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Home Facts SOA/WHINSEC Graduates Honduran Death Squad Leader and SOA Graduate Found Responsible for Torture and Disappearance in U.S. Court
Honduran Death Squad Leader and SOA Graduate Found Responsible for Torture and Disappearance in U.S. Court PDF Print E-mail
Facts
Monday, 20 March 2006 00:00
Decisive Victory Against Impunity

April 3, 2006 Update: A federal judge in Miami has ordered Colonel Juan L?pez Grijalba, a former military intelligence chief from Honduras and a graduate of the School of the Americas, to pay $47 million to torture survivors and relatives of civilians murdered by Honduran military forces in the early 1980s. Judge Joan A. Lenard held L?pez Grijalba legally responsible for torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances in the Central American nation, stating that his conduct was ?highly egregious.?

Lopez Grijalba was an SOA student on four separate occasions between 1963 and 1975. After the existence of the murderous Battalion 3-16 became public and Lopez Grijalba was implicated in its activities, he was still invited to speak at the School of the Americas in 1991 and 1992. Lopez Grijalba moved to the Miami area in 1998 where he lived until immigration officials arrested him in 2002.

In a written opinion, Judge Lenard ruled this week that L?pez Grijalba had ordered the detention and murder of Manfredo Vel?squez, a university student leader, in 1981. Manfredo?s sister, Zenaida Vel?squez, was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages. Judge Lenard awarded his son, Hector Ricardo Vel?squez, $3 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.

The judge also found that L?pez Grijalba played a key role in a military operation in 1982 that led to the torture and murder of innocent civilians. On July 8, 1982, members of the Honduran Armed Forces abducted and tortured Oscar and Gloria Reyes during a raid of their Tegucigalpa neighborhood. Oscar and Gloria testified at trial that they were subjected to beatings, continuous electrical shocks and a mock execution.

During the same operation, Honduran troops brutally abducted and murdered 24-year-old university student Hans Madisson, whose exhumation later showed that he had been mutilated and decapitated. The judge found that L?pez Grijalba was present at the military raid and issued orders to soldiers.

Judge Lenard ordered L?pez Grijalba to pay Oscar and Gloria Reyes each $6 million in compensatory damages and $7 million in punitive damages. Two sisters of Hans Madisson were each awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.

In the early 1980s, L?pez Grijalba controlled the notorious intelligence police force DNI (Direci?n Nacional de Investigaciones, National Investigations Directorate), and the death squad known as Battalion 316. Both units were responsible for widespread human rights abuses in Honduras as part of a systematic program of disappearances and political murder. He moved to the Miami area in 1998. In October 2004, while the case was still pending, U.S. immigration authorities deported L?pez Grijalba for his involvement in human rights abuses.

For more information, visit the Center for Justice & Accountability's website.


March 20, 2006

There are exciting developments in the Center for Justice & Accountability's case against Honduran Colonel and School of the Americas graduate Juan L?pez Grijalba! On March 16th, a federal judge in Miami will hear testimony from CJA clients, Oscar and Gloria Reyes, who were abducted and tortured by members of the Honduran Armed Forces in 1982. The judge already found Grijalba responsible for the abuses in the case, and this trial will help the judge determine damages.

The case against L?pez Grijalba marks the first time a Honduran military leader has been held responsible for human rights abuses committed in the Central American nation. During this period, a special military intelligence unit known as Battalion 316 carried out a series of abductions, disappearances and killings against Honduran civilians. The death squad operated in conjunction with the DNI and under the command of the intelligence section of the Armed Forces, known as G-2. As the head of the DNI in 1981 and the chief of military intelligence in 1982, L?pez Grijalba exercised command over the soldiers who tortured Oscar and Gloria Reyes and murdered Manfredo Vel?squez and Hans Madisson.

Lopez Grijalba was an SOA student on four separate occasions between 1963 and 1975. After the existence of the murderous Battalion 3-16 became public and Lopez Grijalba was implicated in its activities, he was still invited to speak at the School of the Americas in 1991 and 1992. Lopez Grijalba moved to the Miami area in 1998 where he lived until immigration officials arrested him in 2002.

From an October 19, 2004 Guardian article:

"Col L?pez Grijalba, who denies the charges, moved to the Miami area from Honduras in 1998, and is being held in a detention centre by immigration authorities. He had been found to be teaching at the School of the Americas, the military training academy in Georgia that has been accused of training Latin-American soldiers in violent interrogation techniques. He has said, through his lawyer, that he was unaware of the acts committed by his subordinates...." Read the whole article.

