Update on Status of Extradition of Defendants in Spain’s Criminal Case Regarding the 1989 Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests 

Previous posts have reported that the National Court of Spain in 2008 commenced a criminal investigation of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. In May 2011 the Spanish court issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 former Salvadoran military officials for their alleged involvement in those murders.[1]

One of these defendants had died; one had been living in the U.S.; two have been cooperating with the Spanish investigation; and the whereabouts of three are unknown. The other 13 are believed to be living in El Salvador.

Ever since May 2011 Spanish authorities have been seeking extradition of 13 of these men from El Salvador and one from the United States. But extradition has not happened yet. Here is an update on the status of those efforts.

 Developments in El Salvador

In December 2011 Spain requested extradition of 13 of them who were then believed to be in El Salvador. In May 2012, however, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied extradition of the 13 on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens.

In August 2015, in an unrelated case, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that, according to a treaty on international cooperation in criminal matters to which El Salvador is a party, an INTERPOL red notice requires both the identification of the location of the defendants and their arrest and detention pending an additional filing, such as an extradition request. This decision appeared to be in direct conflict with the just mentioned Court’s May 2012 ruling against extradition in the Spanish case.[2]

In response to the August 2015 ruling, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, on November 16, 2015, petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to review its 2012 decisions refusing to arrest and order the extradition of 13 former military officials who were subjects of the INTERPOL arrest warrants.[3]

The Ombusman also issued a resolution asking Spanish authorities to re-issue the arrest warrants for extradition purposes in this case. This request was endorsed in the Spanish case by the U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE).

On January 4, 2016, the Spanish court’s Judge Velasco honored that plea by requesting INTERPOL to re-issue the international arrest warrants for all the Jesuit Massacre case defendants who reside in El Salvador for their extradition to Spain to face the charges.

On January 6, the Salvadoran government said it will cooperate in the execution of those warrants and the extradition of former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers, but that the country’s Supreme Court would make the final decision.

In February 2016 Salvadoran authorities arrested and detained four of the former Salvadoran military officials who are sought for this Spanish criminal case. The four were former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno; former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. The Salvadoran National Civilian Police (PNC) force said that it would “continue the search and capture of the rest of the wanted persons and will inform the public in the opportune moment.” To date, however, no additional arrests have been reported.

On July 14, 2016, the full Supreme Court of El Salvador was scheduled to release its decision on the latest request to issue extradition warrants in this case. The day before, however, the Constitutional Chamber of the Court decided that the country’s Amnesty Law was unconstitutional, which was discussed in a prior post. As a result, the full Supreme Court stayed further proceedings about the extradition warrants.

On August 16, 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously, 15-0, decided that former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno could not be extradited.[4] The court, 11-4, also ordered that Benavides be detained in a Salvadoran prison in accordance with his conviction and imposition of a 30-year sentence by a Salvadoran court before passage of the amnesty law; after the passage of that law Benavides was released from prison. As a result, extradition was barred by a provision of the El Salvador-Spain extradition treaty that says extradition can be denied “if the person whose extradition is requested “has been tried and finally acquitted or convicted [of the same crime].”

The Supreme Court, however, has not yet ruled on the request to extradite the other three men– former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. They also were tried by a Salvadoran court for illegal homicide, which is an essential element of the crime now being pursued in Spain, but these three men were acquitted in a Salvadoran trial with many alleged irregularities. Strict application of the rationale of the above Supreme Court decision and the cited provision of the extradition treaty and the underlying notion of no double jeopardy suggest that they too should not be subject to extradition, but the irregularities in their trial are impediments to that analysis.[5] We now await the Salvadoran Supreme Court’s ruling on these three men.

Developments in United States

As explained in a prior post, a Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on February 5, 2016, upheld the requested extradition of Orlando Montano Morales to Spain in this case. https://dwkcommentaries.com/2016/02/06/resumption-of-spanish-criminal-case-over-1989-salvadoran-murder-of-jesuit-priests/

On April 1, 2016, Montano filed in that court an Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which is the only way for him to appeal or challenge that decision.[6]

On April 26, the U.S. moved to dismiss that habeas application. Its brief argued that the certification of extraditability would not be overturned if there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was a reasonable ground to believe that the individual was guilty of the crime in the foreign country and that there was such evidence in this case. On June 10 the U.S. submitted its reply to the petitioner’s opposition to the dismissal motion; it argued that the response raised no issues needing further rebuttal.[7]

Montano Morales, however, was not finished. On July 21, he submitted another brief arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the certification order’s probable cause conclusion. He also asserted that the court should consider certain declassified U.S. government cables with respect to the probable cause conclusion. On August 10, the U.S. again rejected Montano’s arguments, emphasizing that the habeas review was “limited to ascertaining ‘whether there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was reasonable ground to believe the accused guilty of the asserted crimes’” and that there was such evidence.[8] (Emphasis added.)

