Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 August 2009
This book owes its origins to Ferdinand Marcos, former dictator of the Philippines and a tyrant who died with the blood of some ten thousand victims of torture, disappearance, and extrajudicial execution on his hands. In early 1986, just a few months after an Argentine court found five of that country's nine former dictators guilty of torture, disappearance, and extrajudicial execution, Marcos was deposed by a populist uprising and fled to Honolulu. Then an idealistic new lawyer with some human rights experience, I was determined that he would pay for his crimes, if not in the Philippines then in the United States. In law school, I had studied the landmark Filártiga v. Peña-Irala decision, in which a U.S. appellate court ruled that an alien can be sued for human rights abuses that violate “the law of nations” even if those acts took place in another country. If Marcos could not be criminally charged in the United States, his victims could at least enjoy a measure of justice by suing him here for damages.
One of America's great human rights lawyers, Paul Hoffman, a colleague who then was the legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, offered to lead the litigation team and our twelve-year battle against Marcos in U.S. federal courts began. Our odyssey was so fraught with legal challenges that a good professor could base an entire year of law school instruction on that case alone.