Two women have testified at an evidentiary hearing in a civil case against a former Haitian death squad leader living in New York City. The suit against Emmanuel "Toto" Constant was launched in December 2004 by a group of women who suffered gang rape and other abuses from Constant’s forces. We speak with the lead attorney in the case. [includes rush transcript]
Here in the United States, two women have testified at an evidentiary hearing in a case against a former Haitian death squad leader living in New York City.
The suit against Emmanuel "Toto" Constant was launched in December 2004 by a group of women who suffered gang rape and other abuses from Constant’s forces. Constant led the paramilitary group the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, which killed thousands of supporters of former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Constant has been allowed to live freely in the US after threatening to reveal the full extent of his ties to the CIA. The US government has ignored several requests for his extradition. Constant was arrested in a separate case last month — not for human rights abuses but for committing mortgage fraud.
- Moira Feeney, the lead lawyer in the civil case against Constant. She is also a staff attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to talk about some of these people. Actually, one in particular. And he’s not running around Haiti. He’s here in the United States. Right here in this country, two women have testified at an evidentiary hearing in a case against the former Haitian death squad leader living in New York City. The suit against Emmanuel "Toto" Constant was launched in December 2004 by a group of women who suffered gang rape and other abuses from Constant’s forces.
Constant led the paramilitary group called FRAPH. It’s an acronym for Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, which killed thousands of supporters of the former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Constant’s been allowed to live freely in the U.S., after threatening to reveal the full extent of his ties to the CIA. The U.S. government ignored several requests for his extradition. Constant was arrested in a separate case last month, not for human rights abuses, but for committing mortgage fraud.
Moira Feeney joins us in the studio. She’s usually in San Francisco, but she is the lead lawyer in the civil case against Constant, so she came to New York. She’s also staff attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability. Tell us why you’re here.
MOIRA FEENEY: Well, thank you for having me. I’m here because on Tuesday we had a hearing in New York in the Southern District of New York in front of Federal Judge Stein, who listened to testimony. We brought testimony from five different witnesses, two of our clients, who actually took the stand. They had to actually sit behind a screen so that their identities could be protected, but they were able to speak in open court and give their stories of survival. And both of these women were victims of a gang rape that occurred in 1994 at the hands of members of FRAPH. And FRAPH, the important thing to know about the word FRAPH [frappe], in Creole means "a strong blow." And FRAPH was led by Toto Constant.
Now, in addition to these women, we had three experts. One expert on the history of Haiti gave the political context of the rise of FRAPH and Constant’s role as the commander of this paramilitary organization. And after that, we heard from a medical expert about the specific trauma that our clients suffered; and finally, a psychologist, who spoke specifically about the trauma, psychological trauma, that our clients have endured as a result of politically motivated gang rape, that 12 years later they are still very much living with the reality that they suffered at the time in Haiti. They live with that every single day.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the defense mounted by Toto Constant?
MOIRA FEENEY: Constant never answered our suit. We served him with the papers on the streets of Manhattan on January 14, 2005. He then did not reply to the suit. And this is a civil suit for human rights abuses under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act. So he did not answer the suit, which, you know, the 90 days that he had to answer passed. We went to the judge and requested a default judgment against him. And on August 16, just of this year, the judge issued that default against him. He did not appear in court. He is sitting in Suffolk County Jail on Long Island.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain why.
MOIRA FEENEY: In July, he was arrested, after a quite thorough investigation by the Attorney General’s office of New York, for his involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme. And he has been charged with several counts, criminal counts, that include falsifying business documents and fraud. And these are felony charges. And he’s awaiting trial now, which will likely happen in the next several months. He was given, the judge set, a $50,000 cash bail. He has not posted bail, and he remains in jail.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That’s a little surprising, given the support that Constant has had from the U.S. government. He was a CIA employee for a while, but he hasn’t been able to post $50,000 in bail to get out of jail.
MOIRA FEENEY: Well, I’m speculating, but my guess is that he’s not posting bail, not for lack of funds, potentially, but because the immigration authorities have put a hold on him. And what that means is that if he were to leave Suffolk County Jail, they could pick him up and put him in immigration holding. But any time that he spends in immigration holding would not count as time served, if and when he is convicted in the criminal case.
AMY GOODMAN: And on that issue of immigration holding, could he be deported to Haiti? And if he were, what would happen?
MOIRA FEENEY: Well, that’s a good question, and it’s hard to answer at this point. I think that what we know is that there is a standing deportation order against him. That order has been in place since 1995. He was ordered deported in 1995. He was, in fact, in immigration detention at the time. But he began giving interviews about his relationship with the U.S. government, specifically the CIA, and he was released from detention, and he’s been allowed to stay in the U.S., although he was checking in with immigration authorities on a weekly basis. But the deportation order still stands.
So, why that deportation order hasn’t been acted on so far, according to most news sources, is because the State Department has said that there was no guarantee that in Haiti, he would be given a fair trial. So it’s yet to be seen whether or not the State Department will intervene if and when the immigration authorities here in the U.S. actually move to deport him.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what happens now with the default judgment that you’ve been able to get? What’s the next step in your case?
MOIRA FEENEY: Well, the next step is, now that we’ve had a chance to give testimony and this opportunity for the women to present their story and to really let the judge understand the extent of the widespread and systematic campaign of sexual violence that was engineered by Constant and his men in FRAPH, the judge now will take that information, and hopefully he will award a generous damages amount for both compensatory and punitive damages, is what we’ve requested. So we’re awaiting his decision on that. And then, what that means is that we have already now a judgment against him. And then, we will simply then have an actual amount to attach to that judgment.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you said the women testified before a screen. We only have a minute, but how was it for them to speak about their experience?
MOIRA FEENEY: It was powerful.
AMY GOODMAN: Their faces were hidden.
MOIRA FEENEY: Their faces were hidden, but their voices were strong. It was very emotional. There were tears, but there was also a lot of joy at the end of the testimony, because they expressed an extreme satisfaction that finally, finally, after all of these years, they had a chance to sit before a judge and tell their story. And they said this has been 12 years that they’ve been waiting to do this and fighting for this day. And they finally made it.
AMY GOODMAN: And this was Jane Doe, number one; Jane Doe, number two; and there was another woman, Jane Doe, number three, afraid of being identified.
MOIRA FEENEY: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Moira Feeney, with the Center for Justice and Accountability, lead attorney in the case against Emmanuel Constant. We’ll continue to follow his case. And we’ll also link on our website to Allan Nairn’s pieces from over a decade ago in The Nation magazine, who exposed the CIA ties of Emmanuel Constant. This was during the coup that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide the first time.
Also, Ben Terrall, thank you for being with us, activist from the West Coast, just returned from Haiti. We, on our website, will post the video footage. People can watch that footage, startling footage of UN forces moving into a poor neighborhood outside Cite Soleil and opening fire. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Athena Kolbe and Dr. Hutson, thank you so much for being with us. We will link to the Lancet piece, the medical journal piece, that says they found over the last few years during the U.S.-backed coup regime, 8,000 people were murdered in Haiti, 35,000 women and girls raped or sexually abused.