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JFP 2/24: Ellison, Jones stand for diplomacy with Iran; U.S. generals say no military option
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 24 February 2012 - 9:02pm
Just Foreign Policy News, February 24, 2012
Ellison, Jones stand for diplomacy with Iran; U.S. generals say no military option
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Help Keith Ellison & Walter Jones Stand Up for Diplomatic Engagement with Iran
Ellison and Jones are circulating a letter to their colleagues urging that the U.S. step diplomatic efforts to achieve agreements with Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Ask your Rep. to sign the Ellison-Jones letter.
Keith Ellison and Walter Jones Stand Up for Diplomatic Engagement with Iran
Largely missing from the recent political debate, until now, has been a full-throated defense of diplomatic engagement with Iran towards negotiated agreements that would resolve or mitigate international concerns about its disputed nuclear program.
Video: NIAC: The Iran Nuclear Dilemma: Risk of an Iraq Sequel?
Panel discussion with former IAEA head Hans Blix; former Asst SecDef Colin Kahl; former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley, and Trita Parsi, head of NIAC. Kelley talks about his doubts about the November IAEA report; Kahl explains why Israel's "zone of immunity" story doesn't make any sense, since the enrichment facility at Fordo will be as beyond the reach of the Israeli military after an Israeli strike as before it.
Slide show: Iran the Beautiful
In American political discourse, a military strike on Iran is an attack on an abstraction. Here's a little slide show about the real Iran.
1) A former high-ranking military official says the U.S. does not have the military ability to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Washington Times reports. "If they [Iranians] have the intent, all the weapons in the world are not going to change that," retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. Gen. Cartwright also said that Israel will not be able to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Gen. Cartwright and retired Navy Adm. William Fallon said they would not advise the Obama administration to take military action against Iran. "I don't see a lot of value in going in," said Gen. Cartwright. "No one that I'm aware of thinks there's a real positive outcome of a military strike," said Adm. Fallon, former commander of U.S. Central Command.
2) As U.S. and Israeli officials talk publicly about the prospect of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, one fact is often overlooked: U.S. intelligence agencies don't believe Iran is actively trying to build an atomic bomb, writes Ken Dilanian in the Los Angeles Times. A classified U.S. intelligence assessment circulated to policymakers last year largely affirms that view, originally made in 2007. Both reports, known as national intelligence estimates, conclude Iran halted efforts to develop and build a nuclear warhead in 2003. Senior U.S. officials say Israel does not dispute the basic intelligence or analysis. [In my Huffington Post piece, I wrote, "Major media are often ambivalent about the degree to which it's really their responsibility to educate the public about basic facts -- like the fact that the U.S. government is quite confident that Iran is not now trying to build a nuclear weapon"; Dilanian's LAT piece deserves credit as a counterexample - JFP.]
3) The International Crisis Group is insisting that a deal between Western countries and Iran on Iran's nuclear program can still be reached, writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service. The same basic bargain promoted by the ICG was also endorsed by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, an Iranian diplomat who served as spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiating team, in a column for Bloomberg in mid- February, Lobe notes. In a Times op-ed, Dennis Ross - formerly Obama's Iran aide and long considered an Iran hawk - suggested the administration was ready to accept a deal that combined intrusive inspections with limits on uranium enrichment and he cited Russia's step-by-step approach to increased Iranian cooperation and reduced sanctions favorably, Lobe notes.
4) Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al Jazeera, says a strike on Iran would be a "disaster" for the Arab Spring, the Huffington Post reports. Khanfar said new, unstable political alignments could find themselves drifting back to old patterns should foreign intervention came into play, especially if Israel became involved.
5) Brazil's top diplomat said he has asked UN Secretary General Ban to consider weighing in on the legality of a possible preemptive strike on Iran, Laura Rozen reports for Yahoo News. "No doubt adding an additional flashpoint of military action in a volatile region will greatly exacerbate tensions," Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said. "One sometimes hears the expression, 'all options are on the table.' But some actions are contrary to international law," Patriota said.
