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The suit is presented in the USA. Victims say Mercedes-Benz complicit in Argentine dirty war

The article Victims say Mercedes-Benz complicit in Argentine dirty war by David Kravetes, published in Assiciated Press on jan. 14, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO - Survivors and victims of Argentina's "dirty war" filed suit Wednesday, hoping to use an arcane 215-year-old U.S. law to seek redress against automaker Mercedes-Benz for allegedly aiding human rights abuses in their country.

Survivors of nine victims who disappeared and eight who say they were kidnapped and tortured by the Argentine government in the late 1970s filed suit in federal court, alleging Mercedes-Benz was complicit in the killing, torture or kidnapping by the military of unionized auto workers.
The group, all living in Argentina, are invoking the Alien Tort Claims Act, an obscure 1789 statute their attorneys say grants overseas victims of atrocities access to American courts to sue for damages.

Several other cases brought under the act alleging corporate human rights abuses overseas are making their way through federal courts, in the face of criticism from the Bush administration.
The plaintiffs could sue in their own country, but one of their U.S. lawyers said they believe that the courts in the United States, not Argentina, would be more likely to provide them justice.
"The plaintiffs don't think they can get a fair hearing in Argentina," said Daniel Kovalik, one of the group's lawyers based in Pittsburgh.

Mercedes-Benz's parent, DaimlerChrysler Corp. of Stuttgart, Germany, denied the allegations.
Several Alien Tort Claims Act cases, including one against UNOCAL Corp. for alleged rights abuses in Myanmar, are pending across the country as judges and appeals courts weigh whether they can go to trial. One targets ChevronTexaco Corp. for alleged human rights violations in Nigeria, and another is against ExxonMobil Corp. for rights abuse allegations in Indonesia.
No corporation has ever gone to trial under the law. But last year, in a lawsuit filed under the act, dozens of garment manufacturers and retailers agreed to a $20 million settlement for alleged abuses of clothing workers in Saipan.

This use of the act has come under sharp attack by the Justice Department. In the UNOCAL case, the Bush administration said in a court filing that the law is being misused, telling a San Francisco-based federal appeals court that nothing in the act "suggests an intent on the part of Congress that it would furnish a foundation for suits based on conduct occurring within other nations."
Some legal experts suggest that the U.S. Congress may have adopted the Alien Tort Claims Act to discourage seafaring piracy by allowing its victims to bring suits in U.S. courts. A French sea captain was one of the first foreigners to assert the little-used law in 1795 to resolve the ownership of slaves commandeered at sea.

DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman Ursula Mertzig-Stein said a company-sponsored study released last month concluded there was no evidence the automaker was complicit in the military's rights abuses.

"We have no signs that this is true," Mertzig-Stein said. "We were not involved in wrongdoings."
In the 1970s and 80s, thousands were killed, kidnapped or "disappeared," including trade unionists, left-wing political activists, journalists and intellectuals in Argentina in what has become known as the dirty war.

The suit says "the kidnapping, detention and torture of these plaintiffs were carried out by state security forces acting under the direction of and with material assistance" from Mercedes-Benz's plant in Gonzalez-Catan, near Buenos Aires.
One of the plaintiffs, Juan Jose Martin, 51, said the military kidnapped him from the factory in 1976 and held him in a tiny cell for 19 days, where he was tortured with a cattle prod.
"The day before I was freed the company had sent a telegram to my house saying that after what I had gone through I could take a week off with pay," he said in a telephone interview from his home village of Villa Gesell, about 230 miles southeast of Buenos Aires. "How did they know I was going to be freed? How did they know what had happened to me if even my family members did not have a clue of where I was?"

The disappearances and abuses came against a background of tension between Mercedes-Benz workers and management both before and after the 1976 military takeover of the government. During a 22-day strike in 1975, 117 workers were fired and the plant manager was kidnapped and held for two months by suspected leftist guerrillas.

The world's fifth-largest automaker commissioned an outside investigation a year ago, headed by Berlin law professor Christian Tomuschat, amid persistent accusations that managers at its subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz Argentina, used the terror unleashed by the country's 1976-1983 military dictatorship to intimidate its workers.

The December report was issued days after prosecutors in Nuremberg dropped a criminal probe against the now-retired head of the Mercedes-Benz factory, Juan Tasselkraut, who is named with others in the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

DaimlerChrysler hired Tomuschat after discussions with Amnesty International, which recommended the company carry out an independent report and suggested the Berlin professor. Tomuschat served on a commission that looked into human rights violations in Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

The case is Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 04-0194.
Editors: Associated Press writer Maria Belen Moran contributed to this report. David Kravets has been covering state and federal courts for a decade.

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