By Ciaran Giles
May 30, 2011
MADRID—A Spanish judge on Monday indicted 20 Salvadorans for the 1989 slaying of six Jesuit priests and two other people during the Central American country's civil war.
Judge Eloy Velasco charged the 20 men, who served as military officials in El Salvador, with terrorist killings and crimes against humanity.
He issued international arrest warrants to Spanish police and Interpol for the 20 Salvadorans, who include former Salvadoran Defense Minister Rafael Humberto Larios and Rene Emilio Ponce, an army general and former defense minister who died May 2.
Velasco was acting under the principle of cross-border jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of certain crimes, even if committed in another country.
Spanish magistrates have used the doctrine to try to go after current or former government leaders and terror suspects, even indicting the late Osama bin Laden over the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But trials or convictions have been rare.
Velasco ordered the arrest of the 20 Salvadorans and their appearance in Madrid's National Court within 10 days.
The priests -- five of whom were Spaniards -- were killed with their housekeeper and her daughter. They worked at the Jesuit-run Universidad Centroamericana and had been suspected of sympathizing with leftist rebels, known as the FMLN.
Velasco said the Jesuits, especially university rector Ignacio Ellacuria, had assumed the leadership in pressing for negotiations between the U.S.-backed government and the rebels.
"That was the fundamental motive for the killing," said Velasco.
Velasco opened the investigation 2009 following a lawsuit by two human rights groups -- the Spanish Association for Human Rights and California's Center for Justice and Accountability.
A U.N. truth commission report in 1992 said Ponce ordered the killings of the priests. A U.S. congressional investigation found they had been rousted from their beds and shot by soldiers on Nov. 16, 1989.
The slayings sparked international outrage and tarnished the image of U.S. anti-Communism efforts after it was found that some of the soldiers involved had received training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The Salvadoran war raged over 12 years and left around 75,000 people dead.
Nine military officials and troops who were members of the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion were tried in the slayings in El Salvador but only two were convicted. Both were freed in 1993 because of an amnesty law passed to accompany a peace treaty ending the war.