August 9, 2003
Man Is Charged in Vietnam
Garden Grove resident, a former trusty in camp near Hanoi after the war, is
held. He can't be prosecuted in the U.S.
By Claire Luna, Times Staff Writer
Angeles Times) - A Vietnamese refugee living in Garden Grove was charged
Friday with brutalizing fellow prisoners, killing two, more than 20 years ago at
a Communist "re-education" camp.
Thi Dinh Bui, 61, is accused of starving, beating and torturing prisoners at the
Thanh Cam camp near Hanoi.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement began investigating Bui three years ago after camp survivors
identified him as one of the enforcers. Although he cannot be criminally
prosecuted in the U.S., the charges could lead to his deportation.
He remains in federal custody without bond at a detention center in San Pedro,
pending a hearing before an immigration judge.
"Targeting individuals who have terrorized their own people and are now seeking
safety and anonymity in the United States is a top priority" for the bureau,
said Loraine Brown, an interim special agent in charge in the bureau's Los
Angeles office. "We will not allow the United States to become a safe haven for
those who have committed crimes against humanity."
Bui cannot be criminally prosecuted because U.S. law enables prosecution for
torture outside the country only if committed after November 1994, when Congress
passed a law making torture a crime whenever it is committed.
"Deportation is not the ideal penalty, but it is the best that is currently
available," said Sandra Coliver, executive director of the San Francisco-based
Center for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit organization dedicated to
holding accountable human rights abusers who immigrate to the United States.
The bamboo-and-dirt Thanh Cam camp was one of hundreds of re-education
facilities the Communist government created to indoctrinate the defeated South
Vietnamese. Bui, a former South Vietnamese army captain, was a trusty at the
camp after the Vietnam War.
Bui was arrested at his Garden Grove apartment Thursday. He has lived in Orange
County since 1994, when he came to the United States with his family.
"He's been keeping a low profile, living in the community, doing odd jobs,"
bureau spokeswoman Lori Haley said.
When the investigation started, Bui denied the accusations, saying he was acting
on the orders of camp guards.
The allegations surfaced in 1995, when Father Le Huu Nguyen, a former prisoner
and the chief accuser, chronicled his experience at Thanh Cam from 1976 to 1988
in his memoir.
The unpublished manuscript was circulated on the Internet, and among those who
read it was Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of Boat People S.O.S., a
Washington-based Vietnamese American advocacy group.
Thang filed a complaint against Bui with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service in March 2000 after confirming Nguyen's account with other survivors and
relatives of those who died at the camp. The complaint included an affidavit
from Nguyen accusing Bui of torture and murder related to a May 1, 1979,
Nguyen and four other prisoners escaped that day but guards caught them hours
later and beat them with Bui's help, Nguyen wrote. Bui stomped on one man's
stomach until he died, Nguyen said.
Bui also is accused of severely restricting food portions, causing one prisoner
to starve to death, according to the immigration and customs enforcement bureau.