Military expert: Senior military officials had full knowledge of and responsibility for the crimes committed against the Molina Theissen family

On Tuesday April 24, the Molina Theissen trial court called prosecution witness Héctor Rosada Granados, a Guatemalan social scientist who served as a peace negotiator on behalf of the government from 1993-96 and as the President’s Secretary of Peace. His book, Soldados en el Poder (Soldiers in Power), is widely regarded as a seminal text for understanding the Guatemalan armed forces during the armed conflict. Rosada Granados also testified in the 2013 genocide trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. His expert report for the Molina Theissen case focused on the Army General Staff, military intelligence, and Military Zone No. 17 of Quetzaltenango (MZ 17), as well as on the doctrine of national security.

Rosada Granados opened his testimony by stating that military intelligence has an exclusive channel of communication, which flows from top to bottom and from bottom to top, following the hierarchical chain of command. He described the distinct responsibilities of the G2 and the S2 intelligence officials, who in this case were defendants Manuel Callejas y Callejas and Hugo Zaldaña Rojas, respectively, and noted that there was direct communication between the two. The intelligence director, or G2, directs the intelligence system of the army; he orients intelligence operations and has the vision to supervise and monitor that things are going as planned. The G2 official is a member of the Army General Staff and has command over all members of the military intelligence system, meaning he gives the directives, establishes tasks and the deadlines for completion of those tasks. The S2 official, who is part of the staff of the military zone where he is based, but also responds to the intelligence director, has the responsibility of characterizing the enemy, the terrain, and any obstacles on the ground to implementation of the plans.

The expert testified that what happened to Emma and Marco Antonio Molina Theissen reveals the way that the military implemented its plans, based on the transmission of information through the corresponding communication channels. Specifically, the S2 intelligence official at MZ 17— Zaldaña Rojas—conveyed the information about the capture, torture, captivity, and escape of Emma through the hierarchical intelligence channel to the Army General Staff. The Army Chief of Staff—Benedicto Lucas García—then ordered the Commander of MZ 17—Gordillo Martínez— to recapture Emma, who then ordered the S2 official to direct and supervise the mission to recapture Emma (but which resulted instead in the capture of her brother Marco Antonio). The expert concluded that based on this analysis, the Army Chief of Staff, the director of intelligence, and the S2 official of MZ 17 had full knowledge of and responsibility for this operation.

The expert explained that the events in question reveal the functioning of two distinct chains of command, the first being the strategic military leadership, led by the Army chief of staff. The second was the operational strategic leadership, carried out by the commanders of the different military units within their operational zones. The directors of the Army general staff were under the command of the Army chief of staff, Lucas García, while the director of military intelligence had under his command the S2 officials as well as all the aggregate elements of the G2 System. At the same time the Army chief of staff had a command over all the commanders of the military zones; these commanders were in charge of those assigned to the operative zones within their jurisdiction. The chain of command is the defining element of the military institution, he stated. The expert noted that the Army chief of staff is part of the Army high command, which advised the minister of defense. Article 12 of the Law of the Army grants the Army chief of staff the command, organization, instruction, discipline and conduct of the Armed Forces.

He noted that at the end of 1981 there was a change in the mode of counterinsurgency operations, including the creation of flexible mobile units and irregular forces such as military commissioners, civil defense patrols (PACs), and other civilians who acted under the leadership of military intelligence. Specialized groups and anonymous hired assassins controlled by the military intelligence system carried out multiple acts of extreme violence. This decentralized and clandestine operational structure permitted senior military officials to conceal their own responsibility in the commission of grave violations of human rights during the internal armed conflict.

The expert further noted that the capture of Emma Molina Theissen necessarily had to be reported by the S2 officials to his commanding officer, and if he was not present, to the second commanding officer. Both the S2 official and the commander of MZ 17 necessarily had to inform the Army general staff and the director of intelligence about her capture. He concluded by saying, “there could not have been anyone within the military base who was not aware” of the capture of Emma Molina Theissen.

The expert also noted that the capture of Emma was not part of a military plan, but it was the result of an order to find information. He concluded this because Emma was captured at a military checkpoint established on the orders of the Army chief of staff, and because after finding JPT party documents on her person, the Army transferred her to a location where they could interrogate her.

During the course of the expert witness’s testimony, the wife of one of the defendants, Hugo Zaldaña Rojas, repeatedly interrupted the proceedings and made fun of the expert, leading the tribunal to order her a removal from the courtroom.

Two additional expert witnesses testified for the prosecution on the afternoon of April 24 and the morning of April 25. The first was that of graphologist Erasmo Maquín, who confirmed that the signatures of Lucas García on several documents dated from 1981 were authentic. Finally, Velia Muralles, an expert on archives and official documents, testified about documents seized on January 6, 2016 from the homes of defendants Gordillo Martínez and Callejas y Callejas. The expert said that documents related to the capture and registration of María Margarita Chapeton Rosales in September 1981 were found in the home of Gordillo Martínez. This is the pseudonym that Emma used at the time of her capture and the dates coincide with the dates of her capture in 1981.

Another document refers to a commander inspection carried out in MZ 17, which includes an order to construct a suitable place for conducting interrogations. This request acknowledges the vulnerability of the security of the military base, which became evident after the escape of Emma Molina Theissen nine days after her capture.

The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 9.

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.