The matter is now submitted for decision by U.S. District Judge Terrance W. Boyle.

According to Patty Blum, senior legal adviser with the Center for Justice and Accountability, which filed the original complaint in the Jesuit case with the Spanish court in 2008 and which supported the request for extradition of Montano, the habeas corpus application is unlikely to “get much traction substantively” as the order granting extradition already rejected the core arguments of the new petition and the Magistrate Judge “did a thorough job of reviewing the record and giving a reasoned, detailed opinion.”[9]

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[1] Prior posts covered the marvelous ministries of these Jesuit priests and their university (University of Central America or UCA); the circumstances of their horrible murders; the Salvadoran military’s attempted cover-up of their involvement in these crimes; the flawed Salvadoran criminal prosecution of a few of the military personnel so involved and their absolution by a Salvadoran amnesty law; the investigation and report on these crimes by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; other legal proceedings regarding these crimes; the Spanish criminal case over these crimes; El Salvador’s 2012 denial of Spain’s request for extradition of most of the suspects in the case; and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in November 2014. These posts are identified in reverse chronological order of posting in a computer-generated list.  They also are identified in logical sequence in “The Jesuit Priests” section of my manually prepared List of Posts to dwkcommentaires—Topical: El Salvador. There also is extensive discussion of the Spanish case in the website of the Center for Justice and Accountability, the U.S.-based human rights organization that is involved in that case.

[2] Spanish Judge Re-Issues Request for the Arrest of Military Officials, CJA (Dec. 2015); Dalton, Spain calls for arrest of 18 soldiers accused of killing priests in El Salvador, El Pais (Dec. 23, 2015); Reuters, El Salvador will cooperate in arrest of 17 former soldiers accused of killing priests, Guardian (Jan. 6, 2015); Labrador, Spain orders again capture Jesuit Salvadoran military case, El Faro (Jan. 5, 2016).

[3] Human Rights Ombudsman asks extradition slaughter of Jesuits, El Mundo (Nov. 16, 2015).

[4] Labrador, Arauza & Zabiań, Court refuses to extradite Colonel Benavides, but agrees to send him to prison, El Faro (Aug. 17, 2016); Melendez, Supreme Court Decides Not To Extradite Jesuit Case, LaPrensa Grafica (Aug. 17, 2016); Reuters, El Salvador Court Denies Extradition of former Colonel to Spain, N.Y. Times (Aug. 17, 2016).

[5] The Salvadoran trial was covered in a prior post as was the release of Colonel Benavides under the Amnesty Law.

[6] Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2241, et seq, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 1, 2016).

[7] Memorandum in Support of Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 26, 2016); Response in Opposition to Federal Respondents’ Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (May 18, 2016); United States’ Reply to Petitioner’s Response in Opposition Regarding Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (June 10, 2016).

[8] Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Write of Habeas Corpus and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (July 21, 2016); Government’s Response to Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (Aug. 10, 2016).

[9] Cooper & Hodges, Extradition appeal among setbacks in Jesuit massacre, Nat’l Cath. Rep. (April 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Ex-Salvadoran colonel fights extradition in Jesuit killings (Apr. 1, 2016).

Resumption of Spanish Criminal Case Over 1989 Salvadoran Murder of Jesuit Priests?                      

As discussed in a prior posts, Spain’s National Court in 2008 commenced a criminal investigation of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. In May 2011 the Spanish court issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 former Salvadoran military officials for their alleged involvement in those murders.[1]

In December 2011 Spain requested extradition of 13 of them who were in El Salvador and two who were believed to be in the U.S. (Two of the others could not be located, another two were in the process of cooperating with the Spanish judge in the case and another had died.) In May 2012, however, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied extradition of the 13 on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens while one of those was in the U.S. in U.S. custody on criminal charges (Inocente Orlando Montano Morales). As a result, it appeared that the Spanish case had been road-blocked

Now there are signs in the U.S., Spain and El Salvador that the case will be resumed.

