War crimes from the Salvadoran civil war go on trial in a federal courtroom in Memphis, Tennessee today. Colonel Nicolas Carranza, former Vice-Minister of Defense of El Salvador, comes face-to-face with five individuals who accuse him of torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity. The lawsuit is brought by the Center for Justice and Accountability which describes Carranza on the CJA web site:
Colonel Nicolas Carranza, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Memphis, was Vice-Minister of Defense of El Salvador from late 1979 to early 1981. In that position, he exercised command and control over the three units of the Security Forces - the National Guard, National Police and Treasury Police - responsible for widespread attacks on civilians. Despite being removed from his position as Vice-Minister due to U.S. pressure over his human rights record, Colonel Carranza was later brought back in 1983 as head of the brutal Treasury Police, where he exercised command over the members of that group. After being forced out of the Treasury Police, Carranza came to the United States in 1985. He became a U.S. citizen in 1991. In 1984, the New York Times reported that Colonel Carranza had been a paid informant for the CIA.
The plaintiffs allege that Carranza had command authority and responsibility for actions taken by death squads during the early years of the Salvadoran civil war. They seek justice for tortures, arrests and murders committed against them and their family members. The trial before a jury is expected to last about three weeks. This is the first time Carranza has ever had to answer accusations that he oversaw widespread human rights violations in El Salvador.
The Center for Justice and Accountability is responsible for other successful lawsuits in US courts seeking redress for victims of human rights violations during the Salvadoran civil war. Its victories include a September 2004 judgment against Alvaro Saravia, one of the perpetrators of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and a July 2002 $54 million jury verdict for torture and killings against two ex-Salvadoran generals in Miami. (This verdict is currently on appeal on statute of limitations grounds).
The CJA is soliciting donations to help defray the cost of the suit against Carranza. You can donate here.
Justice for death squad victims has never been available after the civil war. The immediate passage of the general amnesty law after the 1992 peace accords has meant that no one has been prosecuted in El Salvador for atrocities and war crimes committing during the civil war. The ARENA government and Tony Saca have repeatedly made it clear that reopening old wounds through judicial inquiries would negate the reconciliation they believe has occurred since 1992.