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Tue Sep 30, 2014, 04:46 PM



Secret Salvadoran military document from the civil war era catalogued “enemies,” many killed or disappeared

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 485

Posted - September 28, 2014 in recognition of International Right to Know Day

A 1980s-era document from the archives of El Salvador’s military intelligence identifies almost two thousand Salvadoran citizens who were considered “delinquent terrorists” by the Armed Forces, among them current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla leader. Other individuals listed include human rights advocates, labor leaders, and political figures, many known to have been victims of illegal detention, torture, extrajudicial execution, forced disappearance, and other human rights abuses.

Called the Libro Amarillo or Yellow Book, the report is the first-ever confidential Salvadoran military document to be made public, and the only evidence to appear from the Salvadoran Army’s own files of the surveillance methods used by security forces to target Salvadoran citizens during the country’s 12-year civil war. Now the Yellow Book has been posted on-line, along with related analysis and declassified U.S. documents, through a collaboration between the National Security Archive, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG).

According to the document’s introduction, the Yellow Book, dated July 1987, was compiled by the Intelligence Department (C-II) of the Estado Mayor Conjunto de la Fuerza Armada Salvadoreña (EMCFA, Joint Staff of the Armed Forces). It consists of a systematic list with 1,915 entries on targeted individuals, 1,857 identified by name, along with corresponding photographs, and notes on their alleged connections to suspect organizations including unions, political parties, and rebel groups of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). A hand-written note on its cover page indicates the report was intended to aid security forces in identifying the opposition. “Use it,” the note says, “Make copies of the photographs and put them on your bulletin board so you will know your enemies.”

Although analysis of the Yellow Book continues, preliminary research makes clear that some of the individuals listed in it were killed or disappeared and never seen again; others were captured, tortured, and later released. Under the direction of HRDAG Executive Director Patrick Ball, researchers cross referenced names listed in the Yellow Book with four historical databases of reports of human rights violations collected from 1980-1992. This process found 273 names in the Yellow Book, or 15%, that matched reports of killings or extrajudicial executions; 233 or 13% matching reports of forced disappearance; 274 or 15% matching reports of torture; and 538 or 29% matching reports of detention or arrest. In total, at least 43% of names listed in the Yellow Book correspond with these historical human rights databases. View the full report here.

A former U.S. military source who served in El Salvador during the 1980s, who declined to be named, has stated that the Yellow Book appears to be an authentic product of Salvadoran military intelligence, one of many related documents created to track and register perceived threats. The original document, a photocopy of an unknown master copy, was donated to a Salvadoran civil society organization by an individual who claimed to have found it in a house during a move. The document analyzed here is a photocopy of this reproduction. The document has previously circulated privately in El Salvador and was described in reports by Al Jazeera and La Jornada in 2013.

The emphasis in the Yellow Book on the use of intelligence to identify not only guerrilla combatants but “enemy” civilians corresponds with the findings of human rights investigations conducted over the years. The United Nations Commission on the Truth for El Salvador (UNTC) report, From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador, for example, indicated that dating back to the 1960s, “[National security] institutions helped consolidate an era of military hegemony in El Salvador, sowing terror selectively among alleged subversives identified by the intelligence services. In this way, the army’s domination over civilian society was consolidated through repression in order to keep society under control” (p125). The commission urged that Salvadoran intelligence agencies be targeted for reform as part of the post-war process of peace and reconciliation.

“It is especially important,” concluded the UNTC report, “to call attention to the repeated abuses committed by the intelligence services of the security forces and the armed forces. It is crucial for the future of El Salvador that the State pay attention to the use of intelligence services and to the exploitation of this arm of the Government to identify targets for murder or disappearance. Any investigation must result both in an institutional clean-up of the intelligence services and in the identification of those responsible for this aberrant practice” (pp129-30).

The UN Truth Commission identified military intelligence with a proliferation of death squad activities. According to the UNTC report, “In many armed forces units, the intelligence section (S-2) operated on the death squad model. Operations were carried out by members of the armed forces, usually wearing civilian clothing, without insignias, and driving unmarked vehicles.”

Death squad operations were also carried out at the national level: “The Intelligence Section had subsections such as operations and intelligence. Within the intelligence sub-section, there was a smaller group in charge of ‘dirty work’, which specialized in interrogations, torture and executions.” Within the C-V (Civilian Affairs Section) of the Armed Force General Staff as well, the report found, the military maintained “a secret, clandestine intelligence unit for the surveillance of civilian political targets, which received information from the S-2 sections of each military unit or security force. The purpose of this unit was to obtain information for the planning of direct actions that included the ‘elimination’ of individuals. In some cases, such plans were transmitted as actual orders to operational units in the various security forces or the armed forces themselves.”[iii]

Individuals listed in the Yellow Book were also targeted by the death squads. For example, a 1980 communique signed by the “Secret Anti-Communist Army,” a coalition of seven extreme right-wing terrorist groups, circulated a “blacklist” of more than 200 names, at least 32 of which also appear in the Yellow Book.

The fingerprints of the United States

U.S. security assistance flowed to the El Salvador counterinsurgency effort throughout the war, totaling some $5 billion by 1992. It included millions of dollars for enhanced intelligence gathering. While there is no direct evidence suggesting that the U.S. was involved in the creation of the Yellow Book, the extensive material and operational support provided by the U.S. to the Salvadoran intelligence services touched on themes central to the Yellow Book.

The blueprint for the U.S. security program was developed by Brigadier General Fred Woerner, when he headed a U.S. military team to El Salvador to carry out an assessment of the government’s war strategy for the new Reagan administration in 1981. The report that resulted in November of that year proposed a massive injection of U.S. military aid to help the Salvadoran security forces win what the report called a “strategic victory.”

One of the Woerner team’s primary concerns about the armed force was its weak military intelligence capacity, calling “The absence of good intelligence and the derivative understanding of enemy capabilities and intentions… a particularly limiting factor.”[iv] To remedy the shortcomings in Salvadoran intelligence, the Woerner team recommended intelligence training, dedicated intelligence equipment, and the creation of an intelligence communications net.

One means recommended by Woerner to separate the insurgents from their base among the Salvadoran people and to identify militant supporters was the creation of “population control measures.” The Woerner Report proposed the establishment of a national registry and new national ID document, to be maintained in a central file with photo and fingerprints, and advised that the military “Publish and maintain blacklists with photos of all known insurgents and their aliases at ports of entry/exit, border crossing points, and internal checkpoints.”[


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