The Center for Justice and Accountability sent out a news release with more information:

For Immediate Release
March 13, 2006
Contact: Moira Feeney, Esq., Media Coordinator
(415) 544 0444 x 302, mfeeney(at)cja.org

Trial on Damages Against Honduran Death Squad Leader to be Held in Florida Federal Court

Colonel Found Responsible for Torture and Disappearances

A federal judge in Miami will hear testimony from torture survivors in a trial on damages against Colonel Juan L?pez Grijalba, a former military intelligence chief from Honduras. L?pez Grijalba moved to the Miami area in 1998. In 2002, six plaintiffs, five of whom reside in the United States, filed a lawsuit against L?pez Grijalba for the torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing of Honduran civilians during the early 1980s. In October 2004, while the case was still pending, U.S. immigration authorities deported L?pez Grijalba for his involvement in human rights abuses. Judge Joan Lenard has already found L?pez Grijalba liable for the abuses in the case, and she is expected to issue a ruling after the trial on how much L?pez Grijalba will have to pay.

Where: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, 301 North Miami Avenue, Miami, Florida. Courtroom 7. Judge Joan A. Lenard presiding.

When: Thursday, March 16, 2006, 9:00 a.m. The damages trial is expected to last half a day.

Who: The defendant is Colonel Juan L?pez Grijalba, a high-ranking Honduran military officer who lived in Florida from 1998 to 2004. In the early 1980s, L?pez Grijalba controlled the notorious intelligence police force DNI (Direci?n Nacional de Investigaciones, National Investigations Directorate), and the death squad known as Battalion 316. Both units were responsible for widespread human rights abuses in Honduras as part of a systematic program of disappearances and political murder. In 2004, a U.S. immigration court ordered L?pez Grijalba deported for his participation in atrocities.

Plaintiffs Oscar and Gloria Reyes will testify at the damages trial. Members of the Honduran Armed Forces abducted and tortured them during a military raid in 1982. They were forced to go into exile in order to secure their release from prison. They have lived in the United States since that time and are naturalized U.S. citizens. Oscar Reyes earned a master?s degree in communications from the University of Minnesota in 1976, and founded and served as director of the school of journalism at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. For many years, he was the editor of the Spanish language newspaper for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The Reyes family currently lives in northern Virginia.

Zenaida and Hector Ricardo Vel?squez, the sister and son of Manfredo Vel?squez, a university student leader abducted and disappeared by intelligence agents under L?pez Grijalba?s command in 1981, also brought claims in the case. In 1988, Zenaida won a ground-breaking judgment before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights holding the government of Honduras responsible for her brother?s disappearance. Relatives of Hans Madisson also seek damages against L?pez Grijalba. Honduran forces brutally abducted and murdered Madisson during the 1982 raid in which Oscar and Gloria Reyes were detained.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), a San Francisco-based human rights organization that works to end impunity by bringing to justice perpetrators of human rights abuses, especially those who live in or visit the United States. CJA attorneys Matt Eisenbrandt and Almudena Bernabeu are joined on the pro bono legal team by Ben Reid and Gus Bravo of the Florida law firm Carlton Fields.

Why: The case against L?pez Grijalba marks the first time a Honduran military leader has been held responsible for human rights abuses committed in the Central American nation. During this period, a special military intelligence unit known as Battalion 316 carried out a series of abductions, disappearances and killings against Honduran civilians. The death squad operated in conjunction with the DNI and under the command of the intelligence section of the Armed Forces, known as G-2. As the head of the DNI in 1981 and the chief of military intelligence in 1982, L?pez Grijalba exercised command over the soldiers who tortured Oscar and Gloria Reyes and murdered Manfredo Vel?squez and Hans Madisson.

CJA Litigation Director Matt Eisenbrandt states, ?We call on Honduran authorities to take the evidence we have gathered and bring criminal charges against Colonel L?pez Grijalba. Here, our clients seek some measure of accountability for what happened to them and their loved ones. However, real justice will be done when L?pez Grijalba and other military leaders are behind bars.?

In the 1980s, Honduras was the hub of U.S. policy in Central America. Honduras served as an important base of operations for the Contra forces that were engaged in an insurgency against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. John Negroponte, the current U.S. Director of National Intelligence, served as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 and oversaw a massive increase in U.S. military aid to the country. In 1983, the U.S. State Department human rights report famously stated, ?There are no political prisoners in Honduras.?

Plaintiff Zenaida Vel?squez, a health education specialist living in California, states, ?The penalty we hope to achieve with this lawsuit cannot compare to what the perpetrators did to our loved ones. We must do everything in our power to stop the cycle of impunity that leads to more human rights abuses. This case is an important step in that direction. We will not give up.?

The trial comes only a few months after CJA?s landmark victory against Salvadoran commander Nicolas Carranza for torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity. A jury in Memphis, Tennessee awarded $6 million in damages to the plaintiffs in that case.

Photos above of Oscar & Gloria Reyes and of Manfredo Velasquez, courtesy of CJA.


Read more about the sucessful lawsuit brought by CJA, Carlos Mauricio, Neris Gonzalez and Dr. Juan Romagoza against two Salvadoran generals responsible for their torture.

For more information on these two cases and others, please visit CJA?s website.

 

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