6) The latest quarterly IAEA report on Iran suggests that Iran is continuing to make steady progress expanding its enrichment capabilities, but it does not identify any breakthroughs, write Peter Crail and Daryl Kimball for the Arms Control Association. Iran announced last week that it had loaded fuel into the TRR and the agency's report confirms that, rather than fueling the reactor for operations, it is carrying out testing on fuel assemblies. Iran would need to carry out testing for some time before it could safely make the fuel itself. It would be safer for Iran, and in particular those living in the vicinity of the TRR, to receive fuel from abroad through an arrangement with the P5+1, Crail and Kimball argue. In the near-term, the P5+1 should focus on arrangements that would end Iran's enrichment to 20%, they suggest.
7) Writing for Nieman Watchdog, Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi suggest questions that journalists should ask anyone advocating military action against Iran, if they wish to avoid the media mistakes of the runup to the Iraq war. Does the increasingly bellicose and confrontational approach of the West actually increase Iran's desire for nuclear deterrence? What lies behind the starkly diverging views of the Netanyahu government and the U.S. military on Iran? And how will we pay for a war with Iran?
8) Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, spoke out against President Assad of Syria, backing the opposition, the New York Times reports. "I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform," Haniya said. Hamas recently allowed residents of Gaza to stage protests against Assad and in support of the uprising.
9) Angry protests against the U.S. broke out across Afghanistan again on Friday, leading to confrontations with the authorities that left at least 10 dead and 100 wounded, the New York Times reports. The situation has impeded U.S. efforts to improve relations with Pakistan, the Times notes. The U.S. military had planned for JCS chair Gen. Dempsey to make a formal apology Thursday for a U.S. strike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. But the plan was upset by the need to apologize over the Koran burnings, a U.S. official said, because Obama administration officials calculated too many regrets at once would hand fresh ammunition to Republican presidential candidates.
10) An immigration judge in Florida has cleared the way for the deportation of Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former defense minister of El Salvador, finding he assisted in acts of torture and murder committed by soldiers under his command, including the killings of four American churchwomen, the New York Times reports. The decision is the first time federal immigration prosecutors have established that a top-ranking foreign military commander can be deported based on human rights violations under a law passed in 2004, intended to bar human rights violators from coming to or living in the United States.
1) Retired general: U.S. can't stop Iran from making nukes
Kristina Wong, The Washington Times, Friday, February 24, 2012
A former high-ranking military official says the U.S. does not have the ability to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "If they [Iranians] have the intent, all the weapons in the world are not going to change that," retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said late Thursday.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Gen. Cartwright also said that Israel will not be able to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if the Jewish state attacks the Islamic republic's atomic sites. "They can slow it down. They can delay it, some estimate two to five years. But that does not take away the intellectual capital," he said.
Gen. Cartwright and retired Navy Adm. William Fallon, also speaking Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said they would not advise the Obama administration to take military action against Iran.
"I don't see a lot of value in going in," said Gen. Cartwright.
"It's certainly not a preferred option," said Adm. Fallon, former commander of U.S. Central Command. "No one that I'm aware of thinks there's a real positive outcome of a military strike."
2) U.S. does not believe Iran is trying to build nuclear bomb
The latest U.S. intelligence report indicates Iran is pursuing research that could enable it to build a nuclear weapon, but that it has not sought to do so.
Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2012, 6:11 p.m.
Washington- As U.S. and Israeli officials talk publicly about the prospect of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, one fact is often overlooked: U.S. intelligence agencies don't believe Iran is actively trying to build an atomic bomb.
A highly classified U.S. intelligence assessment circulated to policymakers early last year largely affirms that view, originally made in 2007. Both reports, known as national intelligence estimates, conclude that Tehran halted efforts to develop and build a nuclear warhead in 2003.
The most recent report, which represents the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, indicates that Iran is pursuing research that could put it in a position to build a weapon, but that it has not sought to do so.
Although Iran continues to enrich uranium at low levels, U.S. officials say they have not seen evidence that has caused them to significantly revise that judgment. Senior U.S. officials say Israel does not dispute the basic intelligence or analysis.
For now, U.S. military and intelligence officials say they don't believe Iran's leadership has made the decision to build a bomb.
"I think they are keeping themselves in a position to make that decision," James R. Clapper Jr., director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 16. "But there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time."
