There was one thing which both the plaintiff and the defendant agreed upon in the human rights trial of former Salvadoran Colonel Nicolas Carranza. During the 1970s and early 1980s, he was a paid informant of the US CIA. Carranza's defense team thought that this endorsement by the US government would aid his defense. But on Friday, a jury in Memphis, Tennessee disagreed.
The outcome of the trial is described in this AP report:
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Â Daniel Alvarado said he was kidnapped by government agents in El Salvador, hung blindfolded from a ceiling, shocked with electrical wires and repeatedly beaten.
More than two decades later, a federal jury in Tennessee has held a former Salvadoran Army colonel responsible for the torture.
Nicolas Carranza, 72, failed to stop crimes against humanity when he was a top commander of El Salvador's security forces, the jury found Friday. He was held responsible in civil claims by Alvarado and three others who said they were tortured or that their family members were killed by soldiers under Carranza's command.
"For all these years, I had to carry this inside me," said Alvarado, who testified that he was abducted as a college student and tortured into falsely confessing to the murder of a U.S. military adviser.
Alvarado was set free after U.S. investigators determined he was not responsible for the murder. The supervisor of the torture was an Army major who served under Carranza, he said.
"It makes me feel that if you just wait, justice will come," Alvarado said.
Carranza was ordered to pay $500,000 to each accuser, plus $4 million in punitive damages Â $1 million each.
The jury did not reach a verdict in a fifth case, and a mistrial was declared.
The case was brought by the San Francisco based Center for Justice and Accountability. After the verdict, it issued a statement on its website including the following:
The verdict represents the first time that a U.S. jury in a contested case has found a commander liable for crimes against humanity. This means that violations were committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population of El Salvador. The jurors awarded each of the four plaintiffs $500,000 in compensatory damages for a total of $2 million....
The trial was marked by several important revelations. Former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White testified that Colonel Carranza was a paid informant for the CIA while he was Vice-Minister of Defense and a member of the High Command in 1980. At that time 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. Carranza admitted on the witness stand that he had been receiving money from the U.S. government since 1965.
When asked about the suit prior to the verdict, Salvadoran President Tony Saca told the periodical El Faro, "I respect the internal judicial processes of the United States, however, there were people who fought for peace, democracy and liberty, and one of those was Colonel Nicolas Carranza...He was a hero of democracy in the country."
For futher coverage of the trial of Carranza, check out the blog of Will O'Loughlen.