Survivors will testify about torture


Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
WEST PALM BEACH - For the second time in 19 months, two Salvadoran generals are spending weeks in a courtroom hearing allegations of secret torture chambers, rapes and murders committed under their watch.
This time, the generals face three survivors: a surgeon with scars from gunshot wounds whose fingers are ruined, a teacher forced to flee after eight days of blindfolded torture and a church worker, eight months pregnant when she was abducted, whose stomach was used as the base for a seesaw with soldiers standing at each end.
Advocates for the immigrants say they will prevail in the second case against Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova because testimony will link the former military leaders to the torture.
In November 2000, a jury found the generals did not have control over the rogue soldiers who raped and murdered four American Catholic missionaries because they worked far from the remote area where the women were killed two decades before.
After the verdict, Robert Montgomery, a lawyer for the women's families, conceded the plaintiffs had only "circumstantial evidence" and couldn't prove the generals ordered the attacks.
In the latest case, the immigrants who survived days of beatings were tortured in office buildings of the National Police and the National Guard, where Vides had an office.
Dr. Juan Romagoza Arce testified that Vides came into a room where he was chained to the ground, showing no concern for his condition. He said Vides, the former head of the National Guard, interrogated him about his uncles in the military.
"So it's much more difficult for the generals to say they didn't know it was going on and that the soldiers would be acting outside of orders," said Sandra Coliver, executive director of the Center for Justice & Accountability, a human rights group that initiated the lawsuit.
Neris Gonzalez says she was burned, cut and forced to sit for more than an hour in a tub of ice water in a regional outpost of the National Guard. Carlos Mauricio says he was starved and beaten for eight days in the National Police headquarters in San Salvador.
During the previous trial, the generals acknowledged that government forces committed many atrocities during the war but insisted they did their best to stop them. The civil war claimed tens of thousands of civilians as victims from 1980-1992.
The three plaintiffs - a doctor, a professor and a church layworker - represent the varied professions of those slain.
Both Vides and Garcia, El Salvador's former minister of defense, plan to testify in their defense before the trial concludes in a few weeks. They are retired and have lived comfortably in Florida since 1989.
The former generals could be forced to pay millions if the immigrants win their suit, filed under the federal Torture Victims Protection Act.

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