More Delay in U.S. Extradition of Former Salvadoran Military Officer to Spain     

One of the suspects who is sought by a Spanish court to face criminal charges in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador is Inocente Orlando Montano Morales. As he had been living in the U.S., he is now the subject of proceedings in U.S. federal court for extradition to Spain.

A post last month reported the delay in those U.S. proceedings because of his poor health. That has not changed in the last six weeks.

With respect to his health, he was not transferred to the Federal Medical Center at Butner, North Carolina but instead to the Piedmont Regional Jail, which reportedly had adequate facilities for his care. After Montano challenged that care and after the filing of statement of a Nurse-Practitioner and the Head Nurse at the Regional Jail, the court in May affirmed its prior denial of Montano’s motion for conditional release.[1]

In early June, however, Montano’s health worsened, and the Government was in the process of having him transferred to the Columbia Regional Care Center in Columbia, South Carolina, which will be able to provide “a higher level of medical and nursing care.”[2]

In the meantime, both parties filed briefs on the merits.

Montano’s attorney argued that Spain’s attempted exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction over Montano would be arbitrary, fundamentally unfair and unreasonable. First, the underlying Spanish criminal statute requires an act by a “terrorist,” but “it is unlikely that a cabinet member of a government recognized by the [U.S.] and Spain [as El Salvador’s was] would ‘reasonably anticipate being . . . charged with being a terrorist.” Second, extradition of Montano would violate due process because he has had “absolutely no contacts with Spain” and because the five murdered priests in this case left Spain in the 1950’s and at least three of them had acquired Salvadoran nationality and thereby lost their Spanish nationality. Third, Spain’s assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction over Montano violates international law.[3]

The U.S. Government responded. The U.S. asserted the Magistrate Judge properly had found that extradition would be lawful because under the U.S.-Spain extradition treaty the U.S. could charge someone under a U.S. statute for a similar crime in compliance with due process requirements.[4]

Now we wait to see if Montano’s health stabilizes and if the court will issue a decision on the merits.

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[1] Notice of Petitioner’s Treatment at Piedmont Regional Jail, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. May 23, 2017); Order, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. May 25, 2017); Response to Petitioner’s Notice of Treatment at Piedmont Regional Jail, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. May 25, 2017); Statement by Donna McLean, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C.); Notice of Filing of Ann Smith, R.N.,] Statement in Response to Court’s Order, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. May 26, 2017 May 26, 2017); Order, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. May 26, 2017).

[2] Notice of Petitioner’s Condition and Treatment at Piedmont Regional Jail, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. June 14, 2017); Notice Regarding Petitioner’s Current Medical Condition, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. June 14, 2017),

[3] Response to Court’s March 27, 2017 Order and Response to Government’s Amended Memorandum in Support of Motion To Dismiss,, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. May 9, 2017).

[4] Reply in Support of Amended Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. May 19, 2017).

Reinstatement of Sentence of Former Salvadoran Military Officer for Participating in Murders of Jesuit Priests    

As reported in previous posts, there have been many legal developments relating to the participation in the 1989 Salvadoran murders of the six Jesuits priests and their housekeeper and her daughter by now former Salvadoran Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, then the Director of the country’s Military College, who had been accused of having given the order to murder the Jesuit priests. These developments included the following:

  • In September 1991 a Salvadoran court imposed a 30-year imprisonment sentence upon Benavides after being convicted at trial of all eight counts of murder and instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.
  • In 1992, pursuant to the Salvadoran General Amnesty Law, Colonel Benavides and the others who had been convicted in the Jesuits case were released from prison.
  • In July 2016 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador decided, 4 to 1, that the General Amnesty Law was unconstitutional.

On April 6, 2017, a Salvadoran appeals court decided that as a result of the invalidation of the General Amnesty Law, Benavides’ 30-year sentence was valid and that he must return to prison to serve that sentence. This was reported in the El Salvador Perspectives blog.

 

 

 

 

Delay in U.S. Extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales to Spain for Trial in Murder of the Jesuit Priests in El Salvador

 

Previous posts have discussed U.S. proceedings for extradition to Spain of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales (“Montano”), a former Salvadoran military officer, for his alleged participation in the murder of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in November 1989. Such extradition was approved in February 2016 by a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and thereafter Montano challenged that decision by filing an application for a writ of habeas corpus in that court with a hearing in November 2016 on that application and the Government’s motion to dismiss the application.[1]

Four months later, on March 27, 2017, U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle entered an order denying the Government’s dismissal motion without prejudice and requesting the parties to submit new briefs to address certain issues.[2]

Judge Boyle’s analysis started with the assertions that (a) Spain’s criminal case against Montano and others was based upon its law prohibiting “terrorist murder” in other countries of its nationals, five of whom were the murdered Jesuit priests; and (b) the bilateral extradition treaty between Spain and the U.S. required under these circumstances that U.S. law provided “for the punishment of such an offense committed in similar circumstances.”

