Michael Peter Hammer – Airman First Class, United States Air Force Foreign Service Officer

February 1981 issue of State Magazine

“Michael P. Hammer, 42, director of the Agrarian Union Development Department of the American Institute for Free Labor Development, was killed by gunmen in San Salvador on January 3, 1981. Also killed in the incident, which took place in a hotel dining room, were Mark Pearlman, recently employed by the institute, and Rodolfo Viera, president of the Peasants Workers' Union, El Salvador. The three men were working on an agrarian reform program for the rural poor.

A 1964 graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Mr.Hammer was widely known among members of the Foreign Service. He had worked for the institute since 1965.”

The murders of Viera, Hammer and Pearlman

It is not clear whether those who planned the murders set the specific place and time in advance. However, there is full evidence that they did take advantage of the unexpected opportunity in the Sheraton Hotel to murder people who were a previously selected target.

On the night of 3 January 1981, López Sibrián ordered Valle Acevedo, a National Guard agent, to accompany him to the home of businessman Hans Christ. López Sibrián was carrying a 9-mm pistol and an Ingram sub-machine-gun obtained from the National Guard depot. At approximately 10 p.m., Christ, López Sibrián and Avila arrived at the hotel and went to eat in the hotel restaurant.

Viera, Hammer and Pearlman arrived sometime after 10 p.m. They went into the restaurant where Christ, Avila and López Sibrián were sitting. Since the restaurant was full, they asked for somewhere more private. An employee recommended the Americas room, which is spacious. Christ recognized Viera and commented to Avila: “Look! There's that son of a bitch!”Avila said that someone in the group commented that he had grown a beard and that it would be good if he were dead.Avila also mentioned that when López Sibrián saw Viera he said that that was a good opportunity to kill him.At least one of the three left the table and watched where Viera's group was going

Moments later López Sibrián, Avila and Christ left the hotel, went to the parking lot and got into a car. There, they told Valle Acevedo to kill the President of ISTA and the other two, but he refused to do the job alone. López Sibrián got out of the car, went back to the parking lot and went over to National Guard agent Gómez González, who was watching Morán's vehicle. López Sibrián told him to go with him. When Gómez González replied that he could do nothing without Major Morán's authorization, López Sibrián went into the hotel, returned immediately and told Gómez that Morán had authorized him to accompany him.

López Sibrián and Gómez González then walked towards Sibrián's vehicle, in which Valle Acevedo, Christ and Avila were sitting. López Sibrián ordered Valle Acevedo and Gómez González to accompany Christ to the hotel and kill the three men there. He also gave Gómez González the 9-millimetre Ingram sub-machine-gun, while Avila gave Valle Acevedo another .45-millimetre sub-machine-gun and a khaki sweater to conceal the weapon. 454 Christ told them that he would identify the men.

The two National Guard agents entered the hotel behind Christ, who showed them where Viera, Hammer and Pearlman were sitting. They waited only a few moments, then Valle Acevedo and Gómez González opened fire on Viera and his two companions. There is sufficient evidence, based on the wounds received and the place where the bodies were, that, in addition to Viera, both Hammer and Pearlman were a target of the gunmen.

The two gunmen left the hotel immediately and escaped in López Sibrián's vehicle to a house near the auxiliary funeral service, followed by Avila in his vehicle. There, they returned the weapons to their respective owners and López Sibrián then ordered them to return to National Guard headquarters. After the murders of Viera, Hammer and Pearlman, it became known in the National Guard that members of Section II, including Valle Acevedo and Gómez González, had committed the murders

On 14 February 1986, five years after the murder, the two agents were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On 19 December 1987, they were released under the Amnesty Act. The case against Avila was dismissed for the same reason.

The investigation

The seven years of investigation of the murders of Viera, Hammer and Pearlman are well documented elsewhere and there is no need to review them here. However, two aspects of this incident warranted careful consideration by the Commission.

The role of Major Morán

There is substantial evidence that Major Morán, then Chief of Intelligence of the National Guard, learnt, after the murders, that his second in-command, López Sibrián, had ordered two guards in the unit he commanded to carry them out. Morán also neglected to inform the appropriate authorities of those facts.

It is also clear that Morán's role in the murders was never properly investigated. One of the convicted guards said that Major Medrano, who headed the military investigation of the case, told him to blame López Sibrián, 464 apparently so as not to implicate his superior, Morán. Furthermore, there is no indication that when the commission for the Investigation of Criminal Acts reopened the case in 1985, it investigated Morán's role in the murders, even though it had received evidence that Morán participated in a meeting of the Intelligence Section of the National Guard on 3 January, when the murder may have been planned. The Commission for the Investigation of Criminal Acts was also given evidence that on 5 January, Morán received payment for completing a “job”.

