|Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova.|
(Marta Lavandier/Associated Press)
By Julia Preston
The New York Times, February 23, 2012
"An immigration judge in Florida has cleared the way for the deportation from the United States of Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former defense minister of El Salvador, finding that he assisted in acts of torture and murder committed by soldiers under his command during the civil war there, including several notorious killings of Americans. The decision by Judge James Grim of immigration court in Orlando is the first time that federal immigration prosecutors have established that a top-ranking foreign military commander can be deported based on human rights violations under a law passed in 2004, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, intended to bar human rights violators from coming to or living in the United States. Judge Grim found that General Vides assisted in the killings of four American churchwomen on a rural road in El Salvador in 1980, a crime that caused shock there and in Washington and presaged the bloody violence that would engulf the Central American nation for the next decade. The immigration judge's ruling is the first time General Vides has been held responsible for those deaths in a court of law. Five soldiers from the Salvadoran National Guard were eventually convicted of the killings and served long prison sentences. General Vides was the commander of the National Guard at the time of the murders. The effort by Department of Homeland Security officials to seek the deportation of General Vides, who was El Salvador's defense minister from 1983 to 1989, is a turnabout in American foreign policy. He was a close ally of Washington throughout the war against leftist guerrillas in the 1980s, and was embraced as a reformer despite rampant rights violations by the armed forces under his command.
Judge Grim also determined that General Vides had assisted in the torture of two Salvadorans, Juan Romagoza and Daniel Alvarado, who testified against him in hearings last spring in the immigration court in Orlando. 'This is the first case where the Department of Homeland Security has taken this relatively new law and applied it to the highest military commander of their country to seek their removal,' said Carolyn Patty Blum, senior legal adviser for the Center for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit legal group in San Francisco that represented several torture victims in the case. She called the decision 'hugely significant' for future efforts to bring immigration cases for human rights abuses against the highest-level military commanders and government officials. Many details of the judge’s decision were not available on Thursday, since in keeping with general practice in immigration courts, the ruling was not published. His main findings were described by lawyers familiar with the case. [...]"