El Salvador: 1980s army hit list unearthed

A secret July 1987 Salvadoran military document revealing the methods the army used during El Salvador's 1979-1992 civil war was made public for the first time on Sept. 28, International Right to Know Day. Entitled the "Yellow Book" ("Libro Amarillo"), the 270-page document is a compilation the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces' Intelligence Department (C-II) made of 1,915 entries about people the military considered "criminal terrorists." Of these, 1,857 individuals were identified by name, along with nicknames and photographs. The people named were members of unions, political parties, and groups of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), including current Salvadoran president Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

According to an analysis by the DC-based National Security Archive, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), 273 of the names (15%,) matched people reportedly killed in El Salvador during the 1980-1992 period; 233 (13%) matched reported victims of forced disappearances; 274 (15%) matched reported torture victims; and 538 (29%) matched people who were detained or arrested. A total of at least 43% of the people listed in the Yellow Book were victims of human rights violations.

The Yellow Book was discovered by a person who remains unidentified. Its existence was revealed last year by Al Jazeera and the Mexican daily La Jornada, but the document itself was unavailable until now. It is the first secret military document made public from the time of the civil war; the Salvadoran military, which was then strongly backed by the US, has refused to release any documents. Miguel Montenegro, the director of the El Salvador Human Rights Commission (CDHES), expects the publication to have a great impact in El Salvador at a time when activists are pushing for the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) to declare unconstitutional a 1993 law providing amnesty for the military's crimes during the period.

The National Security Archive notes that the Yellow Book seems to incorporate advice from the US government. In 1981 US brigadier general Fred Woerner carried out an assessment of the Salvadoran military's strategy for the new administration of US president Ronald Reagan (1981-1989). One of Gen. Woerner's recommendations was that the Salvadorans should "[p]ublish and maintain blacklists with photos of all known insurgents and their aliases at ports of entry/exit, border crossing points, and internal checkpoints." (National Security Archive, Sept. 28; Adital, Brazil, Oct. 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 19.