News Highlights

U.S. Federal Judge Considers Testimony of War Crimes in Immigration Case Against Col. Montano

Col. Montano
Col. Montano

This week, El Faro posted an article about Col. Orlando Montano who is being sentenced in a U.S. Federal Court in Massachusetts on immigration fraud and perjury. The court could sentence Montano to more than 40 years in prison and a million dollars in fines. He could also be deported back to El Salvador and possibly extradited to Spain, where a court indicted him and 19 others, for their role in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter.

Before the sentencing phase got underway, the federal judge hearing the case agreed to consider Montano’s alleged war crimes before sentencing him on the immigration fraud charges. The Daily journal quoted the judge, “my view is that, if proved, the allegations concerning Mr. Montano’s acts with the military are matters that would cause me to consider upward departure or variance,” meaning that he would consider an even greater sentence.

In January, prosecutors submitted a report from Stanford Professor Terry Karl that provides details about Montano’s military career, including his involvement in over 1,000 human rights abuses. Professor Karl is an expert witness in the case against the 20 defendants in the Spanish Court and has documented many of the war crimes that took place during the war.

Montano’s attorneys argue that by asking the judge to consider a more severe sentence, prosecutors violated the terms of the plea agreement the defendant signed in September 2012. Montano is due back in court sometime in March 2013.

Photo credit: AP
Photo credit: AP

Montano has been living in the United States since 2001 and worked as a human resource administrator for a candy factory in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), which filed the case against Montano and 19 others in the Spanish court, reports that Montano lied about his past military service and weapons training on his Temporary Protective Status (TPS) immigration form. He also lied about his date of entry into the U.S. in order to qualify for the TPS program. He was arrested on August 23, 2011 and indicted in February 2012. He plead guilty to six counts of federal criminal immigration fraud and perjury on September 11, 2012.

The Spanish Court names Montano, who was Vice Minister of Defense of Public Security, as one of the four top commanders of the Salvadoran Military in November 1989, when soldiers massacred the Jesuit priests. Following their in-absentia indictment in 2011, the court issued formal extradition requests for Montano and the 19 others.

In her report submitted to the Federal Court, Professor Karl testified that Montano had a 30-year military career, contrary to the information he gave on his TPS forms, and that he was involved in numerous human rights abuses. The Daily Journal article quotes Montano’s attorney as admitting that Professor Karl’s report paints him “as a war criminal of epic proportions.”

El Faro quotes a summary of the allegations detailed in Professor Karl’s report. She wrote, “during his 30-year military career, Coronel Montano ordered, incited, and assisted or commanded troops that participated in a strategy of terror by the State against civilians. This included: extra-judicial executions, torture, disappearances and arbitrary detentions, rural massacres of non-combatant civilians, forced disappearance of children, and the permitting of death squads led by the military and that operated within units under his command.”

The report also linked Montano to 65 summary executions, 51 forced disappearances, 520 cases of torture, and 533 arbitrary detentions. Professor Karl’s testimony includes the names of the victims, the dates of the human rights abuse, the place and battalion or unit involved.

More than 20 years after the Peace Accords were signed, Salvadorans continue the process of healing from twelve years of civil war and decades of oppression and human rights abuses. The country’s Amnesty Law has stymied this process by forcing victims and human rights activists to seek justice outside of their own legal system. While leaders within the right-wing ARENA party, which was in power in 1989 when the Jesuit priests were killed, has condemned the Spanish indictments for dredging up painful memories, it is important for that criminals be brought to justice, even if it’s in a courtroom in Boston or Madrid.

News Highlights, Uncategorized, violence

20 Salvadoran Army Members Indicted for 1989 Murders

The government of Spain has indicted 20 members of the El Salvadoran armed forces, including 2 defense ministers, for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests: Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón Moreno, and Amando López — and their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her daughter Celia Marisela Ramos.  One of the defense ministers indicted for this crime, Rene Emilio Ponce, died last month, prompting many to express regret that he was never held accountable for his alleged role in the killings.

These charges are the fruit of years of international protest regarding the murders that have come to symbolize the brutality of the Salvadoran government and military during the 1980s. The unique legal principle that allows Spain to carry out these charges is its Universal Jurisdiction law enacted in 1985. The law recognizes that Spanish Courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate crimes involving genocide, terrorism, or other human rights abuse. The scope of the law was narrowed in 2009 to apply to cases only in which the victims were Spanish. In the case of the Jesuits, five of the six priests killed were Spanish nationals. In 1999, prosecutors used the same law to go after Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for extra-judicial killings and human rights abuses during his reign.

In 1989, the Jesuits at the University of Central America in San Salvador were attempting to mediate between left-wing groups and the government. In the early morning hours of November 16th 1989, armed men broke into the Jesuit residence at UCA in San Salvador and the six Jesuits were ordered into their garden where they were shot and brutally mutilated. Their housekeeper and her daughter were found shot in their beds. Witnesses claim that the death squad poured out of military vehicles.

Judge Eloy Velasco, the Spanish judge who issued the charges, has also issued international arrest warrants to Interpol and Spanish police, demanding that they appear in court within 10 days.  Although actual trials rarely result from charges under the Universal Jurisdiction Law, it is an important acknowledgement of the crime and the search for justice, even years after the fact.

However, in light of the recent indictments, the current community at UCA released a statement saying that they only desire the murderers to be apologetic, echoing the message of peace and forgiveness that these martyrs preached.

To end with the words of one of the priests, Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. “The struggle against injustice 
and the pursuit of truth cannot be separated nor can one work for one be independent of the other.”

A rose garden planted in memory of the priests in the garden where they were killed, outside their residence at UCA.