Thus, for Judge Boyle, the issue to be addressed by the parties in subsequent briefs was whether the U.S. Constitution and law and international law provided for U.S. prosecution of such an offense under similar circumstances. The balance of the Judge’s Order suggests that he has serious doubts that this is so.

He starts with this legitimate premise: “Universal jurisdiction is an international law doctrine that recognizes a ‘narrow and unique exception’ to the general requirement that nations have a jurisdictional nexus before punishing extraterritorial conduct committed by non-nationals” (quoting an Eastern District of Virginia case that was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Judge Boyle’s court). This “narrow and unique exception,” he implicitly says, is limited to offenses that “rise to the level of universal concern.”

International Law Issue

Judge Boyle then makes a questionable assertion, which he pins on the parties’ alleged previous arguments, that Spain’s charges for “terrorist acts involving the murder of five Jesuit priests” do not rise to the level of universal concern, such as piracy or genocide.” For this proposition the Judge cites section 404 of the Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law [of the U.S.] (1987), which says, in part, that “offenses recognized by the community of nations as of universal concern, such as piracy, slave trade, attacks on or hijacking of aircraft, genocide, war crimes, and perhaps terrorism.” (Emphasis added; p. 3, n.2.) Two pages later the Judge cites United States v. Yousef, 327 F.3d 56, 107-08 (2d Cir. 2003), which apparently concluded that “terrorism . . . does not provide a basis for universal jurisdiction” although also observing that treatises like the previously cited Restatement are not primary sources of customary international law.

No independent legal research has been conducted on this issue, but it should be noted that the Restatement is a thirty-year-old secondary authority and that the Yousef case is 14 years old, is from another circuit court and thus is only persuasive authority at best and Judge Boyle merely says this case has been cited by Montano.

The complex Yousef case involved three defendant foreigners who appealed from judgments of conviction for multiple violations of U.S. law, including a conspiracy to bomb a Philippines Airline aircraft flying from the Philippines to Japan. The appellate court rejected the defense arguments that the U.S. had no jurisdiction for this charge because U.S. “law provides a separate and complete basis for jurisdiction over [this and other charges] . . . [U.S.] law is not subordinate to customary international law or necessarily subordinate to treaty-based international law and, in fact, may conflict with both . . . [and because] customary international law does provide a substantial basis for jurisdiction by the [U.S.] over each of these counts, although not . . . under the universality principle.”

Indeed, the Second Circuit in Yousef held in 2003 that “customary international law currently does not provide for the prosecution of ‘terrorist’ acts under the universality principle, in part due to the failure of States to achieve anything like consensus on the definition of terrorism.” (Emphasis added.) The court also noted that those offenses supporting universal jurisdiction under customary international law — that is, piracy, war crimes, and crimes against humanity —. . . now have fairly precise definitions and that have achieved universal condemnation.” (Emphases added.)

Such definitions of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” are found in Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole,” including crimes against humanity” and “war crimes.” Here are the relevant parts of that Statute:

  • One of the “crimes against humanity” is “murder” “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population” or “a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of [murder] against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack.” Given the circumstances of the Salvadoran Civil War and the actions of the Salvadoran military, circa 1989, these conditions for this type of crime against humanity should be satisfied.
  • One of the “war crimes” is “willful killing” of “persons . . . protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention.” Here, that is the Fourth Geneva Convention (Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War), which protects “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities” against “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.”

Therefore, although not yet subjected to complete legal analysis, a respectable argument for this issue for extradition can and should be made.

U.S. Legal Issues

 Judge Boyle also raised two issues of U.S. law: (1) whether there was a U.S. law that would justify a U.S. criminal charge against Montano for his alleged participation in the killing of the Jesuit priests and (2) whether such a hypothetical U.S. charge would satisfy the U.S. constitutional requirement for “due process of law” under the Fifth Amendment.

I leave these issues to the subsequent briefs of the parties.

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[1] See posts listed in “The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2] Order, Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (E.D. N.C. Mar. 27, 2017).