Clapper and CIA Director David H. Petraeus told a separate Senate hearing that Iran was enriching uranium below 20% purity. Uranium is considered weapons grade when it is enriched to about 90% purity, although it is still potentially usable at lower enrichment levels.
U.S. spy agencies also have not seen evidence of a decision-making structure on nuclear weapons around Khamenei, said David Albright, who heads the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security and is an expert on Iran's nuclear program.
Albright's group estimates that with the centrifuges Iran already has, it could enrich uranium to sufficient purity to make a bomb in as little as six months, should it decide to do so.
It is not known precisely what other technical hurdles Iran would have to overcome, but Albright and many other experts believe that if it decides to proceed, the country has the scientific knowledge to design and build a crude working bomb in as little as a year. It would take as long as three years, Albright estimated, for Iran to build a warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.
Albright said a push by Iran to build a nuclear weapon probably would be detected.
3) Despite War Drums, Experts Insist Iran Nuclear Deal Possible
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Feb 23, 2012
Washington - Amid the persistent beating of war drums, an influential international conflict prevention group is insisting that a deal between Western countries and Iran on Tehran's controversial nuclear programme can still be reached.
In a new report released Thursday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said such a deal would include Tehran's acceptance of full-scope international safeguards to ensure the programme could not be diverted to military use.
It would also entail Iran's full co-operation in clearing up outstanding questions regarding alleged pre- 2003 nuclear weaponisation research and experimentation, and an exchange of its current stockpile of twenty percent enriched uranium for fuel rods from abroad.
In exchange, the so-called P5+1 countries (the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – plus Germany) would freeze implementation of tough new U.S. and European Union (EU) sanctions, recognise Iran's "right to enrich" uranium up to five percent and lift existing sanctions in stages.
The 45-page report, "In Heavy Waters: Iran's Nuclear Program, the Risk of War and Lessons from Turkey", called on the United States and the EU to take their cue from Ankara's approach of full engagement with Iran, instead of isolation, sanctions, sabotage and threats of war on which they have mainly relied to date.
"Economic pressure is at best futile, at worse counter-productive," it added, and "Tehran ought to be presented with a realistic proposal."
The same basic bargain was also endorsed by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, an Iranian diplomat currently at Princeton University, who served as spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiating team, in a column for Bloomberg News in mid- February.
Iran should accept the maximum level of transparency with the IAEA, limit enrichment activities to less than five percent, and clear up its nuclear file with the IAEA, he argued, while the West should recognise Tehran's right to enrich and ease sections as part of a "step-by-step plan" proposed by Russia last year.
Perhaps the most intriguing contribution was from Dennis Ross, formerly Obama's chief Iran aide and long considered a hawk on the nuclear issue.
In a Times op-ed, he suggested that the administration was ready to accept a deal that combined intrusive inspections with limits on uranium enrichment and he cited Moscow's step-by-step approach favourably, although he did not address when and how existing sanctions could be eased.
4) Wadah Khanfar: Iran Strike Would Be A 'Disaster' For Fragile Arab Spring
Joshua Hersh, Huffington Post, 02/24/12 12:22 PM ET
A strike on Iran would be a "disaster" for the Middle East's burgeoning democracies, said Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al Jazeera, in an interview with The Huffington Post this week.
"What will happen is a disaster," Khanfar said. "An attack against Iran at this moment in time is first of all going to create new priorities, new alliances, new fears in the region and new complexities. No one can expect what the result will be."
Khanfar, who traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the ongoing transformations in the Arab world and his new project, the Sharq Forum, said he worried the fragile Arab Spring could become an unintended casualty of a war because the new, unstable political alignments could find themselves drifting back to old patterns should foreign intervention came into play, especially if Israel became involved.
5) UN should weigh in on legality of Iran strike, Brazil's foreign minister tells Yahoo News
Laura Rozen, The Envoy, Thu, Feb 23, 2012
Brazil's top diplomat said he has asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to consider weighing in on the legality of a possible preemptive strike on Iran.
"No doubt adding an additional flashpoint of military action in a volatile region will greatly exacerbate tensions," Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told Yahoo News in an interview in New York Tuesday. The international community should proceed "with the utmost caution."
