Martinez-Baca v. Suarez-Mason Forti v. Suarez Mason – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket 1988-1989

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 v. Pena-Irala. In the 1980 Filartiga case, brought by the CCR, the court held that foreign nationals may sue malfeasors 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 iq 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 July the district court held that “disappearances”  constitute a violation of customary international law.

David Cole, Peter Weiss, Michael Ratner, with CCR cooperating attorney Samuel Issacharoff; William C. Gordon; Kathy Bagdonas, Jordan Eth, Paul Friedman, Joanne Hoeper and Tom Long of Morrison & Foerster