One of the most notorious death squads in El Salvador has direct ties to the National Police, according to two men who were abducted by the death squad. The two men, who wish to remain unidentified, claim to have been present during the abduction, detention, and torture of three leftist leaders who are now part of an unfolding drama between that death squad, called the Secret Anticommunist Army (ESA), and the guerrillas.
Roman Catholic Church officials have long charged that El Salvador's internal state security forces are closely related to the death squads. But evidence has been difficult to obtain.
''There has never been any doubt in our mind,'' says a high-ranking search official in the Catholic archbishop's office, ''that the death squads and the security forces operate jointly. This, however, is the first time we have obtained testimony about a particular death squad and its ties to the police.''
But the peculiar events surrounding the detention of these men and the three leftists appear to identify the ESA as the paramilitary group that captured them and subsequently transferred them to the National Police jail.
The ESA, which last week said it intends to become a clandestine political party as well as a paramilitary group, announced on Nov. 24 that it had captured three major guerrilla leaders.
The death squad also proposed an exchange of prisoners with the guerrilla forces of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. The ESA said the three captured guerrillas would be released in exchange for the former subsecretary of defense, two Army captains, a lieutenant, and several lower Army officials, all held by the guerrillas. The proposed exchange would be handled, the ESA said, by the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Last week the death squad announced it would execute its prisoners if the guerrillas did not comply with this proposal by Dec. 2.
The guerrillas turned down the exchange.
The ESA, however, has decided to extend the deadline to give the guerrillas time to reconsider.
''When the communique from the Secret Anticommunist Army appeared in the newspapers,'' says one of the two men, ''I knew what everyone here suspects: The death squads and internal-security forces are working together.''
On Nov. 7, at 11:30 a.m., this witness claims he was abducted from the Modelo Market in San Salvador by a group of heavily armed men in civilian clothes.
''As I was lying on the floor of the van,'' he says, ''the communications radio ordered the men who had abducted me to meet another van and pick up Dico.''
Dico, the ESA communique said, is the nom de guerre of guerrilla leader Hugo Edgardo Martinez Guzman. The man says he heard Dico being interrogated by the abductors as they drove to a clandestine jail. Once they arrived at the jail, the two men were separated. This witness says he did not encounter the accused guerrilla again.
The second witness encountered all three accused guerrillas Nov. 8 in the labyrinth of the underground prison system.
''I was lying in the cell after several hours of electric shocks and beatings ,'' he says, ''when the door to my room opened and several new prisoners were ush-ered in. I was blindfolded so I could not see. The guards forbade us to speak so I had no way of knowing who (they) were.
''Soon after they arrived, the guards came back and took one of them away,'' the second witness says. ''For the next couple of hours we listened as he was tortured and interrogated about guerrilla strength, operations, and plans. All three of the new prisoners were tortured like this, and because I could hear the interrogation, I heard the torturers call them by their names. They were the three people offered by the ESA for the Salvadorean Army officials - (alleged rebels) Jose Francisco Menjivar, Angel Renan Gomez, and Hugo Edgardo Martinez Guzman.''
The two witnesses were eventually transferred by the death squad to the National Police jail.
''When we were abducted and tortured, we did not know the identity of our captors,'' the first witness said. ''During the process of abduction and detention they never allowed themselves to become known to us. We could not determine if our captors belonged to a death squad or not.
''Because of this prisoner exchange,'' he continues, ''we can name the group that abducted and tortured us. We can name the group that took us in person to the National Police jail. We can say now without doubt that the Secret Anticommunist Army is working closely with the National Police, if they are not the same organization.''