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Justice & The Generals
El Salvador
Around the World
About the Film
Photo of a child on a swing
Education - Lesson Plans
Introduction Lesson Plans Further Practice National Standards

Lesson  #4
  Printable Format


The United States played a crucial role in El Salvador, before and during the civil war, and in the murder investigation and the subsequent trial. Justice and the Generals highlights specific activities of the United States government that raise questions about its actions and whom it was serving and protecting. Because politics is at the heart of foreign relations, how does the United States balance its interests-and those of nations with which it interacts-and justice with regards to human rights?


Students will:
  • assess and analyze the role of the United States in El Salvador and the Ford. v. Garcia trial

  • determine the circumstances and individuals that guide United States foreign relations within the context of human rights
Estimated Time

3-4 classroom periods


  • Justice and the Generals video
  • VCR/television
  • Internet access (if available)
  • Print resources on foreign policy, particularly what it is and how it is structured and created
  • Chalk and chalkboard
  • Handout: Human Rights as Foreign Policy
  • Optional: video camera
Recommended Film Segments

Minutes 01 to 26 : ( Watch it now for T1 or 56k )
minutes 26 to 41 : ( Watch it now for T1 or 56k )
Minutes 54 to 58 : ( Watch it now for T1 or 56k )
minutes 55 to 81 : ( Watch it now for T1 or 56k )

Teaching Procedure

1) Ask students what role they believe the United States should play in other countries. Ask probing questions (additional questions can be found at Foreign Policy and the Presidential Election), such as: Should the United States intervene during wars? Should the United States protect military and government leaders? When does the United States decide to become involved in a nation's struggles or causes? Is the United States the universal protector? Economic leader? How do other nations view America's foreign policy? What do Americans think of America's foreign policy? How is foreign policy shaped? Who shapes foreign policy?

2) Have the students define the term FOREIGN POLICY. Confirm this definition with an overview of what foreign policy is and how it is formed in the United States.

3) Distribute and have students read Human Rights as Foreign Policy. (Or, use this as background to explain to students the relationship between foreign relations and human rights.) Invite students to discuss the United States' stance on human rights, how foreign policy is perceived in terms of international human rights, and what they believe the United States' stance should be on this matter.

4) Show students the recommended film segments and pose the following questions (or distribute as a worksheet):
  • What events led to the Ford v. Garcia trial?

  • How was the United States involved in El Salvador before, during, and after the twelve-year civil war? In your opinion, did the United States effectively address the nation's problems?

  • What areas of the United States government were involved in El Salvador? What were their roles? What were their strategies?

  • Who were the key governmental figures involved in the murder investigation and the trial? Outline their level of involvement, perspectives, and recommendations. Note dissenting opinions.

  • In what ways did the United States government assist in the murder investigation and trial? In what ways did it not? Provide examples.

  • Based on the film, what is your understanding of the United States' human rights policies?

  • Based on the actions of the United States in El Salvador, what is your perception of how America's foreign relations are structured? Explain.

  • How does the United States balance its political interests with justice? What are the obstacles?

  • What is the opinion of the International Human Rights Law Clinic with regards to the United States' accountability in war crimes and human rights abuses?
5) Divide students into groups representing the following:
  • broadcast journalists

  • Foreign Relations Committee

  • figures from Justice and the Generals (members of the State Department, family of the murdered churchwomen, the generals, etc.)
In their roles, have each group construct questions, arguments, and or positions on how America's foreign policy -particularly as it relates to human rights--had an impact on the Ford v. Garcia trial. Each group should also analyze the role of its represented figure in the trial and the circumstances leading to it. (For example, broadcast journalists can discuss how the case was presented by the media and/or research media coverage of the event.)

6) Have the groups representing the film's characters present before a televised hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee. The Foreign Relations Committee should pose questions to negate or support points of view, or raise questions about how foreign relations, in this case, could have been altered. The broadcast journalists should introduce the hearing with necessary background information and interview each group after it has made its presentation. At the end of the hearing, the committee should convene to consider how to better review, alter, and /or improve America's current foreign policy and present its recommendations to the broadcast journalists. The journalists then interview committee members and end the televised hearing with a summation of the events and decisions. (Optional: The broadcast journalists can videotape the proceedings.)

Assessment Recommendations

Assessment should be informal and focus on student contributions to group and class discussions, participation in group projects and presentations, interaction with group partners, and capacity and willingness to negotiate controversial and complex subject matter. Keep in the mind the challenging topic, allowing students to work at their knowledge and skill levels. Assessment may be rubric-based or students can use journals to document their understanding of the materials and topic and assess their involvement in projects and discussions.

Extended Activity

Related Web Sites

U.S. Department of State

Council on Foreign Relations

Foreign Policy in Focus

Foreign Policy Association

Foreign Policy

United States Institute of Peace

Teaching Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era. ERIC Digest.
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