U.S. Court Approves Extradition of a Salvadoran Suspect to Spain

On April 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint for U.S. extradition of Montano to Spain. A hearing on that complaint was held on August 19, 2015, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Swank, U.S. District Court (Eastern District, North Carolina).[2]

On February 5, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued her decision upholding the requested extradition. She agreed with the Spanish evidence that showed that Mr. Montano was present at a meeting of the military high command that ordered the murders, which were carried out by an elite Salvadoran unit trained by the U.S. military. “A government official who acts in collaboration with others outside the scope of his lawful authority,” she wrote, “may reasonably be considered a member of an armed gang under the Spanish terrorist murder statute.”[3]

The key conclusions of the decision were: (a) “There is currently in force an extradition treaty between the United States and Spain;” (b) Montano “was charged in Spain with extraditable offenses under the terms of the extradition treaty between the United States and Spain, namely the terrorist murder of five Jesuit priests of Spanish origin and nationality;” and (c) “Probable cause exists to believe [Montano] committed the charged offenses of terrorist murder.”

Therefore, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Montano was subject to extradition and certified this finding to the U.S. Secretary of State as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3184.

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), which has supported the extradition of Montano, said that this decision was “thorough, erudite and sweeping in scope [and] turns on a central legal ruling: As a government official, Montano collaborated with others to carry out the murders, acting beyond the scope of his official authority.  As such, Montano can be considered a terrorist. This finding is a vindication of the years of struggle of the Salvadoran people against a repressive military which tried to turn reality on its head by calling anyone who defied it – including the Jesuits priests – terrorists. It is gratifying that a US court has recognized the true reality and named its leaders, Montano one of the most powerful, what they were – terrorists.”  CJA added: “The Assistant U.S. Attorney was persuasive in all aspects of his arguments, ably representing the interests of Spain in the U.S. judicial process.”

Carlos Martín Baró, the plaintiff in CJA’s Jesuits Massacre Case in Spain and brother of Father Ignacio Martín Baró, S.J., one of the murdered priests, said: “My brother had a broad desire to help people. When he encountered the poverty and inequality of El Salvador, he realized the problem was deeper, and he dedicated his entire life to helping the people of that country.  The fact that the Colonel Montano may face trial in Spain won’t heal the pain but is a victory for all people who seek justice.”

Under the previously mentioned U.S. federal statute (18 U.S.C. § 3184) the Secretary of State “shall issue his warrant for the commitment of the person so charged to the proper jail, there to remain until such surrender shall be made.” This statute on its face does not appear to grant the Secretary the discretion to deny the request for extradition. Moreover, since the U.S. Department of Justice brought the prosecution of Montano for immigration fraud and then for his extradition, it appears exceedingly unlikely that Secretary of State John Kerry would not provide the necessary warrant for extradition.

Now we wait to see if Montano exercises his right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 (c) and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a) to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit within 30 days “after entry of the judgment or order being appealed from,” which presumably is February 5.

 Spain and El Salvador’s Apparent Cooperation on Extradition of Other Suspects

 In August 2015, in an unrelated case, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that, according to a treaty on international cooperation in criminal matters to which El Salvador is a party, an INTERPOL red notice requires both the identification of the location of the defendants and their arrest and detention pending an additional filing, such as an extradition request. This decision appears in direct conflict with the Court’s May 2012 ruling against extradition in the Spanish case over the Jesuit murders.[4]

In response to this recent ruling, on November 16, 2015, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to review its 2012 decisions refusing to arrest and order the extradition of 11 former military officials who were subjects of the INTERPOL arrest warrants,[5]

The Ombudsman also issued a resolution asking Spanish authorities to re-issue the arrest warrants, for extradition purposes in the Jesuits Massacre Case. This request was endorsed in the Spanish case by CJA and the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE).

On January 4, 2006, the Spanish court’s Judge Velasco honored that plea by requesting INTERPOL to re-issue the international arrest warrants for all the Jesuit Massacre case defendants who reside in El Salvador for their extradition to Spain to face the charges.

