Report: Army Rangers Killed 83 in Retaliation for 1985 Massacre
SEATTLE (AP) _ U.S. Army commandos killed 83 leftist guerrillas in El Salvador in 1985 in a secret raid carried out in retaliation for the massacre of six Americans, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Thursday.
The raid, carried out by 11 Rangers from Fort Lewis near Tacoma, was kept secret because the Reagan administration feared the political and public backlash and to avoid embarrassment for the Salvadoran government, unidentified sources told newspaper.
Asked about the story at a news briefing Thursday, Ken Bacon, chief Pentagon spokesman, said: ``We checked this allegation with the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, with the Special Operations Command in Floria; we find no information to substantiate the report.″
The newspaper said it based its report on accounts from an ex-Ranger who took part, a former Army special operations officer and a former government official involved in establishing the military ability to counter terrorists.
The raid apparently was in response to a June 19, 1985, attack in which as many as 10 gunmen sprayed two sidewalk cafes in San Salvador, killing four off-duty U.S. Marines and two American civilians, the sources said.
News reports at the time said the massacre was committed by the Urban Guerrillas-Mardoqueo Cruz. That group was affiliated with the Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers, a splinter faction of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, which was battling the Salvadoran government.
The Rangers were flown from Washington state to a Central American runway where they were briefed by three people in civilian clothes, the former Ranger said.
``We didn’t know where they came from, but they weren’t part of the actual assault team,″ he said. ``It was really straightforward. They said, `There’s a target, approximately 75 to 85 personnel. There are to be no survivors.‴
A helicopter took them to the rebels’ remote training camp, where the soldiers dropped down a rope into a compound of nine crude huts surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, the former Ranger said. Gunfire erupted immediately, he said.
``It got pretty hairy for a while, but we didn’t have any major casualties,″ he said.
After less than 15 minutes, the camp was strewn with 83 bodies, including a dozen women clad in the same uniforms as the male guerrillas, he said.
The three civilians, who had accompanied the Rangers, gathered documents and supervised the soldiers as they fingerprinted the corpses, he said.
On July 31, 1985, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said the Salvadoran government, ``with our assistance, has taken care of _ in one way or another, taken prisoner or killed... _ a number of the people who participated″ in the San Salvador attack.
Later, a Pentagon spokesman said that he could not confirm the San Salvador attackers had been captured or killed but that the El Salvador military had inflicted a ``major defeat″ on the guerrillas.