U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals Affirms Deportation (Removal) of Former Salvadoran General José Guillermo Garcia

As mentioned in a prior post, in October 2009, the Department of Homeland Security charged that General Jose Guillermo Garcia, who had been residing in the U.S. since his retirement from the Salvadoran military, was removable (or deportable) from the U.S. under the Immigration and Nationality Act on the grounds that he had committed, ordered, incited, or otherwise participated in torture and extrajudicial killings in El Salvador.

The seven-day trial or hearing on these charges before an immigration judge was held in February 2013, and a year later the judge issued his 66-page decision in the case ordering that Garcia should be removed (or deported) from the U.S.This conclusion was based upon the judge’s findings that:

  • “As head of the armed forces and the most powerful person in El Salvador, [García] fostered, and allowed to thrive, an institutional atmosphere in which the Salvadoran Armed Forces preyed upon defenseless civilians under the guise of fighting a war against communist subversives. Instead of institutional changes that would decrease the incidents of killings and torture by the military, [García] failed to stamp out death squads within the security forces.  Likewise, despite contemporaneous evidence that members of the military had been involved in the [1980] assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, [1] a man who could have been an ally in bringing about change and peace in El Salvador, [García] failed to adequately investigate.”
  • García helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who killed four American churchwomen in 1980.[2]
  • He “knew or should have known” that army troops had slaughtered the villagers, including women and children, in the hamlet of El Mozote in 1981.[3]

On December 15, 2015, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals upheld and finalized the removal order of Garcia in a decision that has not yet been made public. Whether he would exercise his right to appeal to a U.S. court of appeals was not immediately known.

This case has been conducted under the auspices of the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), a California-based human rights non-governmental organization. Its Legal Advisor Carolyn Patty Blum applauded the BIA’s decision. She said: “Minister of Defense Jose Guillermo García was the most powerful man in El Salvador during a reign of state terror in which tens of thousands of innocent Salvadorans were slaughtered.  CJA applauds the Department of Homeland Security for its vigorous pursuit of García before the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals and thanks our client Dr. Juan Romagoza, once again, for testifying in court proceedings against General García, as he had in the case of former Minister of Defense Eugenio Vides Casanova, deported earlier this year. We hope that García can be swiftly removed from the U.S. and face justice in El Salvador for the El Mozote massacre and the many other crimes committed under his command. It has been a long battle for justice for our clients and other victims who suffered horrendous repression during García’s rule in El Salvador.”


[1] This blog has published many posts about Oscar Romero.

[2] This blog has published many posts about the American Churchwomen.

[3] This blog has published many posts about El Mozote.






International Criminal Justice: The Spanish Court’s Criminal Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests

As previously noted, a Spanish court on May 30, 2011, issued an indictment and arrest warrants for 20 of El Salvador’s former top military leaders and soldiers, accusing them of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in meticulously planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in November 1989.[1]

The Spanish indictment essentially follows the factual findings regarding the murders and the cover-up that was set forth in the Report of the Truth Commission for El Salvador.[2] The indictment, however, offers greater factual details.[3]

The indictment also emphasizes the military’s formal chain of command as well as the informal power of the military’s “Tandona of 1966,” i.e., the military officers who had graduated from the Salvadoran military college in 1966 and who in 1989 held the major positions of official power. In 1989 these officers, the indictment says, feared the proposed reform and restructuring of the military that was being discussed as a condition for a peace agreement to end the civil war. Such reforms would result in reduction in the Tandona’s power and ability to embezzle from U.S. military aid. They, therefore, were bitter opponents of the Jesuits, and especially Father Ellacuria, who were major public advocates for such negotiations. [4]

The criminal case was filed in November 2008 by a U.S. NGO (Center for Justice & Accountability) and a Spanish NGO against 14 Salvadoran military officers plus former Salvadoran President Cristiani.[5]

In January 2009, the Spanish National Court accepted the case and formally charged the 14 fourteen former officers and soldiers named in the complaint with crimes against humanity and state terrorism for their role in the massacre.  Additionally the court reserved the right, during the course of the investigation, to indict Cristiani for his alleged role in covering up the crime.[6]

The May 2011 indictment discusses Crisitani’s attending meetings at the military’s headquarters for several hours immediately before the murders were committed and his providing false information months later about a military search of the UCA campus that preceded the murders. But the Spanish court did not indict Cristiani and did not provide reasons for that decision not to charge Cristiani.[7]

The indictment also mentions that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had an office in the Salvadoran military headquarters in November 1989 and that some U.S. military advisors attended meetings at that headquarters with El Salvador’s top military leaders in the 24 hours preceding the murders. But there is no discussion in the indictment as to whether this involvement carries criminal implications for U.S. personnel.[8]

In addition, the indictment states that in January 1990 one of the U.S. officers (Maj. Eric Buckland) told his U.S. superiors that Colonel Benavides had given the order to kill Father Ellacuria. Until January 2010, the indictment reports, public information about the Salvadoran investigation of this crime had not mentioned possible involvement of the country’s top military officers. Thus, the revelation by Maj. Buckland was explosive in El Salvador because Benavides was a member of the “Tandona of 1966.”[9]

The Center for Justice & Accountabilty of San Francisco, California is a human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law and advance the rule of law.[10]

[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May 31, 2011).

[2] See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 2, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Military’s Attempted Cover-Up of Its Committing the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 7, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador (June 9, 2011).

