Global Policy Forum

Appeal Upholds Crime Against Humanity


By Catherine Wilson

Associated Press
March 15, 2005

A federal appeals court has upheld a $4 million verdict against a former Chilean army officer who was found liable for the killing of a political prisoner during that nation's bloody 1973 coup. A jury awarded $4 million in 2003 to the family of Winston Cabello was the first by a U.S. jury for crimes against humanity. The decision Monday by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award as well as the jury's findings.

Armando Fernandez Larios, who served as a bodyguard to the general leading the death squad on the so-called Caravan of Death, was found liable for crimes against humanity, extra-judicial killing, cruelty and torture in massacres in five Chilean cities after Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile. At least 75 people were killed in a matter of days following the coup . Fernandez denied any role in Cabello's killing, but witnesses testified the lieutenant wielded a short curved knife called a corvo. Cabello's exhumed body indicated his throat had been slashed. The Pinochet government initially blamed the deaths of Cabello and 12 other political prisoners on an escape attempt.

Fernandez argued that the lawsuit was filed too late and could not be pursued by individuals, repeated his claim that he was not personally involved and challenged rulings by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard before and during trial. The unsigned 28-page opinion issued Monday by the Atlanta-based court rejected all of the claims. There was no immediate response Tuesday to calls for comment to attorneys in the case. The family was represented by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability.

The timing of the lawsuit was upheld based on the discovery of the prisoners' unmarked mass grave in 1990, evidence that the victims had been tortured before execution and a prolonged official cover-up. The court found that filing of the lawsuit in 1999 was within the 10-year statute of limitations under the Torture Victims Protection Act. The 10-year rule applied by the same court last month resulted in the elimination of a $54.6 million award against two retired Salvadoran generals accused of torture during a civil war in their home country two decades ago.

The court also found that the law extends beyond people who commit torture to those who order or assist in it, eliminating Fernandez's claim that he wasn't directly involved. Fernandez, who went on to serve in the secret police, was 24 and teaching at Chile's military academy when he was assigned to Gen. Sergio Arellano, a trusted aide to Pinochet and the death squad leader. In his testimony, Fernandez denied seeing any prisoners or being aware of the killings as they happened.

He rose to the rank of major before leaving the Chilean military in 1987. He pleaded guilty the following month to being an accessory after the fact in the 1976 assassination of Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier, a prominent Pinochet foe, in Washington. Fernandez was sued when Carbello's relatives realized he was working in Miami as an auto body shop manager.

Pinochet is fighting a third attempt to try him for alleged abuses during his rule in the South American country and several lawsuits claiming human rights violations. An official Chilean report concluded 3,197 people were killed for political reasons under Pinochet's regime.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Alien Tort Claims Act
More Information on Augusto Pinochet


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