On January 6, the Salvadoran government said it will cooperate in the execution of those warrants and the extradition of 17 former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers (one of whom is the previously mentioned Montano in the U.S.), but that the country’s Supreme Court would make the final decision.

On the other hand, a former Salvadoran Defense Minister, Humberto Corado, who was not involved in the killings, has requested support for those subject to the INTERPOL arrest warrants from the ARENA political party because their party members were the government officials in charge at the time of the killings and issued orders that the military carried out. He also argued that the country’s amnesty law should prevent the Spanish case from proceeding further,[6]

On February 5 and 6, 2016, Salvadoran police detained four of the 17 former military officials. The police also are looking for the other 12 (excluding Montano). This is despite some earlier police reluctance to do so. These arrests and searches are seen as a first step towards extradition. These actions were endorsed on February 6 by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who stressed that the country was “committed to comply with international standards” and that there were INTERRPOL red notices calling for arrest. He also urged those subject to arrest to comply for decision on extradition to be made by the Supreme Court.[7]

Conclusion

There now appears to be some hope that those accused of complicity in the murder of the Jesuits will face criminal charges in Spain. The main obstacle now is the Salvadoran Supreme Court, which will have to decide whether the new arrest warrants and request for extradition will be honored.

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[1] Prior posts that were tagged “Jesuits” covered the marvelous ministries of these Jesuit priests and their university (University of Central America or UCA); the circumstances of their horrible murders; the Salvadoran military’s attempted cover-up of their involvement in these crimes; the flawed Salvadoran criminal prosecution of a few of the military personnel so involved and their absolution by a Salvadoran amnesty law; the investigation and report on these crimes by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; other legal proceedings regarding these crimes; the Spanish criminal case over these crimes; El Salvador’s 2012 denial of Spain’s request for extradition of most of the suspects in the case; and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in November 2014.

[2] Prior posts that were tagged “Montano” discuss the U.S. prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of Montano for U.S. immigration fraud and the proceedings for his extradition to Spain. See also CJA, U.S. Extradition of Montano; Drew, Unusual extradition fight plays out over priests’ slayings, Yahoo News (Aug. 18, 2015); Hodge, Former colonel faces extradition for charges of plotting Jesuits’ slayings, Nat’l Catholic Reporter (Aug. 24, 2015).

[3] Certification of Extraditability & Order of Commitment, In re Request By Spain for the Extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales (No. 2:15-MJ-1021-KS, U.S. Dist. Ct., E. D. N.C., N. Div. Feb. 5, 2016); CJA Press Release, Judge Grants Extradition of Salvadoran Colonel Accused in Jesuit Massacre (Feb. 5, 2015); Malkin, U.S. Judge Approves Extradition of Former Salvadoran Colonel, N.Y. Times (Feb. 5, 2016).

[4] CJA, Spanish Judge Re-Issues Request for the Arrest of Military Officials, CJA (Dec. 2015); Dalton, Spain calls for arrest of 18 soldiers accused of killing priests in El Salvador, El Pais (Dec. 23, 2015); Reuters, El Salvador will cooperate in arrest of 17 former soldiers accused of killing priests, Guardian (Jan. 6, 2015); Labrador, Spain orders again capture Jesuit Salvadoran military case, elfaro (Jan. 5, 2016).

[5] Human Rights Ombudsman asks extradition slaughter of Jesuits, El Mundo (Nov. 16, 2015).

[6] Serrano, They asked military support of ARENA and right before the event of murdered Jesuits, LaPagina (Jan. 6, 2016).

[7] President recommends involved in Jesuit case to be delivered, Diario CoLatino (Feb. 6, 2016); Labrador, Captured soldiers accused in the Jesuit case, Elfaro (Feb. 5, 2016); PNC Accused Military Capture Jesuit Case, DiarioLatino (Feb. 5, 2015); Labrador, Police are still resisting capture by military Jesuit Case, Elfaro (Jan. 25, 2016).

