A Trap for US Advisers

Military advisers in places like El Salvador and Peru are supposed to instill respect for human rights - a task at odds with reality

HOWEVER ominous the events of August in the Soviet Union, they do not, at the moment at least, threaten individual Americans. Individual Americans are threatened, morally and physically, in El Salvador, and now the Bush administration plans to put more American soldiers into an even worse predicament in Peru.The current personification of a flawed United States policy in El Salvador is US Army Maj. Eric Young, caught in the middle of what is plainly a never-to-be-completed investigation of mass murder in El Salvador because he was ordered by his commander in chief to do two contradictory jobs. One job was to provide professional advice to the El Salvador Army. You succeed in that job only by gaining the confidence of the people you are seeking to advise. Major Young's other job was to advance the American notion of human rights among the El Salvador military. To do that in a military establishment soaked from top to bottom in the blood of tens of thousands of innocent victims is out of the question. In the process of trying to do those mutually exclusive jobs, Young apparently learned who planned the murders of six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter, and why. He was bound in conscience to report that, knowing full well that to do so would destroy any value he might have in his job as adviser, the performance of which would determine his future military career. Now caught up in the crossfire among all sorts of pressure groups seeking to advance or abort what passes for judicial process in El Salvador, Young will be fortunate to survive as a whole human being, let alone continue with a meaningful military career. Outrage over this sort of thing has been building for years among US Army officers who have been put through the emotional meat grinder in El Salvador, but their one channel to top US leadership was closed off when President Bush fired US Southern commander-in-chief Fred Woerner because General Woerner would not countenance the deaths of hundreds of innocent Panamanians in order to arrest Manuel Noriega. Most articulate of the spokesmen for the advisers is Col. Lyman C. Duryea, retired two years ago as chief of Latin American studies at the Army War College and former defense attache in El Salvador. Equally concerned were four US Army fellows at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who published a paper on the subject in 1988 and former advisers interviewed as part of the Army's oral history program at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. What is especially striking about this group is that most are West Point gradu ates, not a group accustomed to criticizing higher authority in any form. The virtually unanimous opinion of these sources, as expressed by the Harvard fellows, is that the El Salvador military exists solely for one purpose - to assure a safe and financially comfortable retirement regardless of "stupidity, cowardice in battle, or moral profligacy." Colonel Duryea's formula for reform is a top-to-bottom reworking of the Salvadoran military as the price for continued American support. That means kicking out virtually the entire existing officer corps and rebuilding the Army from a base of universal conscription that will include the sons of the wealthy and middle class, so far excluded from the fight against the leftist guerrillas. Only then, Duryea believes, will it be possible to go forward with the other structural reforms in El Salvador that must be accomplished if peace is to be achieved with justice. By firing General Woerner - the only US senior commander trained as a Latin American specialist - the Bush administration succeeded in squelching the protests of the El Salvador advisers, leaving Major Young to suffer the consequences. Now we are about to send another group of American advisers into a worse situation in Peru, though it is hard to believe there could be anything worse than the violent mess in El Salvador. Part of the program is to train two elite battalions of the Peruvian Army to support anti-narcotics programs by the Peruvian police. It was an elite Salvadoran battalion, trained in the US, that is suspected of murdering the Jesuits and the two women. To overcome the reluctance of Congress to finance the new venture, the Bush administration says part of the American advisers' duty will be to instruct the Peruvian military in human rights. From what everyone who has ever had any contact with the Peruvian military says, that has about as much prospect for success as converting the Mafia into a religious order. To Duryea and others, the roots of the flawed US advisory policy in Latin America go all the way back to South Vietnam in the early 1960s. In short, says Duryea, if American money, blood, and honor are to be involved, then we run the show - and that includes taking direct responsibility for the human rights record. Sporadically Congress has withheld money from the advisory ventures in El Salvador and other Latin American countries, reopening the purse strings once public outrage over the latest gross violation of human rights subsides. The time has come to demand that not one more dollar be spent until we resolve either to take responsibility for top-to-bottom reform, or get out.

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