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House Arrest for War Crimes Suspect

2011 August 25

Salvadoran War Crimes Suspect Under House Arrest in
Massachusetts: May be Jailed in U.S. or Extradited to Spain

As reported in our prior post, the inappropriately-named Inocente Orlando Montano, who is accused of complicity in the “leave no witnesses” murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, was recently found living in a Boston, Massachusetts, suburb. The Center for Justice and Accountability was responsible for tracking Montano down, and is calling for him to be extradited to Spain for trial in the case.
            Arrested while trying to escape back to El Salvador, where he presumably believed he would be protected by a postwar amnesty, Montano was not picked up in response to the Spanish court’s extradition demand, but for immigration fraud. According to subsequent reporting by Mark Arsenault of the Boston Globe, he is accused of repeatedly lying on his annual applications for Temporary Protected Status in the U.S. Colonel Montano (his rank in the Salvadoran army) is said to have denied ever being in the military, receiving military or weapons training, or being “part of any unit that had used or threatened to use weapons against other people.” In addition to his military role, he was the Vice Minister of Public Safety at the time of the assassinations and was cited by a United Nations commission as one of the officials responsible.
            Despite those widely-known facts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its predecessor organizations have evidently routinely approved Montano’s applications for TPS, which has enabled him to work and live comfortably in Everett since at least 2002. It seems legitimate to question whether this represents simple oversight by immigration authorities, or whether the Colonel has been given a pass because of the U.S.’s support for the military government of which he was a part during the Salvadoran civil war of 1980-92.

“We are pleased that U.S. authorities finally acted and arrested Montano, even though the action was only related to immigration fraud. This arrest gives Spanish authorities an opportunity to formally request Montano’s extradition which, if the U.S. observes it, would once and for all result in a trial and justice for this terrible crime.”
            — Almudena Bernabeu, Center for Justice and Accountability

A further followup article reports that Montano will be held, for the time being, under house arrest. He will have to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and post bail of $50,000. It will be interesting to watch for the resolution of his case. Possible outcomes include:

  • Montano could be found guilty of lying to immigration, and imprisoned for as many as ten years;
  • He could be found guilty and deported back to El Salvador. Currently, a postwar amnesty protects those guilty of crimes during the civil war. However, the present government has nine of his fellow officials in custody and is evidently considering acceding to Spain’s demand that they be extradited there for trial on war crimes charges.
  • If Spain issues a formal extradition request to the United States, relying on the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, he could be turned over directly for trial. I believe that would be the first time the U.S. would be faced with having to make a decision on whether to cooperate with such prosecutions. 

Keep an eye on this case. It could represent an important challenge to the impunity long enjoyed by Latin American rulers and their northern backers…or another chance for the United States to take a pass.

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One comment on “House Arrest for War Crimes Suspect

  1. Pingback: Salvadoran War Criminal Sentenced | Caring for Survivors of Torture

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