Update on Spain’s Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuits of El Salvador

Spain’s National Court (Audicencia Nacional) since November 2008 has been conducting a criminal case regarding the murders of six Jesuits priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador on November 16, 1989. This lead in January 2009 to the Spanish equivalent of indictments of 14 former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers for murder, crimes against humanity and state terrorism. In May 2011 the court added six indictees and issued 20 international arrest warrants. Thereafter in November 2011 Spain issued requests for extradition of these men to Spain to face the charges. [1]

However, in August 2011 El Salvador’s Supreme Court refused to enforce the Interpol arrest warrants for 13 of the indictees who were living in that country and in May 2012 denied the requests for their extradition on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens. Another indictee, Inocente Orlando Montano, had been living in the U.S. and now is in U.S. prison after pleading guilty to lying multiple times to U.S. immigration officials. (One indictee, former Colonel René Emilio Ponce, died during the prior proceedings.)

Just this October the Spanish court’s Criminal Chamber, en banc, decided that the court did have jurisdiction over all of the charges: murder, crimes against humanity and state terrorism.

Almudena Bernabeu
Almudena Bernabeu

Last week Almudena Bernabeu, CJA’s International Attorney and Transitional Justice Program Director and the lead private attorney for the prosecution in this case, was in El Salvador to discuss the case in connection with the twenty-fifth anniversary of these horrible crimes. [2]

First, she reported that the case is now at a standstill because none of the suspects is physically present in Spain.

Inocente Orlando Montano
Inocente Orlando Montano

Next year, however, she hopes this will change. In April of 2015, Senor Montano will complete his incarceration in the U.S. [3] By then the U.S. must decide whether it will honor Spain’s request to extradite Montano to Spain.

Although the U.S. is not legally required to consult with El Salvador on this issue, as a matter of inter-state courtesy the U.S. probably would do so, she said. Therefore, Bernabeu has conferred with officials of the Salvadoran government, who have confirmed that there is absolute willingness to collaborate with the Spanish process for the extradition of Mr. Montano from the U.S.  Thus, it is important to know that when the U.S. faces the decision whether to extradite Montano, the government of El Salvador has decided not to interfere.

Second, upon such an extradition and Montano’s arrival in Spain, the Spanish case would be re-activated to prepare the case for trial, presumably within 30 days.

Third, if, however, the U.S. deported Montano to El Salvador, the Salvadoran courts probably would refuse to extradite him in light of their prior refusal to extradite to Spain other indictees in the case who are Salvadoran citizens. In that event, the case in Spain could not proceed further.

Fourth, Bernabeu said she unsuccessfully has tried three times to have former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani added as a defendant and indictee because she believes the evidence shows he ultimately was responsible for the crime committed by the military’s High Command and was an accessory to the killing. Indeed, she said that the testimony of two former Salvadoran military officials and documents, including declassified U.S. documents from the CIA, FBI and Department of Defense, show that Cristiani knew of the plan to kill the Jesuits before the murders happened. Whatever the reasons, the Spanish court has been reluctant to join a former foreign president as a defendant. [4]

Fifth, she said El Salvador’s General Amnesty Act of 1993 was a major problem for this case and others like it. This was so even though the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 1999 decided in the Jesuits case that the Amnesty Law violated the American Convention on Human Rights and ordered El Salvador to declare it null and void and even though the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in December 2012 in another case (the El Mozote Massacre) ordered El Salvador to repeal the Amnesty Act. [5] That has not yet happened, but the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court sometime soon is expected to rule on the constitutionality of that Act.

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[1] The Spanish court has jurisdiction over the case under Spain’s statute for universal jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of international concern. This statute is an implementation of the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction whereby a state has universal jurisdiction over certain crimes of international concern regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the victim or perpetrator.  A detailed summary of the Jesuits case along with some of the court documents and other materials is available on the website of the non-profit Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) based in San Francisco, California. CJA, the sponsor of the case in Spain. It is an international 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. It uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.

[2] This account of Bernabeu’s comments is based upon Castillo, 25 Yrs After El Salvador Priest Killings, Groups Press for Justice, NBC News (Nov. 13, 2014); Labrador & Fatima, The government of El Salvador has decided not to hinder Montano’s extradition to Spain, El Faro (Nov. 14, 2014); Jaminez, Await Extradition of Montano, DiarioCoLatino (Nov. 15, 2014); Dalton, Cristiani knew at time of slaughter of Jesuits in El Salvador,” El Pais (Nov. 17, 2014). El Faro also recently published (a) a collection of articles from other Salvadoran newspapers evidencing the right’s hatred of the Jesuits before their murders; (b) biographies of the murdered priests, their housekeeper and her daughter and the six Salvadoran military personnel who were prosecuted for the crime in El Salvador (with only two convicted and then subsequently released from prison on the basis of the General Amnesty law); (c) an article describing how that Salvadoran prosecution for this crime was impeded by their attorney general; (d) an archive of U.S. diplomatic cables and other documents about the crime; and (e) a hyperlinked collection of El Faro’s prior articles about the Jesuits case.

