E L   S A LV A D O R
El Salvador:
War, Peace, and Human Rights,
War, Peace, and Human Rights,

Members of the Salvadoran Army's First Brigade salute on Soldiers Day, May 6, 1990, in Flor Blanca Stadium, San Salvador. Photograph © Jeremy Bigwood.

From the Carter presidency through the Bush administration, El Salvador was an obsession of United States policy. As a brutal civil war raged on the ground, Washington's cold war concerns ensured massive and continued U.S. support for the Salvadoran government and military against the guerrilla forces of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Now, the National Security Archive's collection of declassified U.S. government records charts for the first time the complete course of Washington's role in the war, from the conflict's earliest years to the United Nations- brokered peace accord of January 1992 and beyond.

About the Collection

Sample Document: Excerpt from the "Woerner Report," a secret Pentagon document produced in 1981 by Brig. Gen. Fred F. Woerner, provides an early, critical blueprint for U.S. assistance to the Salvadoran armed forces, recommending support for a "strategic victory" against the guerrillas. The report was declassified after an eight-year effort, including litigation, by the National Security Archive.

Sample Document: Secret cable from Ambassador William Walker to Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson on the Salvadoran military's stonewalling of investigations into the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests. (2/19/91)

Sample Document: Two versions of the same 1984 CIA intelligence memorandum on "Dealing with Death Squads." The first, released to the National Security Archive in 1987 under the Freedom of Information Act and heavily excised, gives the impression that the Duarte government and the Salvadoran armed forces are taking effective steps to end death squad activities. The second, obtained by the Archive in 1993, clearly states that efforts by the government and military "have made little progress and have been aimed almost exclusively at placating Washington.

Photograph: Members of the FMLN celebrate the signing of the peace accords (January 16, 1992).

Focus of the Collection

El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights, 1980-1994 contains 1,384 United States intelligence, defense, and diplomatic records representing 6,614 pages of formerly secret documentation produced by the highest levels of the U.S. government.

The collection brings together a wealth of primary source materials, tracing the human rights catastrophe that gripped El Salvador throughout its terrible civil conflict, and providing a comprehensive record of the decisions behind U.S. policy in the country and the region during the final decade of the Cold War. Included are documents charting Washington's policy toward revolutionary upheaval in Central America, U.S. efforts to influence El Salvador's political arena, the debate within Congress over supporting the Salvadoran government during the war, and the role and impact of non-governmental organizations in influencing policy. The set also contains substantial information on El Salvador's political landscape, economic conditions, military and guerrilla forces, foreign policy, and peace negotiations.

Documentary Breakthroughs

Although documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act are included in the El Salvador collection, the majority of material was declassified by executive order in 1993 and 1994. Following the March 15, 1993, release of the United Nations Truth Commission's ground-breaking investigation of El Salvador's human rights record, From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador, members of Congress wrote to President Clinton asking that U.S. documents relevant to the human rights cases studied by the commission be declassified for public inspection. After a six-month review, in November 1993 the Clinton administration released some 12,000 records from the CIA, State Department, Department of Defense, and other federal agencies. In August 1994, an additional release of several thousand more documents took place in response to a request from Republican members of Congress.

El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights contains approximately ten percent of these extraordinary documents, representing the most significant, richly detailed, and insightful. These are records that, under normal circumstances, would not have been released by the originating agencies for many years, if at all. Now, scholars, historians, students, and the press have access to an unprecedented cross-section of the historical record soon after the actual events.

Among the unique materials included in the set are National Security Council memoranda outlining the Carter administration's decision to resume military aid to El Salvador in 1981; field reports from the CIA station in San Salvador on human rights, death squad activities, and the extreme right wing; defense intelligence analyses tracking regional arms flows, training, and financing provided to the Salvadoran guerrillas; U.S. embassy and State Department cable traffic on dozens of critical human rights cases, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the El Mozote massacre, the killings of U.S. marines in San Salvador's "Zona Rosa," and the murder of the Jesuit priests in 1989; and United Nations documents on the peace process, including the full text of the Chapultepec peace accords and the U.N. Truth Commission report.

One-Stop Retrieval

It would take an individual researcher years of work and a substantial financial commitment to accumulate the resources offered in a collection of this magnitude. This set affords one-stop retrieval for information on events, issues, individuals, and organizations concerned with this highly controversial and hotly debated area of recent U.S. policy.

El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights provides researchers unique access to key documents concerning the Salvadoran civil war and U.S.-El Salvador relations during this wrenching period. At the core of the collection are materials created by U.S. government agencies. The greatest number originate in the State Department, but the hundreds of declassified CIA, NSC, and Defense Department records also included make the collection particularly valuable.

Among the documents included are:

In-depth Indexing Makes Every Document Accessible

The National Security Archive prepares extensive printed finding aids for its collections. In-depth indexing offers users remarkable ease and precision of access to every document in the set. The printed Index provides document-level access to subjects, individuals, and organizations, and represents a major historical contribution itself. Important transactions within each document are indexed individually using a controlled keyword vocabulary.

The Guide includes an events chronology, glossaries of key individuals, organizations, and human rights cases, a chronological document catalog, and a bibliography of relevant secondary sources.