"There is a role for him in this," Patriota said he had proposed to the UN chief. "One sometimes hears the expression, 'all options are on the table.' But some actions are contrary to international law."
Patriota's comments come as the United States, United Kingdom and Russia have asked Israel both privately and publicly not to carry out a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
6) February 2012 IAEA Report on Iran: An Initial Review
Peter Crail and Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association, February 24, 2012
The latest quarterly IAEA report on Iran is now in circulation and provides an updated summary of Iran's nuclear activities and capabilities. The Feb. 24 report suggests that Iran is continuing to make steady progress expanding its enrichment capabilities, but it does not identify any breakthroughs. It also confirms initial impressions that Iran's announcements last week on a series of "nuclear advances" were hyped. Here is our brief summary of key takeaways:
The agency notes that Iran has now repurposed the Fordow enrichment plant three times. After saying last year that the plant would just be used to enrich uranium to 20%, it will now be enriching uranium to both 20% and 5%.
The rationale behind this repurposing is unclear, but it may signal an effort to maintain operations at the plant even if Iran agrees to an arrangement to halt 20% enrichment. Iranian officials said last year they would halt 20% enrichment if Iran received fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).
Though it would be preferable to consolidate Iran's enrichment operations to Natanz, ending 20% enrichment is a far more important nonproliferation goal.
20% Fuel and the TRR
Iran announced last week that it had loaded fuel into the TRR and the agency's report confirms that, rather than fueling the reactor for operations, it is carrying out testing on fuel assemblies. Iran would need to carry out testing for some time before it could safely make the fuel itself. It would be safer for Iran, and in particular those living in the vicinity of the TRR, to receive fuel from abroad through an arrangement with the P5+1.
Continuing the Diplomatic Track
The key parties must now get serious and pursue sustained negotiations aimed at ensuring that Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations. Another P5+1 round with Iran is a good start, but one high-profile meeting will not by itself likely produce a long-term deal that resolves the key issues. A number of proposals have been put forward that provide a good basis for progress.
In the near-term, the P5+1 should focus on arrangements that would end Iran's enrichment to 20%, which has no real justification and serves as a hedge to rapidly produce nuclear weapons. Reaching such an agreement can help to build confidence on both sides and reduce the risk of a dangerous military confrontation.
Both the U.S. administration and members of Congress have a role to play in increasing the possibility of an agreement and should refrain from any steps that would hinder it and increase the risk of war.
7) Six questions reporters should ask of anyone advocating military action against Iran
Reza Marashi & Trita Parsi, Nieman Watchdog, February 24, 2012
Q. America has not had a diplomatic presence in Iran for three decades. As such, much of our knowledge relies on intelligence. Given the controversy over our intelligence on Iraq, how are we factoring in and addressing the uncertainty of intelligence on Iran's nuclear program?
Q. What are the views of the Iranian people in regards to a potential war and the current sanctions regime? Is this current path helping us win or lose hearts and minds in Iran?
Q. What are the forces behind Iran's nuclear program? Could one factor be a desire for a nuclear deterrence due to a sense of insecurity and threat? If so, how can we affect Iran's sense of need for a nuclear deterrence? Does the increasingly bellicose and confrontational approach of the West actually increase Tehran's desire for nuclear deterrence?
Q. The U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons. Israel has hundreds. Iran currently has a mighty arsenal of zero nuclear weapons. The U.S. has successfully deterred Iran for more than three decades. Why are we assuming that suddenly, deterrence will not work with Iran anymore?
Q. The U.S. military leadership does not believe Israel has an effective military option when it comes to unilaterally destroying Iran's nuclear sites. A tense exchange is currently playing out in public between the Netanyahu government and the U.S. military, with Israeli officials accusing Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey of having "served Iran's interests." What lies behind the starkly diverging views of the Netanyahu government and the U.S. military on Iran?
Q. According to the Congressional Research Service, total war-related funding for Iraq has exceeded $800 billion -- an average of approximately $100 billion per year. With these numbers in mind -- and at a time of over 8 percent unemployment and unprecedented government bailouts -- how will we pay for a war with Iran?