[3] The U.S. legal proceedings against Montano are discussed in prior posts and comments: Comment [to “Spain Requests Extradition” post]: Ex-Salvadoran Military Officer [Montano] Indicted for Alleged Violations of U.S. Immigration Laws (Feb. 12, 2012); Comment [to “Spain Requests Extradition” post]: Former Salvadoran Military Officer [Montano] Pleads Guilty to Lying to U.S. Immigration Officials (Sept. 15, 2012); Former Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano To Serve 21 Months in U.S. Prison (Sept. 5, 2013).

[4] On December 16, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador sent a cable to the U.S. Secretary of State. It reported that earlier that month senior officials of the Salvadoran government went to Spain and met with its attorney prosecuting the Jesuits case and with other top-level Spanish government officials, who said they were embarrassed about the case’s seeking to add Alfredo Cristiani, El Salvador’s former president, as a defendant. The Spanish prosecutor also promised support and cooperation to the Salvadoran officials.

[5] Yet another post reviewed the decision in the El Mozote Massacre case by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Spain’s Criminal Case Over U.S. Killing of Spanish Journalist in Iraq

Spain’s National Court (Audiencia Nacional), as mentioned in a prior post, has three criminal cases on its docket involving allegations of illegal conduct by U.S. officials with respect to U.S. interrogation of foreigners and war crimes. The Spanish court is involved because it has exercised its right under the international law principle of universal jurisdiction for a national court to exercise jurisdiction over such cases even if the crimes did not occur on its territory. We now look at the third of these three cases.

In May 2003, the mother (Maria Isabel Permuy Lopez) and other family members filed a criminal complaint with the Central Criminal Court for Preliminary Criminal Proceedings No. 1 at the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid. The subject of the case is the April 8, 2003, killing of her son, Jose Couso Permuy, who was a cameraman for a Spanish television station, in Baghdad, Iraq by a shell fired by a U.S. tank. The defendants are three U.S. infantrymen involved in the shelling.

On October 19, 2005, Judge Santiago Pedraz opened a preliminary investigation in light of the failure of the U.S. to provide responses to the Spanish court’s requests for information. The Judge also issued three international arrest warrants for the three U.S. infantrymen on charges of murder and war crimes.

On March 10, 2006, the case was closed by the Criminal Division of the National Court, but nine months later (December 2006), the Spanish Supreme Court reversed the dismissal.

Judge Pedraz in January 2007 reactivated the three arrest warrants and requested a freeze on the defendants’ assets. He also asked the U.S. to provide contact information for the defendants for an INTERPOL Red Notice, but the U.S. Ambassador to Spain advised the Spanish Attorney General that the U.S. would not respond to the request.

The next round was the April 2007 indictment of the defendants by Judge Pedraz for aggravated murder and crimes against the international community by attacking journalists. However, in May 2008, this was reversed by the Criminal Division of the National Court on an appeal by the National Court Chief Prosecutor.

The case, however, was not yet over. In May 2009 on the basis of new evidence Judge Pedraz issued new indictments for murder, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions. There also was another indictment in November 2011.

In summary, this case is still pending.

Collaterally the Couso family has asked the Spanish government for an investigation of the integrity of the Spanish criminal investigation of this case following the WikiLeaks release of certain U.S. diplomatic cables. This request has faced procedural problems and has not reached a final conclusion.

International Criminal Court: INTERPOL Issues Red Notice for Gaddafi

 On September 8th the ICC Prosecutor announced that he is requesting INTERPOL to issue a “Red Notice” to arrest Muammar Gaddafi for the alleged crimes against humanity of murder and persecution that have been charged by the ICC. The Prosecutor also is seeking such Red Notices for the other two Libyans facing ICC charges.[1] On September 9th INTERPOL isssued these Red Notices. (Nordland, INTERPOL Issues Qaddafi Arrest Warrant as More Libyan Officials Flee, N.Y. Times (Sept. 9, 2001).)