[3] Id.; CJA, Spanish National Court Indictments and Arrest Warrants (May 30, 2011)(in Spanish), http://www.cja.org/downloads/JesuitsArrestWarrants.pdf;  CJA, Update: Spanish Judge Issues Indictments and Arrest Warrants in Spanish Jesuits Massacre Case (May 31, 2011), http://www.cja.org/article.php?id=1004.

[4] Id.

[5] CJA, Criminal Charges Filed before the Spanish National Court for 1989 Massacre of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador (November 13, 2008); CJA, Summary of Complaint in English (Nov. 18, 2009), http://www.cja.org/downloads/Jesuits_Summary_of_Complaint_in_English.pdf. Under Spanish law, citizens and NGOs may initiate criminal proceedings by filing criminal complaints as popular prosecutors.

[6]  CJA, El Salvador: The Jesuits Massacre Case, http://www.cja.org/cases/jesuits.shtml; CJA, Spanish National Court To Pursue Criminal Investigation into 1989 Massacre of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador (Jan. 13, 2009); CJA, Spanish National Court’s Order Admitting the Complaint (Jan. 13, 2009)(in Spanish), http://www.cja.org/downloads/Jesuits_Order_Admitting_Complaint.pdf.

[7] CJA, Spanish National Court Indictments and Arrest Warrants (May 30, 2011)(in Spanish), http://www.cja.org/downloads/JesuitsArrestWarrants.pdf. There was a report that a former Salvadoran military officer testified to the Spanish court that Cristiani had advance knowledge of the planned assassinations and approved them. (Tim’s El Salvador Blog, More developments in Jesuits Case in Spain (July 7, 2010).)

[8] In November 2009 the Spanish court was provided with many declassified U.S. documents relating to the crime from the National Security Archive of George Washington University through the testimony of an analyst from the Archive and the expert testimony of Professor Terry Karl of Stanford University. At the same time, there were newspaper reports that the U.S. military attaché at the U.S. Embassy and a senior State Department official knew in advance that the Salvadoran military was planning to kill Ellacuria. (Id.; The CIA knew that the military of El Salvador would kill Ellacuria, El Mundo (Nov. 15, 2009)(English translation); Doyle, The Right to Information is the Right to Justice: Declassified Documents and the Assassination of the Jesuits in El Salvador (Nov. 16, 2009), http://nsarchive.wordpress.com; Sainz, CIA documents shed light on Jesuit massacre in El Salvador, (Nov.20, 2009), http://www.lapresnsagrafica.com/el-sa…-salvador.html (English translation); CJA, First International Witnesses To Testify in Madrid in the El Salvador Jesuits Massacre Case (Nov. 23, 2009); Ayala, El Salvador: Declassified Docs Shed Light on Jesuits Massacre Case (Nov. 27, 2009), http://ipsnews.net.); Tim’s El Salvador Blog, Spanish Paper–US know of attack on Jesuits in advance, (Nov. 28, 2009), http://luterano.blogspot.com.)

[9] Id.

International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests

A Spanish court yesterday issued arrest warrants for 20 of the top military leaders of El Salvador’s civil war, accusing them of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in meticulously planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in November 1989.[1]

Among the men named in the indictment were Rafael Humberto Larios, who was the Salvadoran defense minister at the time; Juan Orlando Zepeda, the vice defense minister; Rene Emilio Ponce, leader of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Inocente Orlando Montano, the vice minister of public safety. Mr. Ponce, who is believed to have given the order for the killings, died this month in El Salvador. Mr. Montano is in custody.

The Jesuit priests were the leader and professors at the Universidad de Centro America (UCA) in San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador. The Rector of the University of Central America, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, had organized an open public forum about the country’s problems. All six were noted professors who had published papers about the country’s problems, and most of them also had served as pastors in communities around the capital city.[2]

At the time of the murders, El Salvador was engaged in a civil war with leftist guerillas, and supporters of the Salvadoran government said that UCA was the “logistical center of Communist subversion.” The Jesuits at UCA were “agents of the Marxist conspiracy at the service of the Kremlin.” Ellacuria, they said, directed “all Marxist-Leninist strategy in Central America.” The Jesuits, according to these government supporters, were “the intellectual authors who have directed the guerillas.” [3]

This important development raises many issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts: (a) the work of the priests and UCA in the life of El Salvador; (b) the facts relating to the murders; (c) the criminal prosecution of some of the military officers in El Salvador; (d) the investigation and report about this horrendous crime by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; (d) the subsequent general amnesty adopted by the Salvadoran legislature; (e) the investigation and report about this crime by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; (f) the background of the case before the Spanish court; (g) the important work by international human rights non-governmental organizations like the Center for Justice & Accountability that has been a leader in the case in Spain; and (h) the international law principle of universal jurisdiction and Spain’s implementation of that principle.

As a result of my involvement with El Salvador over the last 26 years, my six visits to the country and to UCA itself and my investigation of the above issues, the latest development in the Spanish case is very important to me legally, spiritually and emotionally. Through all of these activities, I have come to see that there is an ever-evolving interactive global struggle against impunity for violators of human rights and that many courts, other international and domestic governmental and non-governmental institutions and people play different and important roles in this process.  [4]

[1] Malkin, From Spain, Charges Against 20 in the Killing of 6 Priests in El Salvador in 1989, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011); Center for Justice & Accountability, Spanish Judge Issues Indictments and Arrest Warrants in Jesuits Massacre Case (May 30, 2011), http://www.cja.org/article.php?id=1004.

[2] Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador  (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993) [“Doggett”]; Jon Sobrino, et al., Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador (Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Books 1990).

[3] Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 49 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html;  Doggett at 17.

[4] See Post: My First 10 Years of Retirement (April 23, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011); Post: Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011); Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).