The Witness of a Lawyer for Salvadoran Soldier Accused of 1980 Murder of American Churchwomen

In a prior post I described my April 1989 meeting in El Salvador with Salvador Ibarra. He told me and others that a Salvadoran judge had appointed him to represent one of the Salvadoran national guardsmen accused of raping and murdering the four American church women in December 1980.[1]

Someone from the U.S. Embassy, he told us, had asked Ibarra to call a press conference and announce that he had investigated and had found no involvement of higher officials in this horrible crime. This, however, was not true, and he refused to hold a press conference. In response he received death threats that prompted him and his family to flee the country.

I recently came across a May 1985 article that has additional information about his involvement in this notorious case.

The article confirms that Ibarra was appointed by a Salvadoran court to represent one of the national guardsmen accused of this crime, that Ibarra was pressured to not contradict a false statement that the possibility of a cover-up by higher officials had been investigated and found to be baseless and that he received death threats if he did not go along with this strategy.

This pressure, the article reports Ibarra having said, came from other defense lawyers. One was the half-brother of the director of the Salvadoran National Guard while another was a childhood friend of the Salvadoran Minister of Defense at the time, Jose Guillermo Garcia.[2]

When Ibarra told the other lawyers he would not cooperate in this plan, the article states Ibarra said he “was abducted by Salvadoran security forces, held prisoner at national guard headquarters and tortured.” The purpose of his detention and torture, Ibarra said in the article, “was to get him off the case, either by killing him or forcing him to flee the country.”

Sadly Ibarra is deceased, and I cannot ask him questions about this article. But neither account of his involvement in the case directly contradicts the other. Perhaps both are true. There undoubtedly are additional details about this case that probably would emerge in an extended conversation that unfortunately will never happen.

In any event, Ibarra is still a witness and inspiration to me of a courageous lawyer who risked his life to stand up for the truth and zealously to represent his client in a very important case. Moreover, as discussed in the prior post, after having fled to the U.S. because of these pressures, he later returned to his country to be a lawyer for the Lutheran Church’s human rights office, an occupation that again put his life on the line during the Salvadoran Civil War.

Muchas gracias, Salvador Ibarra!

[1] Many prior posts have discussed this horrible crime, its various judicial and non-judicial investigations and my visits to the site of the crime and of the women’s graves in El Salvador.

[2] Other posts have discussed Garcia’s involvement in legal proceedings about this and other crimes in that country.


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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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