WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A jury held two retired Salvadoran generals responsible Tuesday for atrocities committed during El Salvador’s civil war two decades ago and ordered them to pay $54.6 million to three torture victims.
The generals, who now live in the United States, were sued by a church worker, a doctor and a professor who fled their homeland after being brutalized by Salvadoran soldiers.
The federal jury found that retired Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia had ignored massacres and other atrocities against civilians.
Two of the victims, Carlos Mauricio and Neris Gonzalez, were in court and wept as the verdict was read.
“This has been a long, long struggle for justice,” said Mauricio, who was strung up by his arms, starved and beaten during eight days of torture.
Defense attorney Kurt Klaus said the generals cannot pay the verdict and cannot even afford to appeal. He had previously advised them not to even fight the claims.
“I’m disappointed. I wish I would have done a better job,” Klaus said.
The victims, who also live in the United States, sued under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act that allows U.S. courts to assess damages against perpetrators of human rights abuses committed abroad.
The jury was asked to determine whether the generals knew their troops were torturing and murdering civilians but failed to try to stop it or punish those responsible.
Jury foreman Arnie Esbin said he found the generals’ testimony to be “self-serving” and “inappropriate.” The jury deliberated for 20 hours over four days.
“This reign of terror involved tens of thousands of deaths and torture,” attorney James Green said in his closing argument. “You have a historic opportunity and a historic obligation to set the record straight and to tell these generals what they did was wrong.”
Klaus described the men as champions of democracy, like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and said they helped reform their country’s corrupt banking system and its agriculture-based economy.
“There’s no doubt that what happened in El Salvador was horrible, that what happened to these people was horrible. It was a horrible war, a dirty war,” Klaus said. “But I don’t think the parties that are responsible for what happened to these people are here.”