8) In Break, Hamas Supports Syrian Opposition
Fares Akram, New York Times, February 24, 2012
Gaza -A leader of Hamas spoke out against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, throwing its support behind the opposition and stripping Damascus of what little credibility it may have retained with the Arab street. It was Hamas's first public break with its longtime patron.
Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said during Friday Prayer, "I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform."
The worshipers shouted back, "God is great" and "Syria! Syria!"
Mr. Haniya made his remarks in support of the uprising that is seeking to oust Mr. Assad, a reversal after years in which Mr. Assad has given safe haven to leaders of Hamas while helping supply it with weapons and cash in its battle against Israel.
But the remarks were almost as significant for where they were made: in Cairo, at Al Azhar Mosque.
During the years in which Syria supported Hamas, Egypt's leaders were hostile to the group, treating it as a despised relative of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was also tagged an outlaw and banned. So Mr. Haniya's remarks in Egypt served as another measure of how much has changed since popular uprisings began to sweep the region, removing President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and now trying to topple Mr. Assad.
Mr. Haniya's comments confirmed a distance between Hamas and Damascus that emerged several weeks ago when the group's leadership abandoned its longtime base in Syria as the environment there became more violent. The remarks, which were seen as the group's official position because of Mr. Haniya's role, reflected a progressively deeper split with Mr. Assad. Hamas also recently allowed residents of Gaza to stage protests against Mr. Assad and in support of the uprising.
In Syria, the protest movement began peacefully, but Mr. Assad's forces struck back with lethal force.
In Cairo, as Mr. Haniya spoke, the crowds also shouted against Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, both of which continue to support Mr. Assad and have long been hailed on the Arab street for remaining defiant toward Israel. That was yet another significant shift caused by the Arab uprisings. "No Iran, no Hezbollah. Syria is Islamic," protesters chanted, according to Agence France-Presse.
9) Koran Protests Resume in Afghanistan Despite U.S. Apology
Alissa J. Rubin, Sharifullah Sahak and Jawad Sukhanyar, New York Times, February 24, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - Angry protests broke out across Afghanistan again on Friday, leading to confrontations with the authorities that left at least 10 dead and 100 wounded.
The protests were in response to the burning of several Korans at the largest NATO air base in the country on Monday night, which the American commander said in a profuse apology was a mistake. But Afghan fury was unassuaged by that, or an apology from President Obama by letter on Thursday.
In an aggressive show of force, the police successfully tamped down furious demonstrations in Kabul where thousands took to the streets after midday prayer demanding the people responsible for the Koran burning be brought to justice.
But in Herat in the west of the country, seven people were killed and about 65 were wounded, including 12 police officers, according to the Herat governor's office. In one episode, armed protesters marching toward the United States consulate in the city set fire to a police vehicle, which exploded, killing and wounding police officers and civilians.
As new protests erupted in regions around the country, two people were killed in Khost Province, bordering Pakistan, and one person was killed in the northern Baghlan Province, health and government officials said.
The potential scope of the fallout from the burning of several copies of the Koran by American military personnel this week became chillingly clear on Thursday as a man in an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed two American soldiers. Seven Afghans were killed in three provinces on Thursday and many more were injured, most in skirmishes with Afghan security forces.
The situation has also impeded American efforts to improve relations with Pakistan. According to a Defense Department official, the military had planned for Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to make a formal apology by telephone on Thursday for a confused American crossborder strike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to have followed up in a meeting on Thursday, with the Pakistani foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, the official added.
But the plan was upset by the need to apologize over the Koran burnings, the official said, because Obama administration officials quickly calculated that too many regrets at once would hand fresh ammunition to Republican presidential candidates.
Afghan officials quoted Thursday from a letter from President Obama in which he, among other things, apologized for the Koran burning. For President Hamid Karzai, the episode has fast become a political thicket. He and other government officials share with the Afghan populace a visceral disgust for the way American soldiers treated the holy book, but they recognize that violent protests could draw lethal responses from the police or soldiers, setting off a cycle of violence.