This Collection Is a Necessity for:

Sample Document Titles

2/15/80 U.S. Policy to El Salvador and Honduras, National Security Council, Secret Minutes

1/10/81 Presidential Determination on Nicaraguan Support for Salvadoran Guerrillas, Department of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Secret Presidential Review Directive

1/27/82 El Salvador: Mozote Massacre, Central Intelligence Agency, [Classification Excised] Briefing Paper

6/10/82 Torture, U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, Secret Cable

2/24/83 U.S. Policy Initiatives to Improve Prospects for [Excised] El Salvador, White House, Top Secret National Security Decision Directive

12/14/83 Vice President Bush's Meetings with Salvadoran Officials, U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, Secret Cable

5/15/84 Unknown Subjects Furnishing Funds and Weapons to Salvadoran Death Squads in El Salvador, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Report

7/12/85 Six Americans Slain on San Salvador Sidewalk, Central Intelligence Agency, [Classification Excised] Cable

7/28/85 Possible U.S. Raid on Salvadoran Rebel Camp, U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, Secret Cable

8/12/86 Corruption in Salvadoran Officer Corps, Department of Defense, Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, Secret Memorandum

5/22/87 What, If Any, Legal Avenues Exist to Counter Unrestricted FMLN/FDR Activities in the U.S.?, Department of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Secret Memorandum

8/00/87 Nicaragua and El Salvador Monthly Report #7, U.S. Southern Command, Top Secret Report

12/18/87 Scorecard on the Arias Plan--El Salvador's Perspective, Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Secret Information Memorandum

6/16/88 El Salvador: Growing Pressure for the GOES to Negotiate with the Guerrillas, Department of State, Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs, Secret Information Memorandum

2/1/88 Vice President Quayle's Meeting with Salvadoran Armed Forces, Department of State, Secret Memorandum

5/1/89 [El Salvador: Who Will Be the Next Minister of Defense?], Defense Intelligence Agency, Top Secret Intelligence Report

11/17/89 Killing of Dr. Ignacio Ellacuria, Central Intelligence Agency, [Classification Excised] Intelligence Memorandum

2/1/90 Interior Minister and Military Intelligence Stonewall on the Oqueli Assassination, U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, Confidential Cable

4/14/90 Arms from the FMLN: The Mexican Connection, Department of State, Secret Cable

10/31/90 Soviet and Cuban Support for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, Defense Intelligence Agency, Secret Position Paper

00/00/91 American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and El Salvador, Rand Corporation, Unclassified Report

1/4/91 El Salvador: U.S. Military Murdered by Rebels, Defense Intelligence Agency, Secret Cable

3/25/92 NFN 257761 [Intelligence Source Discusses Death Squad Assassinations], Army, Secret Intelligence Report

7/1/93 Comparison of U.S. Administration Testimony and Reports with 1993 U.N. Truth Commission Report on El Salvador, Congressional Research Service, Report


El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights, 1980-1994

Reproduces on microfiche 1,384 U.S. government records totaling 6,614 pages of documentation concerning U.S. policy in El Salvador, El Salvador's human rights crisis, and the peace negotiations that ended the country's 12-year civil war.
Materials were identified, obtained, assembled, and indexed by the National Security Archive.

The Special Collections

Microfiche are arranged chronologically. For ease of use, each document bears a unique accession number to which all indexing is keyed.

The documents are reproduced on 35mm silver halide archivally permanent positive microfiche conforming to NMA and BSI standards. Any microfiche found to be physically substandard in any way will be replaced free of charge.

A printed Guide and Index accompanies the microfiche collection. The Guide contains an events chronology, glossaries, chronological document catalog and a bibliography of secondary sources. The Index provides in-depth, document level access to subjects and individuals

Date of Publication
December 1996

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The National Security Archive El Salvador Project Staff

Project Director

Project Director Kate Doyle directs the National Security Archive's documentation projects on U.S.-Mexico relations, Central America, low-intensity conflict, and international aspects of the war on drugs. A specialist in U.S.-Latin American relations, she received her B.A. from Brown University and her M.A. from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, where she was an Alice Stetton Fellow. Her articles have appeared in the World Policy Journal, Current History, The Nation, and other publications.

Project Staff

Nicole A. Chulick, Research Assistant
Naomi C. Fellows, Research Assistant
Joshua Lichtenstein, Research Assistant
Shannon Follett, Intern
Tara Mantel, Intern
Kanako Nagao, Intern
Nikka Ockfen, Intern
Andrea L. Schneider, Intern
Amy Sullivan, Intern

El Salvador Editorial Board

Cynthia J. Arnson, Senior Program Associate Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Author, Crossroads: Congress, the Presidents, and Central America, 1976-1993

Martha L. Doggett, Political Affairs Officer U.N. Mission in Haiti (ENSMIH)
Author, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador

George Vickers, Executive Director Washington Office on Latin America

Praise for El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights, 1980-1994

"The [National Security Archive's] truly impressive effort in gathering and indexing previously classified government documents on El Salvador was a boon to the [United Nations Truth] Commission. The collection saved us literally hundreds of hours of staff resources and, because our mandate gave us only six months to complete the investigation, it spelled the difference between success and failure in many instances. . . . I know how useful the collection must be to academics, students, journalists and others researching how the United States makes its foreign policy. I would only add that, in this case, it also made a critical contribution to the practical steps the Commission took in carrying out is mandate. I hope the Archive can continue its fine work of collecting and cataloguing what I am sure are thousands more documents that could shed light on U.S. policy in El Salvador."

Thomas Buergenthal
Commissioner, United Nations Commission on the Truth for El Salvador
Lobinger Professor of Comparative and International Law, The George Washington University National Law Center
Former President, Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

"Only the National Security Archive could have assembled this critically important collection of documents on U.S. policy toward El Salvador, and made it easily accessible to students, professors, policy analysts and policy makers alike. Here are thousands of pages of the original cables, memoranda, and intelligence reports written by our own government agencies on everything from death squads to human rights investigations, guerrilla movements to counterinsurgency strategies, the operations of war to the negotiations that finally brought about peace. This publication is indispensable to anyone, and everyone, serious about understanding the history of the United States in Central America."

Robert E. White
U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, 1980-1981
President, Center for International Policy.

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