The identification of López Sibrián

Although the testimony gathered by the Medrano commission shed new light on López Sibrián's role in the murders, there is full evidence that Judge Jiménez Zaldívar cooperated actively with López Sibrián by allowing him to disguise himself so that it was impossible for a key witness to recognize him. The next day, Judge Jiménez Zaldívar ordered López Sibrián released for lack of evidence.


The Commission finds the following:

1. There is full evidence that on 3 January 1981, José Dimas Valle Acevedo and Santiago Gómez González killed José Rodolfo Viera, Michael Hammer and Mark David Pearlman in the Sheraton Hotel.

2. There is full evidence that Lieutenant López Sibrián was involved in planning the operation to murder Viera, Hammer and Pearlman and in ordering two members of the National Guard to carry it out. He also gave a weapon to Gómez González and helped the killers escape from the scene of the crime.

3. There is full evidence that Captain Eduardo Avila was involved in planning the murder operation and collaborated with López Sibrián in carrying it out.

4. There is sufficient evidence that Hans Christ 468 was involved in planning the murder operation and assisted in carrying it out.

5. As to the role of Lieutenant Colonel Mario Denis Morán, there is substantial evidence that he covered up the murders by neglecting to report the facts.

6. There is full evidence that Judge Héctor Enrique Jiménez Zaldívar cooperated with the main suspect, López Sibrián, hindering his identification which would have led to the institution of criminal proceedings.

More than 3 years have passed since Michael P. Hammer and Mark D. Pearlman were gunned down in San Salvador's Sheraton Hotel. The director of El Salvador's land reform program, Jose Rodolfo Viera, was murdered with them.

In the months preceding their deaths, hundreds of others connected with the land reform program had been killed. In the years since then, tens of thousands of Salvadorans have been brutally murdered. Yet there has not been one trial or conviction, not one case resolved.

Mr. Hammer and Mr. Pearlman were in El Salvador to help implement that country's fledgling land reform program, a key to improving the lot of the campesinos. Both worked for the American Institute for Free Labor Development, affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

As their brutal deaths graphically illustrate, the program to which they were so dedicated was violently opposed by those who felt threatened by the reform it represented – the right wing, the moneyed interests, the generals and colonels who profited handsomely from the status quo of repression and economic injustice.

The two national guardsmen who allegedly pulled the triggers were eventually arrested, only to testify that they were acting under orders issued by Salvadoran National Guard Lieutenant Sibrian and Army Captain Avila. Despite the arrests and the testimony, there have been no trials and no convictions. It took nearly 3 years for the Salvadoran Army to detain Avila, an action taken only after Vice President Bush issued his “control the death squads” warning, and then for an unrelated military matter.

Ten days ago, the government of El Salvador released Captain Avila, who by his own admission provided the weapon that was used in the Sheraton murders. In effect, El Salvador has thumbed its nose at the American people; we have been challenged to remain true to our principles and to stand up for justice. The pending amendment would make our position clear. The labor advisers' case is one of thousands which have languished while the Salvadoran military, in a disgusting way, protects the perpetrators, often its own officers and enlisted men.

Something must be done; even Ambassador Pickering, our representative in El Salvador, has stated that reasonable and practical conditions on the granting of funds to El Salvador are effective. The recent action of the Salvadoran Government in releasing Mr. Avila indicates that we are moving backward. At issue here are murdered Americans and American tax dollars; we certainly have the right to establish basic conditions of justice and human rights if we are going to provide the Salvadorans with help and assistance.

JANUARY 3, 2006

Brother of Slain US Labor Rep Visits Burial Site, Calls for Closure of US Army's School of the Americas Frank Hammer Opposes Controversial Army School Where Brother's Killers Trained

Frank Hammer, brother of slain AFL-CIO representative Michael Hammer, is in Washington, D.C. today to mark the 25th anniversary of his brother's shooting death in the Central American country of El Salvador. On January 3, 1981, Michael Hammer was violently gunned down by Salvadoran soldiers trained at the notorious School of the Americas. To mark the occasion, Hammer, of Detroit, Michigan, will lay a wreath at his brother's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery.
With the support of School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), a DC-based non-profit organization, Hammer will meet with Congressional representatives in an effort to win support for the passage of HR 1217, “The Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2005.” The bill calls for the suspension of operations at the School of the Americas, the U.S. Army training facility located at Ft. Benning, Georgia now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC). Chartered by the U.S. Congress to “strengthen democracy” in Latin America, SOA/WHINSEC has been definitively linked to Mike Hammer's assassination.

On the night of January 3, 1981, Michael Hammer and his associate Mark Pearlman were meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in San Salvador with Rodolfo Viera, a Salvadoran involved in agrarian land reform, when all three were gunned down by two Salvadoran National Guardsmen. Hammer and Pearlman were staff members of the American Institute of Free Labor Development (AIFLD), an AFL-CIO affiliate representing the interests of the federation in Central and Latin America.

