The Obama administration on Monday charged General Eugenio Vides Casanova, former defense minister of El Salvador, for human rights crimes committed during El Salvador's 12-year civil war [PBS backgrounder] while he served as the country's top military officer. The US is also seeking to deport [La Pagina report, in Spanish] Vides, who retired in Florida after completing his six-year term as defense minister. Vides, who was once supported by US government in his efforts to stop the spread of Communism in El Salvador, is allegedly responsible for many of the torturous acts carried out by the Salvadoran armed forces during the civil war that claimed more than 70,000 lives, including those of Americans. The US brought this case as the first against a foreign military officer who will face immigration charges by a special humans rights office at the Department of Homeland Security [official site]. Supporters of the administration's decision encourage the step the US is taking to deal with foreigners who have committed humans rights abuses and then seek asylum on US soil. Vides has denied any involvement with the torture. The proceedings are expected to last about a week.
In the past decade, the US has made significant strides in prosecuting those involved in the El Salvadoran civil war. In 2006, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld a $55 million verdict [JURIST report] against Vides and his co-defendant Jose Guillermo Garcia for allowing torture and other human rights violations during the war. In 2005, a US federal court reached a verdict against Nicolas Carranza, top commander of El Salvador's security forces during the civil war, for $2 million in compensatory damages [JURIST report]. The case was brought by five Salvadoran citizens who alleged torture or had family killed by Carranza's soldier during the war. In 2000, however, the US lost the battle to seek justice for the murders of four American churchwomen [NYT report] during the civil war when both Vides and Garcia were acquitted. The ruling was grounded in the doctrine that the generals, although responsible for their soldiers, may not have had complete effective power to reign in the abuses of their troops.