including women and children, in the hamlet of El Mozote in December 1981, Judge Horn ruled.
In an unusually expansive and scalding 66-page decision, Judge Horn wrote that “these atrocities formed part of General García’s deliberate military policy as minister of defense.” He added that the general “fostered, and allowed to thrive, an institutional atmosphere in which the Salvadoran armed forces preyed upon defenseless civilians under the guise of fighting a war against communist subversives.”
Despite the ruling, General García’s deportation is not imminent, as a lengthy appeal is expected.