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New York Judge Awards $19 Million to Victims of CIA-Backed Haitian Death Squad Leader Toto Constant

StoryOctober 26, 2006
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A former Haitian death squad leader living in New York City has been ordered to pay $19 million in damages to three women who survived rape and other abuses committed by troops under his command. Emmanuel "Toto" 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 in the early 1990s. [includes rush transcript]

A former Haitian death squad leader living in New York City has been ordered to pay $19 million in damages to three women who survived rape and other abuses committed by troops under his command. Emmanuel "Toto" 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 in the early 1990s.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein found that Constant was liable for torture, attempted extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity. The damages award was entered late Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed in December 2004 by the Center for Justice & Accountability and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the three Haitian women who submitted the claims anonymously due to the fear of reprisals.

Constant fled to the United States in December 1994. He lived freely in New York until he was arrested this past July in a separate case — not for human rights abuses but for committing mortgage fraud. He remains in jail awaiting a criminal trial on charges of grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business records. Jennie Green is a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. She joins us in the firehouse studio.

  • Jennie Green. Senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennie Green is with us now, senior attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JENNIE GREEN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened? How significant is this decision on the part of the judge?

JENNIE GREEN: I think it’s incredibly significant. As you mentioned, Constant was living in Queens, and there were numerous attempts to hold him accountable through different mechanisms. During President Aristide’s government, President Aristide attempted to have him extradited to Haiti. There was a lot of advocacy, including by the Haitian community here in New York, to bring attention to who Constant was and what he had done. And the extradition request was rejected by the United States government. After some public outcry in September 1995, Constant was ordered deported. However, he then went on 60 Minutes and talked about his connections to the CIA. And after that, the deportation order just was ignored.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, when he came into this country, he was held, he was detained for almost a year, right? And then he started talking. Among those he talked to was Allan Nairn, who exposed particularly those CIA connections. So, he’s released under Clinton?

JENNIE GREEN: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. So he was released, and there were attempts to — the Haitian community in New York picketed his house, and there was attempts to go to the United Nations, the New York City Council, to really put some public pressure on and get him deported. President Aristide continued to try and get him back to Haiti for prosecution. In 2000, he was convicted in absentia in Haiti for a massacre which occurred in 1994 in Raboteau in Haiti, which killed at least 23 people and destroyed 50 homes. Finally, after the military coup, though, in January of 2004, we moved forward with the civil action, and that case was filed in December 2004.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, these civil actions, most of the time the people who are convicted are not to be found or are in another country. Here, you have a situation where he’s actually in jail. Will this have any kind of impact on a possible collection of this judgment?

JENNIE GREEN: Well, I think it can have the other result, which is, hopefully this creates some pressure that — you know, first of all, the criminal case against him — it’s a felony case — needs to play out. And hopefully he will then face charges for the human rights violations, either in the United States or in Haiti. So that’s a huge factor. This case wasn’t about the money, necessarily, for our clients, but for some public accountability. And it’s yet to be seen whether there’s any potential for enforcement of the judgment, of the civil judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: Does he have large cash reserves in the United States? Does he have a bank account that could be attached?

JENNIE GREEN: From the indictment, from the criminal indictment, that scheme was for $1 million, a million-dollar fraud from Sun Trust Bank. So it does indicate that he is not a totally impoverished defendant.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is he not meeting bail? Why didn’t he get out?

JENNIE GREEN: It’s unclear, but the United States has said that he is facing deportation. And so, he would be in detention regardless. If he would be released on bail, it seems that the U.S. would pick him up and put him into deportation on immigration, and it doesn’t seem that that detention would go to credit. So if he would have to serve a criminal sentence, that wouldn’t count for time served. So he may just be cutting his losses.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the significance of being able to bring some of these perpetrators of these crimes against humanity from Haiti to some form of justice, some form of accountability?

JENNIE GREEN: This is the first time that there has been a judgment in the United States against a Haitian perpetrator for the crime against humanity of rape, which really moves forward the public awareness of that issue. And we also hope that it spurs on prosecutions of the paramilitary in Haiti, as well. With the new government, there is some hope that there can be some accountability for the past abuses.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennie Green, thank you very much for joining us. We’ll link to Center for Constitutional Rights to let people know about what is happening and continues to happen in this case.

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