Two Victories in CJA’s El Salvador Cases

On October 5, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court denied former Salvadoran Vice-Minister of Defense, Colonel Nicolás Carranza’s petition for certiorari to review a 2005 verdict finding him guilty of crimes against humanity.  Additionally, on October 6th, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it has initiated deportation proceedings against former Salvadoran Ministers of Defense General José Guillermo Garcia and General Eugenio Vides Casanova for assisting in the torture of Salvadoran civilians.

Both announcements culminate CJA’s efforts to bring Carranza, Garcia and Vides Casanova to justice for their roles in the torture and other human rights abuses suffered by civilians during the Salvadoran civil war.  As you may recall, CJA and pro bono co-counsel from Morrison & Foerster and Bass, Berry & Sims brought two separate law suits on behalf of our courageous clients against Generals Vides Casanova and Garcia and Col. Carranza.   After a four week jury trial in Miami in 2002, Generals Vides Casanova and Garcia were both convicted and ordered to pay $54.6 million in damages.  After a three week trial in Memphis in 2003, Colonel Carranza was also found responsible for torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity.

General Garcia was the Salvadoran Minister of Defense from 1979-1983, and was in charge of the military forces responsible for the El Mozote and Sumpul River massacres which resulted in the deaths of over 1367 civilians. General Vides Casanova was director of the Salvadoran National Guard before succeeding General Garcia as Minister of Defense.  Colonel Carranza was the Vice-Minister of Defense from 1979-1980, and later became head of the notorious Treasury Police.

Due to the Salvadoran Amnesty Law, which prevents domestic prosecutions for human rights abuses committed during El Salvador’s civil war, Carranza, Garcia and Vides Casanova had not been held accountable for their actions before CJA’s suits against them.  Even though they have yet to face criminal charges in El Salvador, this week’s decisions represent a crucial step towards justice and accountability for human rights violators in El Salvador, while sending an important message that the U.S. will not be a safe haven for such violators.

CJA continues pursuing justice on behalf of victims of crimes against humanity during the Salvadoran civil war and is now leading the Jesuits massacre case before the Spanish National Court. We will also continue to work for the repeal of El Salvador’s Amnesty Law.

We would like to thank Senators Richard Durbin and Thomas Coburn for asking the Department of Homeland Security to review the presence of Garcia and Vides Casanova in the United States, as well as the law firms of Bass Berry & Sims PLC and Morrison & Foerster.  And, of course, we would like to thank our courageous clients:  Daniel Alvarado, Francisco Calderon, Ana Patricia Chavez, Erlinda Franco, Neris Gonzalez, Carlos Mauricio, Cecilia Santos, and Dr. Juan Romagoza.