Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, will have to defend itself in front of the U.S. Supreme Court from allegations that its Argentina division collaborated with state security forces during the Dirty War of the 1970s.
Daimler is accused of identifying workers as union agitators to the state, knowing full well that those workers would then be kidnapped, tortured, and sometimes executed, according to Bloomberg.
The Dirty War was a dark period in Argentina's history. In short, the military overthrew Isabella Peron's inept government and took on a massive campaign to stabilize the country by "disappearing" anyone considered subversive, which included anyone from students to union members to journalists.
Official estimates put the number of killed or "disappeared" at 22,000 from 1975 to mid-1978 during a period of state terrorism. Anyone simply accused of being a socialist was at risk of never being heard from again. The worst cases were put on "death flights," where the accused were drugged, put on planes, stripped naked, and then pushed to their death into the Atlantic Ocean.
The company is specifically being sued under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, a law that allows complainants to sue for "violations of the law of nations." It's always been a bit vague what exactly that means, but since the 1970s it been used as a tool of human rights advocates to sue companies for atrocities committed throughout the world.
Of course, Daimler officially denies any involvement. The defense strategy it's using, however, is a bit different. Basically, they're saying that since they were originally sued in California, the case has no standing as Californian courts do not have jurisdiction over events that happened in Argentina.
It doesn't appear likely that the company will face any punishment for what it did or didn't do, however. Last week the Supreme Court threw out a similar case concerning Royal Dutch Shell and its actions in Nigeria, saying that the Alien Tort Statute does not apply to conduct that generally happened outside the United States.
The case is expected to be heard sometime in the Court's 2013-2014 term, which begins in October and lasts until June.
Photo credit AP