Bring Us Your Torturers Yearning to Breathe Free

An immigration judge in Los Angeles ruled on March 5 that Thi Dinh Bui, a 62-year-old Garden Grove resident and former South Vietnamese army captain, could be deported to Vietnam for helping torture fellow countrymen when he worked as a prison guard in a Vietnamese re-education camp in the late 1970s.

"He's a persecutor of others, and the law of the United States does not permit the country to be a safe haven for people who commit atrocities such as this," Bill Odencrantz, director of field legal services for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Custom Enforcement division, told the Los Angeles Times.

Bui, who has been held at a federal prison in San Pedro since August, is alleged to have helped Vietnamese authorities torture inmates who tried to escape the camp, where he was also an inmate.

Bui fled Vietnam for the United States after his release, landing in Orange County—along with many of his accusers. Although he denied torturing anybody, testimony from camp survivors led Judge D.D. Sitgraves to rule that Bui is eligible for deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits safe haven to people suspected of human-rights violations.

Unfortunately, however, Bui is hardly the only suspected torturer to call the U.S. home, and his alleged crimes are barely worth mentioning in comparison to the record of the human-rights abusers who aren't facing deportation.

According to Amnesty International, at least 150 "alleged human-rights violators" reside in the U.S. In 2002, the human-rights group released a 175-page report titled United States of America: A Safe Haven for Torturers, which asserted that, in the eight years since the U.S. signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture, as many as 1,000 suspected torturers may have arrived in this country to escape justice back home.

"U.S. authorities have failed to prosecute any of these cases despite having been notified of many of the identities of the suspects and the evidence against them," the report states. "In light of this record of failure, Amnesty International has withheld the names of most of the suspects to avert prompting their flight from justice."

But Amnesty did name 13 people still living in the U.S. whose records of torture makes Bui look like Bambi. They include:

•Tmas Ricardo Anderson Kohatsu, a Peruvian army-intelligence captain who allegedly ordered the kidnapping of two former staffers—Leonor La Rosa and Mariela Lucy Barreto—who were suspected of leaking information to opposition groups. Both women were detained in an army prison and repeatedly beaten and tortured with electric shocks. Peruvian police found Baretto's dismembered body months later; La Rosa survived and eventually adapted to life as a paraplegic after months of hospitalization. Several human-rights groups later discovered that Anderson Kohatsu was in Washington, D.C., and urged his arrest. U.S. immigration authorities, however, declared he had diplomatic immunity and allowed him to return to Peru.

•Emmanuel Constant, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Front for the Progress of Haiti (or FRAPH), a death squad that committed countless acts of torture after the Haitian military took over the country in 1993. After he moved to the U.S., INS officials arrested him, but then allowed him to remain in the country as long as he promised to stay in the New York area. During this time, Constant publicly claimed he was on the CIA's payroll.

•Alvaro Rafael Saravia Marino, a Salvadoran army captain and key suspect in the 1980 assassination of Monsignor Oscar Romero, archbishop of El Salvador. Saravia was arrested in Miami in 1988, after Salvadoran authorities asked for his extradition. But when El Salvador's Supreme Court invalidated that request, he stayed here.

•Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz, Guatemala's interior minister under the 1978 to 1982 government of General Romeo Lucas Garcia. According to the 1999 Historical Clarification Commission report on that country's civil war, Alvarez personally oversaw the death squads that tortured and murdered thousands of citizens. Alvarez reportedly was living in the U.S. until a few years ago, but Amnesty says he's still making frequent "visits" to this country.

•Juan Alesio Samayoa, a former Guatemalan defense minister and civil patrol leader who is allegedly responsible for 35 murders, 44 kidnappings, 14 rapes and 53 other human-rights abuses, including torture—all of them against local villagers accused of aiding left-wing guerrillas. According to Amnesty, the Guatemalan military flew Samayoa to the U.S. to help him avoid charges brought by several of his victims in a Guatemalan court.

•Hector Alejandro Gramajo Morales, a graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, and Guatemala's defense minister during the 1980s. Gramajo led the military at the peak of the civil war, when it killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians and burned more than 500 villages to the ground. In 1991, Gramajo—a moderate by Guatemala's standards—earned a degree in public administration from Harvard University. Four years later, a federal court in Massachusetts ordered him to pay almost $50 million to his victims, including an American citizen who was raped and tortured.

(Editor's note:As this issue went to press, we learned Gramajo died March 12 after being attacked by "Africanized" bees. Karma, baby!)

•Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia, ex-director general of the Salvadoran National Guard and ex-Salvadoran defense minister, respectively. On July 23, 2002, Garca and Casanova were fined $54.6 million by a Florida federal jury. The verdict capped a dramatic, weeks-long civil lawsuit brought by three Salvadoran torture victims who survived their ordeals and lived long enough to testify about them.

One Salvadoran plaintiff, Juan Romagoza Arce, was a doctor when National Guardsmen abducted him in 1980. For 22 days, Romagoza was imprisoned inside the National Guard's headquarters, beaten and tortured with electric shocks. He was also strung from the ceiling by his fingertips. Another kidnapping victim, university professor Carlos Mauricio, testified that he was imprisoned for several days, beaten and hung from his hands for hours on end.

The third plaintiff, Neris Gonzalez, was a young church worker who was eight months' pregnant when the National Guard abducted her in 1979. Tortured for several days, raped and stomped on, Gonzales said she was forced to watch another prisoner's torture and execution. Her captors also forced her to drink the prisoner's blood. She was finally dumped in the back of a truck full of corpses and left for dead. She managed to crawl to freedom, but her son died two months after being born.

Both Garcia and Casanova are retired and living the quiet life in Florida.


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