Salvadoran Torture Victims Win $6 Million Verdict

by Roger Alford

Somehow in the Thanksgiving rush this important story escaped my attention. Last week a jury in Memphis, Tennessee awarded $6 million to four victims of torture in the early 1980s. Nicholas Carranza, a former colonel in the Salvadoran Army, was held responsible for the torture of the plaintiffs and the death of family members. CNN has a brief story here. A more detailed analysis is provided here by a NGO group, the Center for Justice and Accountability, that brought the litigation. The law firm of Bass, Berry & Sims was co-counsel with CJA and has a story of the verdict here.
Two things are worthy of note. First, unlike Filartiga and similar ATS torture cases, this case involves command responsibility. Carranza as a commanding officer was found liable for ordering the torture, not commiting the acts. According to CJA, “[t]he verdict represents the first time that a U.S. jury in a contested case has found a commander liable for crimes against humanity.”
Second, it is particularly alarming that a former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, as well as Carranza himself both testified that Carranza had been receiving money from the U.S. government since 1965 as a paid informant of the CIA. These payments continued while Carranza was Vice-Minister of Defense and a member of the High Command in 1980. According to CJA, Ambassador “White asked the CIA station chief in El Salvador to remove Carranza from the CIA payroll because of his deplorable human rights record but no action was ever taken.”
On the heels of my last post about Doe v. Israel describing how difficult it is to win most human rights cases, it is important to note that sometimes ATS plaintiffs are able to secure stunning courtroom victories. As one plaintiff put it, “Now that the jury has held Colonel Carranza responsible for these crimes my family has finally found the justice that we have been seeking all these years.”

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