Expert testimony in the Molina Theissen trial: “Enforced Disappearance was a Weapon of War, Just Like a Rifle or a Bullet”

“Enforced disappearance was used as a weapon of war, just like a rifle or a bullet,” said Marc Drouin, a Canadian historian, during his expert testimony at the Molina Theissen trial on April 23. “The same was true for the use of torture and other methods in the course of interrogating suspects. These were not a form of punishment; rather they were methods derived from military doctrine.”

Drouin, an expert witness for the prosecution, outlined the key points of his expert report, “Theory and practice of the countersubversive war in Guatemala and its relevance for the Molina Theissen case.” In Guatemalan military doctrine, he stated, enforced disappearance was considered a valid technique of counter-subversive warfare. He also noted that operative units acted on the basis of orders handed down by a superior entity, which at the time was the Intelligence Directorate of the Chief of Staff of the Guatemalan Army.

The expert stated that as a result of his investigation he was able to determine the existence of a clandestine structure of repression, the importance of military intelligence and the counter-subversive war, and its effects on the Molina Theissen family. The expert stated that based on his review of military doctrine and intelligence documents pertaining to the Molina Theissen family, the Army viewed the family as a military objective. He stated that the torture and sexual violence against Emma and the enforced disappearance of her brother Marco Antonio were a direct result of the application of the Guatemalan army’s military doctrine.

French influence: You cannot win without torture or executions

Drouin analyzed the evolution of the Guatemalan Army’s military doctrine, beginning with its origins in French military doctrine. Since the war with Algeria, the French perceived that the adversary was not external but internal; as a result, it prioritized “following and surveilling the family and friends of those it considered enemies.” The Guatemalan Army adopted this concept of “internal enemy,” as well as this broader notion of developing intelligence based on surveillance of family and friends of suspected subversives.

The expert went into great detail about the French military theorists who designed the concept of the “internal enemy.” He mentioned French general Paul Aussaresses, for example, who is well known for his role in developing and implementing the most notorious counterinsurgency war in Algeria, and who once stated: “you cannot win without torture or executions.” The expert pointed out that the French theorists who built the countersubversion theory studied in Saint-Cyr, where defendant Benedicto Lucas García also received training, and presented an interview with Lucas García in which the former Army chief of staff states that he used what he learned in France in the counterinsurgency war in Guatemala.

The expert referred to elements of the Guatemalan Army’s Manual of Counterinsurgency Warfare, which has no publication date but is believed to have been in use between 1970 and 1983, to substantiate his argument. He presented several quotes from the manual, for example: “Before starting the interrogation, it is necessary to know the links (affective, family and organizational) of the person, as well as to study any relevant documents in order to identify their vulnerabilities.” Also: “The names and other relevant information of relatives and friends, serve as an invaluable source of action and for creating traps.” And: “it is necessary to eliminate the members of the local political-administrative organization quickly and definitively.”

Drouin stated that the Manual of Counterinsurgency Warfare makes reference to the creation of “death squads.” Death squads first appeared in Guatemala in 1966 and facilitated coordination between the military, police forces, and paramilitary units. The manual states that when the state security forces lacked sufficient capacity, they could resort to the organization of a “volunteer service” they referred to as “hunters of terrorists.”

“Marco Antonio was considered subversive because his sister was considered a subversive”

The expert affirmed that the army interviewed the Molina Theissen family as a military objective. The logic of the Guatemalan army’s military doctrine leads him to the conclusion that the kidnapping of Marco Antonio was in response to the escape of his sister, Emma, and was intended to force her to surrender so that they could continue interrogating her to obtain information about the Patriotic Worker Youth (JPT). “He was considered subversive because his sister was considered a subversive,” Drouin stated, in reference to Marco Antonio; under this logic the Army justified the disappearance of the boy, even though he was only 14 years old.

In support of this assertion, Drouin read to the court a quote The Washington Post attributed to Benedicto Lucas García, in which he states that the guerrillas had indoctrinated entire family units in western Guatemala, including children, and therefore it was difficult to distinguish the enemy. Therefore, Lucas García states, “the order is to attack everyone equally.”

The expert also stated that, based on documents he reviewed from the National Police Historical Archive, the Molina Theissen family was under surveillance as early as 1955, a year after the overthrow of democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. The expert stated that he found documents dating from 1976 with information about Emma’s father and mother, who were registered as “rebellious elements,” as well as documents registering information about Emma, including her address, and the activities of her sister Ana Lucrecia and of other members of her family. Information about her boyfriend Julio Cesar del Valle, who was executed on March 22, 1980, was also registered.

The expert noted that the recapture of Emma was of critical importance because she was a source of information that could nourish the military’s intelligence base, and that her escape put at risk the entire clandestine structure of military intelligence. Recapturing Emma was critical to preventing her from publicly denouncing this clandestine structure of military intelligence.

Jorge Lucas García cross-examined the expert witness, asking him why the military would only kidnap Emma’s brother. “Why take only the brother? Wouldn’t it have been better to take both the mother and the brother or the entire family?” The prosecution objected to the question for being tendentious, which the court accepted.

Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada is a human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.