As Commander of the First Army Corps in Argentina during the height of repression under the military dictatorship that ruled that country, General Guillermo Suarez Mason was responsible for the abduction, torture, and disappearance of thousands of Argentine citizens. When Raul Alfonsin came to power in 1984, ending the military reign, Suarez-Mason fled the country to avoid being called to account for his crimes. In January 1987 Suarez-Mason, whose name was contained on an Interpol list of fugitives, was arrested in Foster City, California, where he was held for extradition.
The CCR represents Horacio Martinez Baca, Alfredo Forti, and Debora Benchoam, three of Suarez-Mason’s victims, in a case patterned on Filartiga u. Pena-Irala. In the 1980 Filartiga case, brought by the CCR, the court held that foreign nationals may sue misfeasors for violations of internationally recognized human rights, even where the acts occurred abroad, so long as the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.
Martinez-Baca was abducted, tortured, and detained without charges for more than four years. Forti was abducted with his mother and four brothers; his mother has not been seen since. Benchoam was imprisoned without charges for four and a half years, and her brother was tortured and killed. The three sued Suarez-Mason in April 1987, seeking in excess of $10 million in damages. A year later, the court entered a judgment for Martinez-Baca of $21 million. Later that month, Suarez-Mason was extradited to Argentina to face criminal charges there for his human rights violations.
The Forti and Benchoam cases are proceeding. In 1988 the district court held that disappearances constituted a violation of customary international law and plaintiffs Forti and Benchoam are seeking over $40 million in damages.
David Cole, Peter Weiss, Michael Ratner, with CCR cooperating attorney Samuel Issacharoff; William C. Gordon; Kathy Bagdonas Jorclaneth, Paul Friedman, Joanne Hoeper and Tom Long of Morrison & Foerster