Torture trial starts for ex-El Salvador official

AP News
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Posted: Apr 18, 2011 9:31 PM
Torture trial starts for ex-El Salvador official

The deportation trial for former a defense minister of El Salvador began Monday in Florida, 30 years after prosecutors said he condoned torture and the killings of four American churchwomen.

Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova was a close ally of the U.S. when he was El Salvador's top military official during the 1980s as the country fought Marxist guerrillas. He moved to South Florida when he left his post and has been living here ever since.

Vides Casanova is the highest ranking military member to face possible deportation based on the alleged human rights abuses. He was acquitted of civil charges involving the churchwomen murders in 2000.

Former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador Robert White, who was there from 1979-1981, testified that he never witnessed any acts of torture but officials, including Vides Casanova, had authority to stop and prevent the acts.

The government's attorneys said the law they are trying Vides Casanova under was "literally written with this respondent in mind."

Vides Casanova's attorney, Diego Handel, noted that his client was given a Legion of Merit award for outstanding service by the U.S. government. Vides Casanova was focused on the spread of communism in the region, Handel said.

Vides Casanova served as El Salvador's minister of defense from 1983-1989.

The Center for Justice and Accountability previously sued Vides Casanova, accusing him of torturing three Salvadoran citizens. In 2002, a West Palm Beach, Fla., jury returned at $54.6 million judgment against him and General Jose Guillermo Garcia in the torture case.

After losing an appeal in 2006, Vides Casanova had to give up more than $300,000 of his assets.

Garcia's removal also is being sought by the U.S. government. He is being tried in a separate immigration proceeding.

The trial is expected to last a week.