DaimlerChrysler must face federal allegations by 22 Argentineans that the company collaborated with state security forces to kill and torture Argentineans during what’s known as the “Dirty War” 35 years ago. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a previously dismissed case. The lawsuit, filed in 2004, says the company violated a 200-year-old U.S. law known as the Alien Tort Statute and the more recent Torture Victims Protection Act.
Argentina’s infamous “Dirty War” began with the military overthrow of the government of President Isabel Peron in 1976 and the establishment of a military dictatorship.
DaimlerChrysler argued the case should be dismissed because federal courts in California lacked jurisdiction over the firm. Even the 9th Circuit panel originally upheld dismissal of the suit in 2009, then withdrew the opinion in 2010, reconsidered and issued Wednesday’s new opinion.
The court found that extensive business in California by Daimler subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz USA, was sufficient to give U.S. courts jurisdiction and ordered the case back to U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose. The 9th Circuit’s Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that Mercedes-Benz sales in California alone accounted for 2.4 percent of Daimler’s total worldwide sales.
Workers and the relatives of workers at the Argentine Mercedes-Benz, Gonzalez-Catan plant, sued saying Daimler’s predecessor company sought to brutally punish plant workers it viewed as “union agitators” and allegedly collaborated with Argentine military police to do so. As a result of alleged collaboration workers were kidnapped, tortured, detained or murdered, according to the opinion.
It states police were sometimes stationed in the plant and the company opened the plant to periodic raids by security police in what was described as a “reign of terror.”
Case: Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 07-15386 (9th Circuit)
Another Argentine “Dirty War” Case
This is not the first time a federal court in the San Francisco Bay Area has been confronted with the Argentine “Dirty War.” In an unrelated case, in January 1987 a former Argentine general was found living in Foster City, Calif. after he fled the country in 1984. Gen. Carlos Suarez-Mason fled to avoid facing charges after the fall of the military dictatorship. He spent years fighting extradition in San Francisco federal court. The Center for Constitutional Rights and Horacio Martinez-Baca sued for human rights violations alleging Martinez-Baca was abducted, tortured and held four years under Suarez-Mason’s command. A $21 million judgment was issued against Suarez-Mason.
Suarez-Mason was extradited in 1988 to face 43 charges of murder and kidnapping another 23, including newborn infants. He was convicted and pardoned in 1990. He again fled to California and was extradited in 1995. He faced new charges of crimes against humanity, including allegations he sold the babies of political prisoners. He died in 2005 at age 81.