A U.S. immigration judge has ruled that there are sufficient grounds to begin deportation proceedings against a former Salvadoran defense minister for his alleged involvement in torture and extrajudicial killings in the Central American country in the 1980s, Reuters reported. Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), a human rights group involved in the case, praised the ruling saying it was "the first judicial affirmation of Mr Casanova’s role in those horrendous crimes."
Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Coburn (R-OK), assisted CJA in requesting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to review the prosecution and deportation against Casanova.
In 1999, CJA filed suit against Vides Casanova for human rights abuses. Dr. Juan Romagoza Arce, Neris Gonzalez, and Carlos Mauricio, endured torture at the hands of troops under Casanova’s command. In 2002, a West Palm Beach, Fla., jury returned at $54.6 million judgment against Generals José Guillermo García and Carlos Vides Casanova, a verdict that led to the deportation proceedings against Vides Casanova. In January 2006, the 11th Circuit court upheld the verdict on appeal and, in July 2006, Vides Casanova was forced to relinquish over $300,000 of his assets, the CJA said in its website on the history of the case.
The ruling is the first time that a senior foreign military official has been held responsible in U.S. immigration court for rights abuses committed under his command, according to human rights lawyers.
Vides Casanova was defense minister during a brutal period of civil war in the 1980s between leftist rebels and U.S.-backed government forces. He retired and moved to Florida in 1989.
Spokesperson for Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), a legal activist group that seeks redress to Sri Lanka’s Tamil victims of war, said, "the role of equities in the American justice system which render statutes of limitations flexible for particular crimes will bolster Tamil justice efforts in the long run. The immigration ruling is a welcome warning sign to Sri Lanka’s alleged war-criminals, some of whom are either holders of Green Card or hold U.S. citizenship."
The Casanova case also involved Court struggle over statute of limitations which is 10 years for TVPA cases.
PDF: Casanova 2nd Appeal
PDF: Casanova 1st Appeal
After the jury award in 2002, the defendants appealed the verdict and, in February 2005, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned CJA’s victory in the case. The Court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action within the 10-year statute of limitations of Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).
Then, in June 2005, the 11th Circuit acknowledged certain factual errors in its prior ruling: the court had failed to consider that Vides Casanova had left power in El Salvador in May 1989, and that therefore CJA’s May 1999 filing was just under the 10 year mark.
On January 5, 2006, the 11th Circuit issued a new ruling upholding the verdict in its entirety: the jury’s verdict against both generals remained valid. The court’s opinion reached two important conclusions on the question of equitable tolling in ATS cases. Equitable tolling is a legal doctrine that allows for the extending of statutes of limitations, when a deliberate act of the defendant, or an extraordinary circumstance prevented the plaintiff from timely filing suit. In this case, the court held that "exceptional circumstances" allowed for the tolling of the statute of limitations until the end of the civil war in El Salvador in 1992.