Retired Salvadoran generals must pay torture victims

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Associated Press WriterWEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A jury Tuesday held two retired Salvadoran generals responsible for atrocities committed during El Salvador's civil war two decades ago and ordered the men to pay $54.6 million to three torture victims.

The generals, who now live in the United States, were sued by a church worker, a doctor and a professor who fled their country after being tortured by Salvadoran soldiers.

The federal jury found that retired Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo had ignored massacres and other acts of brutality against civilians.

Two of the victims, Carlos Mauricio and Neris Gonzalez, were in court and wept as the verdict was read.

Defense attorney Kurt Klaus said he will advise the generals to appeal because they cannot pay the verdict.

The victims, who also live in the United States, sued under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act that allows U.S. courts to assess damages against perpetrators of human rights abuses committed abroad.

The jury was asked to determine whether the generals knew their troops were torturing and murdering civilians but failed to try to stop it or punish those responsible.

"This reign of terror involved tens of thousands of deaths and torture," attorney James Green said in his closing argument. "You have a historic opportunity and a historic obligation to set the record straight and to tell these generals what they did was wrong."

Klaus described the men as champions of democracy, like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and said they helped reform their country's corrupt banking system and its agriculture-based economy.

"There's no doubt that what happened in El Salvador was horrible, that what happened to these people was horrible. It was a horrible war, a dirty war," Klaus said, referring to the plaintiffs. "But I don't think the parties that are responsible for what happened to these people are here."

The torture victims included a doctor, Juan Romagoza Arce, who was beaten, raped and shot while being interrogated over 22 days. He had shriveled to 80 pounds when he was released, and his fingers were ruined after being bound by wire cables. He said Vides visited him on one occasion when he was chained to the floor.

Gonzalez, a church worker who helped peasants learn to count to 100, was eight months pregnant when she was abducted. Beaten and raped repeatedly, she was piled in a truck with corpses and let go. Her son was born but died two months later from injuries.

Mauricio was strung up by his arms, starved and beaten during eight days of torture.

Vides and Garcia were cleared in a similar case 20 months ago, when a jury in another federal trial found they had no control over the rogue soldiers who raped and murdered four American Catholic missionaries in a remote area of El Salvador two decades before.

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