In 1982, a low-ranking diplomat by the name of Carl Gettinger received one of the State Department's highest honors for his "creative dissent." The ceremony was public, but the details were highly classified. Now a story at ProPublica reveals those details, which revolved around the infamous 1980 murders of three American nuns and a fourth US woman, a missionary, in El Salvador. It was because of Gettinger that the Salvadoran soldiers who raped and killed the women were eventually convicted. "The full story of how one of the most junior officers in the US embassy in San Salvador tracked down the killers has never been told," writes Raymond Bonner. "It is the tale of an improbable bond between a Salvadoran soldier with a guilty conscience and a young American diplomat with a moral conscience."
The piece describes in fascinating detail how Gettinger established a relationship with that Salvadoran lieutenant. Even though the White House pushed back aggressively against any investigation that would implicate the Salvadoran government, Gettinger wouldn't be deterred. He convinced his informant to work with him on the case—at one point, the informant tape-recorded a conversation about the killings with the officer in charge of the operation—and they eventually turned up the names of those involved. The killings and subsequent trial remain "a pivotal event in the history of US interventions in Central America," writes Bonner, and it's largely thanks to this unlikely pair. "Different as they were, both men shared a willingness to risk their lives in the name of justice." Read the story in full here. (Read more El Salvador stories.)