According to a special report by the National Labor Committee (1985), two wealthy Salvadoran businessmen and large landowners – Ricardo Sol Meza and Hans Christ – were hosting a dinner party at the hotel that same evening. With them was Major Mario Denis Moran, head of the intelligence section of the Salvadoran National Guard and a military classmate of Roberto D'Aubuisson, then leader of the right wing ARENA party; Lieutenant Isidoro Lopez Sibrian, Major Moran's second-in-command; and Captain Eduardo Ernesto Alfonso Avila, also a D'Aubuisson associate.

It is believed that Hans Christ, the businessman, first spotted and recognized the labor advisors. About thirty minutes later, Capt. Avila and Lt. Lopez Sibrian walked to the front of the hotel where two bodyguards were waiting. The officers gave these two National Guardsmen Ingram submachine guns equipped with silencers. Lt. Lopez Sibrian then ordered the killings and Has Christ led the Guardsmen through the hotel and physically pointed out the victims. The Guardsmen stepped through the door of the dining room and machine-gunned Hammer, Pearlman and Viera to death.

The two Salvadoran Guardsmen who actually carried out the killing, Valle Acevedo and Gomez Gonzalez, eventually served short terms in prison for their crimes. Major Moran, Captain Avila, and Lt. Sibrian were never charged. According to the 1993 UN Truth Commission Report on El Salvador, the US Army trained all three at the School of the Americas (SOA).

The murder of Michael Hammer and the other two men occurred in the context of numerous government-inspired death squad atrocities, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (March 1980), the murder of four U.S. Churchwomen (November 1980) and the El Mozote Massacre (1980) where more than 900 villagers were killed.

Captain Avila was not only involved in the Sheraton murders; he also planned and ordered the assassination of Archbishop Romero. Lt. Sibrian engaged in kidnapping for profit, extracting $4 million in ransoms from wealthy Salvadorans, purportedly as part of an anti-government kidnapping ring. Major Moran was linked with the death squads in a list given to Vice President Bush by the human rights organization, Americas Watch.

Although the training facility's name was changed in January of 2001, the SOA/WHINSEC continues to this day to train armed personnel in Latin America primarily in combat techniques. The SOA/ WHINSEC, a combat training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.

“In this time when the US government is trying to lead a worldwide campaign against terrorism, it is incumbent that we start by cleaning up our own backyard,” stated Frank Hammer. “To stop terrorism, we must stop exporting it ourselves.”

To this end, Hammer joined SOA Watch in calling on Congress to pass HR 1217, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). The bill currently has 123 co-sponsors.

Photographic Coverage of the Funeral of Michael P. Hammer
Arlington National Cemetery

mphammer07Vice President Walter Mondale meets with the family of Michael P. Hammer shortly before the funeral services begin.

mphammer06Vice President Walter Mondale meets with the family of Michael P. Hammer shortly before the funeral services begin.

mphammer22The body of Michael P. Hammer arrives at the Fort Myer Chapel.

mphammer21The body of Michael P. Hammer is carried into the Fort Myer Chapel by members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard.

mphammer20Members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard render a salute as the body of Michael P. Hammer enters the Fort Myer Chapel.

mphammer19The body of Michael P. Hammer is carried from the Fort Myer Chapelby members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard.

mphammer18Family, friends and military estorts wait outside the Fort Myer Chapel as the body of Michael P. Hammer is loaded into a waiting hearse for the short trip to Arlington National Cemetery

mphammer15Vice President Walter Mondale and members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard outside the Fort Myer Chapel.

mphammer17Vice President Walter Mondale, Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard outside the Fort Myer Chapel.

mphammer16Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, family members, friends and members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard outside the Fort Myer Chapel.

mphammer05The body of Michael P. Hammer is loaded into the waiting hearse for the short trip to Arlington National Cemetery.

mphammer14Members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard carry the body of Michael P. Hammer to his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery

mphammer13Religious services being conducted during the funeral services for Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer12Members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard holding the flag from the casket of Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer11Member of the United States Air Force Honor Guard prepare to fire a 21-shot volley at the funeral of Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer10The bugler from the United States Air Force Honor Guard plays Taps during the funeral of Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer09Members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard folding the flag from the casket of Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer04Members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard folding the flag from the casket of Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer03Member of the United States Air Force Honor Guard stand at attention during the funeral services for Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer02Member of the United States Air Force Honor Guard leaving the gravesite following funeral services for Michael P. Hammer.

mphammer08The casket of Michael P. Hammer sits alone following his funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery.

mphammer01Religious leader greets family and friends at the conclusion of funeral services for Michael P. Hammer.

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