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Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, Former Salvadoran Defense Minister & SOA Grad Responsible for Torture, Rape and Murder of 4 American Nuns & Many Others, Faces Deportation from U.S.

Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova (Photo: Univision screen grab)

Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova (Photo: Univision screen grab)

A former Salvadoran general and defense minister responsible for the brutal torture, rape and murder of four American nuns as well as thousands of innocent civilians may face deportation from the United States thanks to a long-overdue ruling from a Florida immigration judge.

Judge James Grim of Immigration Court, Orlando has ruled that Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova assisted in acts of torture and murder committed by troops under his command during El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s. Among the most notorious atrocities for which the general bears responsibility is the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of four American nuns in 1980.

Complicating matters for all these years is the fact that Gen. Vides was a longtime U.S. ally, trained in “counterinsurgency” at the U.S. Army School of the Americas and supported with arms, funding and training even as the Reagan administration became aware of his brutality. Washington’s Cold War policy trumped human rights, and Reagan turned a blind eye to horrific violations in order to back a staunchly anti-communist ally. After retiring, the general settled into a comfortable life in Florida, rewarded with legal permanent U.S. residence.

Vides’ change of fortune is largely due to prosecutors from the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, a division of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), now under the Department of Homeland Security, created in 2003 to prevent human rights violators from entering the United States and to deport the more than 1,000 who are already living here, many of them protected by the highest levels of government for years.

Murdered martyrs.

Vides commanded the dreaded Salvadoran National Guard before becoming defense minister. It was in his capacity as the former that he bore responsibility for the December 1980 kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel, three American nuns (Donovan was a Catholic lay missionary) in El Salvador working to help the poor peasants who were the target of the government’s murderous wrath because of their leftist leanings. Those four churchwomen were inspired by the work of the late Archbishop Óscar Romero, assassinated earlier in 1980 by a U.S.-armed, trained and funded Salvadoran military death squad for exactly the same reason. Gen. Vides knew all about the murder of the four nuns. In fact, his cousin Gen. Oscar Edgardo Casanova Vejar commanded the National Guard unit that carried out the war crime. He was also U.S.-trained.

In Panama, then at Ft. Benning, Georgia, many of the Western Hemisphere’s most brutal dictators and worst human rights violators were trained in counterinsurgency, kidnapping, torture and assassination at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), also known as the School of Assassins and the School of Coups. Infamous graduates include the drug-trafficking Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, the Nazi-sheltering Bolivian despot Gen. Hugo Banzer, Salvadoran death squad commander Roberto D’Aubuisson, just to name a few. SOA instructors utilized official U.S.-authored torture manuals that were kept secret until the Washington Post’s Dana Priest broke the story in 1996. Every Salvadoran general in this story was trained at the SOA.

In his ruling, Judge Grim also determined that Gen. Vides was involved in the torture of Salvadoran surgeon Juan Romagoza, who was organizing a rural health campaign in December 1980 when government forces opened fire on a clinic. Dr. Romagoza was wounded and captured. He was brutally tortured and raped; his arm was mutilated so he could never perform surgery again. One day Gen. Vides visited him during his ordeal and told him he “reeked of death.” Upon his release (due to the intervention of an influential uncle), the doctor was a 70-pound skeleton with worm-infested wounds.

Actual page from KUBARK (1963), CIA torture manual

In 1991, the United States passed the Torture Victims Protection Act, which allows anyone subjected to torture anywhere in the world who is denied justice in their jurisdiction to sue in the U.S. Dr. Romagoza filed suit against Vides for his horrendous ordeal. He wasn’t alone: also suing were Neris Gonzalez, a church health educator who was “guilty” of teaching peasants how to count, and professor Carlos Mauricio. Vides and José Guillermo García, another general and defense minister immediately prior to Vides, were the defendants. Gonzalez recounted how, eight months pregnant, she was tortured, raped and forced to watch soldiers gouge out a child’s eyeball before skewering him with a machete. Gonzalez was tortured for weeks before being left to die on a trash heap. She lost her baby. She was one of  tens of thousands of innocent victims of U.S.-backed Salvadoran forces during the 1980-1992 civil war.

Not only were generals Vides and García allowed to retire to the United States, President Reagan actually awarded García the U.S. Legion of Merit for “the exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.”

In July 2002, a Florida jury found the generals guilty and ordered them to pay $54.6 million in reparations to their victims. It is from that judgment that the deportation proceedings against Gen. Vides originated. Gen. García was finally indicted in 2009– on passport fraud, of all things.

Judge Grim’s ruling was welcomed by human rights advocates who have been fighting for justice for Vides’ victims for years. The Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), which was involved in the case, issued a statement lauding ”the first judicial affirmation of Vides’ role in those horrendous crimes.” The CJA is ”is gratified that the U.S. government has undertaken this effort” towards living up to the letter of its own laws regarding the banning and deportation of human rights violators.

But much remains to be done. Hundreds of human rights violators continue to be sheltered in the United States, including many anti-Castro Cuban exile terrorists. And despite his Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities, which supposedly prohibits human rights violators from entering the country, President Obama allowed longtime Yemeni strongman  Ali Abdullah Saleh, favored by Washington until very recently, to enter the U.S. for medical treatment despite the fact that he ordered his forces to use deadly force in suppressing his country’s Arab Spring uprising. Bombs, bullets and batons were used against peaceful protesters; by April 2011, hundreds were dead and many more were wounded.

Bloody hypocrisy, is seems, is still the order of the day in Washington.

*****

School of the Americas: School of Assassins, a short documentary film narrated by actress Susan Sarandon:

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6 Comments

  1. Margaret KnapkeFebruary 24, 2012 at 12:47 pmReply

    Thanks for this update. I offer one correction, and that is that Jean Donovan was a Catholic lay missioner, not a nun.
    Thanks again.

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 24, 2012 at 1:09 pmReplyAuthor

      And thank you for reading. Correction noted, post altered.

  2. Alan AultFebruary 25, 2012 at 3:21 amReply

    There are a lot of hungry alligators in Florida. I would like to invite everyone in Washington responsible, that means if you knew about this and did nothing about it, to come and partake in the feeding.

  3. Sonja WolfFebruary 25, 2012 at 8:29 amReply

    Efforts have been made to shut down the SOA (now WHINSEC), but do any initiatives exist to hold the US authorities responsible for their (indirect) participation in killings committed abroad (indirect because the US has been training foreign military personnel)?

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 25, 2012 at 8:35 amReplyAuthor

      Well, the only example I can think of is not actually directly related. In the 80s, Nicaragua sued the US in the ICJ for the covert terrorist war (CIA/Contra) against the Sandinista regime and the Nicaraguan people. Many of the Contras were SOA grads. Nicaragua won and was awarded $2 billion but Reagan ignored the ruling and withdrew the US from the court.

  4. Express to Hell | The Stay-at-Home Feminist MomFebruary 28, 2012 at 9:04 amReply

    [...] the many atrocities he authorized or committed himself were the rapes and murders of four nuns, “Sister Dorothy Kazel [...]

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