Complicating matters is that some of Mr. Karzai's allies in Parliament and elsewhere, including former mujahedeen leaders, have openly encouraged people to take to the streets and attack NATO forces. Mr. Karzai has not spoken out against them publicly, but his government's overall message on Thursday suggested that he did not want more violence.
Mr. Karzai met with members of both houses of Parliament at the presidential palace and urged them to help to try to contain the protests.
"The president said that 'according to our investigation we have found that American soldiers mistakenly insulted the Koran and we will accept their apology,' " said Fatima Aziz, a lawmaker from Kunduz who attended the meeting.
Ms. Aziz, who said she wept when told of the Koran burning, also said Mr. Karzai told Parliament members that the protesters' violent response was "'not proper.' "
10) Salvadoran May Face Deportation for Murders
Julia Preston, New York Times, February 23, 2012
An immigration judge in Florida has cleared the way for the deportation from the United States of Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former defense minister of El Salvador, finding that he assisted in acts of torture and murder committed by soldiers under his command during the civil war there, including several notorious killings of Americans.
The decision by Judge James Grim of immigration court in Orlando is the first time that federal immigration prosecutors have established that a top-ranking foreign military commander can be deported based on human rights violations under a law passed in 2004, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, intended to bar human rights violators from coming to or living in the United States.
Judge Grim found that General Vides assisted in the killings of four American churchwomen on a rural road in El Salvador in 1980, a crime that caused shock there and in Washington and presaged the bloody violence that would engulf the Central American nation for the next decade. The immigration judge's ruling is the first time General Vides has been held responsible for those deaths in a court of law.
Five soldiers from the Salvadoran National Guard were eventually convicted of the killings and served long prison sentences. General Vides was the commander of the National Guard at the time of the murders.
The effort by Department of Homeland Security officials to seek the deportation of General Vides, who was El Salvador's defense minister from 1983 to 1989, is a turnabout in American foreign policy. He was a close ally of Washington throughout the war against leftist guerrillas in the 1980s, and was embraced as a reformer despite rampant rights violations by the armed forces under his command.
Judge Grim also determined that General Vides had assisted in the torture of two Salvadorans, Juan Romagoza and Daniel Alvarado, who testified against him in hearings last spring in the immigration court in Orlando.
"This is the first case where the Department of Homeland Security has taken this relatively new law and applied it to the highest military commander of their country to seek their removal," said Carolyn Patty Blum, senior legal adviser for the Center for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit legal group in San Francisco that represented several torture victims in the case. She called the decision "hugely significant" for future efforts to bring immigration cases for human rights abuses against the highest-level military commanders and government officials.
Judge Grim's decision confirmed that General Vides can be deported based on the rights charges brought by the government. Federal officials and immigration lawyers cautioned that there are still several steps to go before the judge will decide whether to issue a final order for the general's deportation. But lawyers said it would be considerably more difficult now for General Vides to avoid such an order.
General Vides retired as defense minister in 1989, amid praise from United States officials for his performance, and came to settle in Florida as a legal permanent resident.
But the family members of the four churchwomen, as well as some Salvadorans who barely survived prolonged torture during the war, have been tenacious in seeking to hold General Vides responsible for crimes of that era.
In 2000, a Florida jury acquitted General Vides and José Guillermo García, another former Salvadoran defense minister who retired to Florida, of responsibility for the churchwomen's murders. But in 2002, in a case brought by the Center for Justice and Accountability, another Florida jury found the two officers civilly liable for the torture of three Salvadorans and ordered them to pay $54 million. The deportation proceedings against General Vides stem from that decision.
The four churchwomen killed were Sister Dorothy Kazel of the Ursuline Order; Jean Donovan, a lay missionary; Sister Maura Clarke and Sister Ita Ford, both of the Maryknoll Order.
Sister Ita's brother Bill Ford fought vigorously for the prosecution of General Vides. Mr. Ford died in 2008. "Since the women were killed my father made this the single purpose of his life," his son, Bill Ford Jr., said Thursday. Mr. Ford, who is the principal of Cristo Rey New York High School in Manhattan, said, "I'm sure he knows and is well pleased that one of the men responsible for ordering the death of the women or for the cover-up may no longer be able to live in this country to enjoy the fruits of his brutality."
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