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Justice & The Generals
El Salvador
U.S. LAW
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About the Film
Education
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About The Film - Key Issues
Introduction Broadcast Schedule Credits Meet The Filmmaker Key Issues Viewer's Guide


In an interview with JUSTICE AND THE GENERALS filmmaker Gail Pellett, we asked the independent producer to elaborate on a few key issues the film focused on.

PELLETT: Well, the film takes on a number of issues, and I think that they're mostly legal, and political, and also moral issues. One is raised by the -- I like to think of the film taking place in three acts.

The first act is citizen-activist Bill Ford, the brother of one of the women who was killed, leading the families of the other women through a twenty-year saga of a campaign, often at odds with his own government to get information from the government about what happened. And so in some sense, that first issue is, How do you get the truth in a case like this? How do you find out? And that tremendous determination that he had to go to battle, in a sense, with the State Department, or the CIA to keep getting more documents, more information that would help he and the other family members, help him the other family members get to court to pursue accountability in this case. Now, I think the thing that sort of muddies the water early on, of course, is that we think, Uh oh, there were the National Guardsmen, they caught the guys who did the deed, and you know, why wasn't that enough? And so, I think to learn from the determination, and what he began to learn about El Salvador, that we learn about that process of searching up the chain of command to look for accountability at the top, which is what he does -- so that's act one.

The second act, of course, is the trial itself, and there's, you know, a number of legal issues that are sort of raised by that. But, the core being the doctrine of Command Responsibility, you know -- Are superiors responsible for the behavior of their subordinates, and should they know about that behavior if they are committing crimes, and what are they doing to prevent or punish those crimes? Then, you know, we referred to the Torture Victim Protection Act. That's the statute that allows these families to come to court and to sue, in a sense, the generals were from another country for a crime that took place in another country in an American courtroom. And I think we also learned from that trial how complicated it is to take a case like this to court. And it was very -- I don't want to say smoky, because there is no smoking gun. I think people get easily get confused and think, Oh, it's a criminal trial, and the generals are guilty of having murdered the women, or given the orders to murder the women. But, that's not what the complaint was about, because, as we explained in the documentary they don't have the hard evidence that proves that the generals ordered it. But, they have circumstantial evidence that allows them to use this Command Responsibility doctrine -- that they should have known, that they didn't know, that they should have been preventing, or punishing, etcetera. And so a lot of it came down to what kind of investigation the generals had done and whether they had pursued and punished atrocities that had happened before and after the churchwomen's murders.

Then in the final act of the film we look at the sort of political and moral legacy of that trial, in a sense. That's what the students are grappling with, and they raised the question of American accountability. Should the United States, since they were funding the military in El Salvador -- should they have some responsibility for that? It's a student that poses the question. But, then that way the documentary poses that question. We don't have any answers to that, but we pose the question. Then I think in the end, we see a legacy of the Salvadoran's, themselves beginning to use those same statues, same laws, same doctrine. And despite the verdict on the churchwomen's case, they are moving ahead with their own case.


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To listen to the interview, simply follow the link, below. This audio file requires the free Real Player.

Photo of Gail Pellett