The ICC Press Release says that an “INTERPOL Red Notice seeks the provisional arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition or surrender to an international court based on an arrest warrant or court decision.” Such notices go to all 188 countries that are members of INTERPOL.

This statement also stands as an implicit rebuke to the recent erroneous decision of El Salvador’s Supreme Court that a Red Notice only called for information about the location of individuals named in such notices, not their arrests.[2]

In another ICC development, on August 30, 2011, the Philippines deposited its instrument of ratification of the Rome Statute with the U.N. Secretary General. It will become the 117th State Party to the Statute.[3]


[1] ICC Press Release, ICC Prosecutor Requesting INTERPOL Red Notice for Gaddafi (Sept. 8, 2011). See Post: International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration (May 13, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Three Libyan Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Issuance of Libyan Arrest Warrants and Other Developments (June 27, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Libya, Sudan, Rwanda and Serbia Developments (July 4, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Possible Arrests of Three Libyan Suspects (Aug. 22, 2011).

[2] Post: International Criminal Justice: Developments in Spanish Court’s Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (Aug. 26, 2011); Comment [to that Post]: Salvadoran Supreme Court’s Decision on INTERPOL RED NOTICE Was Erroneous (Aug. 28, 2011).

[3] ICC Press Release, The Philippines becomes the 117th State to join the Rome Statute system (Aug. 30, 2011).

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

Over the last several weeks there have been significant developments in El Salvador, the U.S. and Spain regarding the Spanish court’s criminal case against 20 Salvadoran military officers for their alleged involvement in the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests. These developments arise out of the May 30, 2011, Spanish court’s issuance of arrest warrants for the 20 defendants on charges of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in planning and carrying out the murders.[1]

After May 30th Spain enlisted the assistance of the International Police Organization or INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organization, with 188 member countries, to facilitate cross-border police co-operation and to prevent or combat international crime. INTERPOL in turn issued RED NOTICES identifying the 9 of the 20 defendants believed to be living in El Salvador (the Salvadoran Nine) and their indictment by the Spanish court. (Another RED NOTICE is believed to have been issued for a defendant believed to be living in the U.S.) Such RED NOTICES typically are treated as requests for provisional arrests of the subjects of the notices so that the formal process of requests for their extradition to Spain, in this case, can be made.[2]

El Salvador Developments

In El Salvador, in late July a lawyer for the Nine requested the National Civilian Police (PNC) to not execute the Red Notices on the ground that the crime already had been prosecuted by Salvadoran courts.[3] In addition, on August 7th the Nine turned themselves in to a military base near San Salvador, presumably because of a belief that as former military officers they would have some protection there. That same day, however, the country’s Minister of Defense turned them over to civilian authorities who kept the Nine in custody at one of the country’s military facilities.[4]

Thereafter, the Nine filed habeas corpus petitions with the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court. On August 24th the Chamber rejected the petitions on the ground that there was a request for their extradition to Spain.[5]

Minutes later on August 24th, however, the 15-member Salvadoran Supreme Court decided, 10 to 2, that the RED NOTICES for the Nine only served to locate people accused of crimes by another country. The Notices did not authorize arrests. That could happen only if there were a formal extradition request, and no such request had been received by El Salvador. If Spain in fact made an extradition request, the court would consider it.[6]

The reaction to the decision within El Salvador was predictable; those who supported the military were happy; those who wanted to see justice for the Jesuits were disappointed.[7]

In response to the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruling, a Spanish court official has said that Spain cannot issue a formal extradition request to El Salvador for the Nine because Spain has not been notified that they are under arrest. The Spanish court, therefore, has asked El Salvador to clarify the legal status of the Nine after the Salvadoran court’s August 24th ruling. [8]

Does this leave the issue at an impasse? El Salvador will not authorize an arrest because there is no extradition request, and Spain will not or cannot issue extradition requests because there are no arrests?

