12 April 2014, NYT: Salvadoran General Accused in Killings Should Be Deported, Miami Judge Says
12 April 2013, NYT: U.S. Justice Dept. Releases Judge's Ruling on Ex-Salvadoran General
MARCH 12, 2015
General in El Salvador Killings in '80s Can Be Deported, Court Rules
By JULIA PRESTON
In a decision setting a significant human rights precedent, an immigration appeals court has ruled that a former defense minister of El Salvador, a close ally of Washington during the civil war there in the 1980s, can be deported from the United States because he participated in or concealed torture and murder by his troops.
The decision,  published Wednesday by the Board of Immigration Appeals in the case of the former official, Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, found that he had a direct role in the abuse and killings of civilians because of his "command responsibility" as the top military officer.
It is a major statement by the highest immigration court, interpreting a central issue in a human rights law passed in 2004. General Vides is the highest-ranking official to be prosecuted under the command provisions of the statute.
The ruling will make it easier to deport foreigners who were top commanders based on violations by soldiers serving under them.
"Congress clearly intended that commanders should be held accountable if their subordinates commit torture and extrajudicial killings," the panel of three judges wrote.
Among other crimes, the board found that General Vides was directly involved in covering up the role of National Guard troops under his command in the rape and murder of four American churchwomen in December 1980. Those killings, as much as any others by the Salvadoran armed forces during the decade-long war, revealed the rampant violence of the military that Washington staunchly supported in its Cold War confrontation with leftist guerrillas.
This immigration case is the first time General Vides has been held responsible in American courts in those murders.
The board decision upholds -- and goes beyond -- an opinion in February 2012 by an immigration judge  finding that General Vides could be deported. He is not likely to be expelled immediately, though, because he can appeal to a federal appeals court.
But the written decision by the board will still stand for other immigration cases.
The case is a stunning reversal of fortune for General Vides, 77, who was defense minister of El Salvador from 1983 to 1989, and was praised by American officials as a reformer struggling to root out human rights violators from his corps. After he retired in 1989, he moved to the United States as a legal resident and has been living quietly in Florida.
The immigration board rejected General Vides's argument that it was "manifestly unjust" for the United States to deport him because during his term as commander, he was "consistently and uniformly led to believe that his conduct was consistent with the official policy" of Washington.
A former American ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin G. Corr, testified on the general's behalf.
But another ambassador, Robert White, who dissented from American policy, testified against General Vides.
The board's decision reads very much like the reports from human rights organizations that criticized the Salvadoran government at the time.
"This is not a case in which isolated or random human rights abuses took place at the hands of rogue subordinates," the judges wrote. General Vides "affirmatively and knowingly shielded subordinates from the consequences of their acts and promoted a culture of tolerance for human rights abuses."
In the deaths of the churchwomen, the board found that General Vides "knew that National Guardsmen confessed to involvement in the murders, failed to competently investigate the guardsmen under his command, obstructed the United States' efforts to investigate, and delayed bringing the perpetrators to justice."
The decision reviews in chilling detail the torture of two Salvadorans, Dr. Juan Romagoza Arce and Daniel Alvarado. During 22 days in 1980, Dr. Romagoza was "beaten, shocked with electrical probes all over his body, sexually assaulted with a stick and hung from the ceiling for several days" and also shot in the arm, his wounds left to fill with worms. Dr. Romagoza reported that General Vides saw him twice during his captivity.
Mr. Alvarado was tortured for seven days until he falsely confessed to killing a United States military adviser, Lt. Cmdr. Albert Schaufelberger. After an F.B.I. investigation, United States officials repeatedly advised General Vides, according to the board's decision, that his forces were holding and torturing the wrong man.
"The United States is not a safe haven for human rights abusers," said Sarah Saldaña, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that prosecuted the case. "The passage of time will not preclude us from pursuing these cases."
Carolyn Patty Blum, a lawyer who assisted the Center for Justice and Accountability, a legal organization in San Francisco that supported the prosecution, said it was "incredibly significant that the board is weaving in the concept of command responsibility as a crucial part of the finding of responsibility for torture and killing."
The board decision is likely to have an immediate effect on the similar deportation case of another former Salvadoran defense minister, Gen. Jose Guillermo Garcia,  which is also on appeal in Florida.
In 2000, a Florida jury acquitted General Vides and General Garcia of responsibility for the churchwomen's murders. But in 2002 in a separate case, a Florida jury found the officers liable for the torture of three Salvadorans, including Dr. Romagoza, and ordered them to pay $54 million. The government started the deportation cases after those verdicts.