Meanwhile in El Salvador, the controversial Decree 743 that required the Constitutional Chamber of its Supreme Court to act unanimously has been repealed.[9]

U.S. Developments

On or about August 19th defendant Montano was arrested in Virginia on charges of lying to U.S. immigration officials in applying for Temporary Protected Status in the U.S.  On August 23rd he made an appearance at a federal court in Massachusetts, where he had been residing. The next day he was released on a $50,000 bond and confinement to his sister’s house with electronic monitoring. Apparently there has not yet been a RED NOTICE for him.[10]

Earlier (in July) Senators John Kerry, Tom Harkin, Patrick Leahy and Barbara Boxer jointly signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting the U.S. to cooperate fully with the Spanish court in this case. The response from an Assistant Secretary of State said the U.S. was monitoring the case and would give any Spanish request for assistance the appropriate consideration.[11]

Spain Developments

In Spain, lawyers for the Nine apparently have decided that offense is the best defense. They have filed charges in the Spanish court alleging that the Spanish judge, Valasco Nunez, acted illegally in the May 31st arrest orders for the 20 Salvadoran former military officers. The basis for the charge is the prior Salvadoran criminal case regarding the murders of the Jesuits, the Salvadoran amnesty law and its statute of limitations barring any such charges at this time. The attorneys also are considering a charge of defamation against the Spanish judge.[12]

Conclusion

As this discussion indicates, the story is far from over. Further developments in this case are expected in all three countries.


[1]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May 31, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The Spanish Court’s Criminal Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 15, 2011).

[2]  INTERPOL, http://www.interpol.int/default.asp; Arauz, Dada & Lemus, Interpol arrest warrants processed 10 Jesuit Salvadoran military case, el Faro (July 29, 2011), http://www.elfaro.net (Google English translation). In addition to the RED NOTICES for the nine officers believed to be living in El Salvador, another was issued for Rene Emilio Ponce, who died in May 2011. (Id.)

[3]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Prosecution of the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 8, 2011).

[4] Center for Justice & Accountability, Press Release: Salvadoran High Commanders Responsible for Jesuit Massacre in 1989 Under Custody in El Salvador (Aug. 10, 2011); Tim’s El Salvador Blog, Officers indicted for Jesuit murders surrender (Aug. 8, 2011),______     ;

[5] Gonzalez & Perez, Supreme Court in the event benefited the Jesuit military, diario colatino (Aug. 25, 2011) (Google English translation).

[6] Id.; Assoc. Press, Salvadoran Supreme Court refuses to detain men charged in 1989 killings of Jesuit priests, Wash. Post (Aug. 24, 2011); Released in the Salvador to military courts in Spain by death of Jesuits, lapagina.com (Aug. 25, 2011) (Google English translation).

[7]  General Zapeda,”national sovereignty has prevailed and has restored peace to the country, lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011) (Zapeda is one of the defendants) (Google English translation); Perez, Munguia Payes, “an episode closes, whatever comes later, lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011)(Payes is Defense Minister) (Google English translation); Calderon, Rodolfo Cardenal, “The decision was somewhat expected, because,” lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011)(Cardenal is former UCA vice chancellor) (Google English translation); Guzman, Siegfried Reyes: “El Salvador has a large debt tp truth and justice, lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011)(Reyes is President of the Legislative Assembly) (Google English translation).

[8] Sainz, Spain seeks El Salvador clarification on suspects, Miami Herald (Aug. 25, 2011); Assoc. Press, Spain Seeks El Salvador Clarification on Suspects, N.Y. Times (Aug. 25, 2011).

[9] Tomorrow Decree 743 will be history, diariocolatino (July 28, 2011). See Post: El Salvador’s Current Controversy over Its General Amnesty Law and Supreme Court (June 16, 2011).

[10] Arsenault, War crime suspect found in Everett [Massachusetts], Boston Globe (Aug. 17, 2011); Assoc. Press, Salvadoran accused in Jesuit deaths held in Mass., Boston Globe (Aug. 23, 2011); Assoc. Press, Suspect in Jesuit deaths out on immigration charge (Aug. 24, 2011); Arsenault, War crimes suspect in house arrest in Saugus [Massachusetts], Boston Globe (Aug. 25, 2011); Aragon, Military accused of slaughter in the U.S. Jesuit was arrested while fleeing to Mexico, elfaro (Aug. 25, 2011) (Google English translation).

[11] Arsenault, War crime suspect found in Everett [Massachusetts], Boston Globe (Aug. 17, 2011);

[12]  Lemus, Military sue Spanish judge to reverse the Jesuit case, elfaro (July 31, 2011) (Google English translation); Aguilar, Military accused of slaughter in Spain by Jesuits are delivered to the army, elfaronet (Aug. 8, 2011). See Post: International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 8, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case (June 11, 2011).