Former Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano To Serve 21 Months in U.S. Prison

Inocente Orlando Montano
Inocente Orlando Montano

On August 27, 2013, the federal court in Boston, Massachusetts sentenced Inocente Orlando Montano to 21 months in prison for violating U.S. immigration laws.

To obtain certain relief under those laws, Montano had stated to U.S. immigration officials that he had never served in any foreign military service, had never received military weapons training and had never been involved in persecuting others. A year ago he pleaded guilty to three counts of a federal indictment for those statements.[1]

In fact, Montano had served in the Salvadoran military, had received such training and had been involved in persecuting others. The record in the U.S. criminal case established the following:

  • During the Salvadoran Civil War, Montano quickly rose to the highest echelon of its security forces, and the forces he commanded were responsible for death squad activities and numerous other human rights abuses. According to expert witness, Dr. Terry Karl, there were at least 1,169 such violations, including 65 extrajudicial killings, 51 disappearances and 520 cases of torture. His appointment as Vice Minister for Public Security coincided with “a strong resurgence [in such crimes] . . . aimed at prominent civilians and civilian groups.” [2]
  • Before the November 1989 murder of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador, Montano was an active participant in trying to publicly discredit the priests, including publicly calling Ignacio Ellacuria, the Jesuit Rector of the University of Central America (UCA) who was one of those murdered, as one “fully identified with subversive movements.”
  • In November 1989, according to the 1993 report of the Truth Commission for El Salvador, Montano was a member of a “small group of elite officers, one of whom gave the official order to ‘kill Ellacuria and leave no witnesses.” (Later in 1993 the Ad Hoc Commission, which was established by the Peace Accords that ended the Salvadoran civil war, recommended that virtually the entire military command, including Montano, be removed from office.)[3]
  • After the murder of the Jesuits, Montano aided the cover up of the involvement of the security forces in this crime. He publicly insisted that the FMLN, not the security forces, had committed the crime. Although Montano initially was responsible for investigating the crime, he did not do anything to do so. He also pressured lower level military officers not to disclose the orders to kill Ellacuria and leave no witnesses to the Salvadoran court in charge of investigating the crime. In addition, Montano refused to cooperate with, or be interviewed by, the investigating judge, and in 2000 publicly rejected the claim that he was the indirect author of the murders, rebuked the Jesuits at UCA of “raking up the past” and called the reopening of the case as “orchestrated by the left” as part of “an international leftist plan.”[4]

Moreover, in May 2011, Montano was one of 20 former Salvadoran military officials who were subjects of arrest warrants by a Spanish court investigating the murder of the Jesuit priests, and in December 2011 the Spanish court issued a request to the U.S. for Montano’s extradition to Spain to face trial on those charges.[5]

Judge Douglas P. Woodlock
Judge Douglas P. Woodlock
Moakley U.S. Courthouse
Moakley U.S. Courthouse

The 21-month prison sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

The Judge noted that the site of the sentencing hearing–the Boston federal courthouse–was named after former U.S. Congressman John Joseph (“Joe”) Moakley, who had lead a congressional investigation of the murders of the Jesuits and whose words from a speech he had given at the site of the Jesuits murders had been engraved on the front of the courthouse: “There is no such thing as half justice. You either have justice or you don’t. You either have a democracy in which everyone–including the powerful–is subject to the rule of law or you don’t.”

Judge Woodlock closed the sentencing hearing by quoting the final summation of Justice Robert Jackson in the 1946 Nuremberg trials of Nazi perpetrators:

  • “These defendants now ask this Tribunal to say that they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs. They stand before the record of this Trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain king. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: ‘Say I slew them not.’ And the Queen replied, ‘Then say they were not slain. But dead they are…’  If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no victims, there has been no crime.”

Judge Woodlock then added, “In El Salvador, “there was a war, there are victims, and there has been a crime.”

[1] A prior post reported on early developments in the U.S. criminal case against Montano.

[2] Dr. Karl’s expert report is available online.

[3] A prior post discussed the actual murders of the Jesuits along with their housekeeper and her daughter while another post reviewed the Truth Commission’s report regarding same.

[4] The attempted cover up of the Salvadoran military’s planning and commission of the murders was discussed in a prior post while another post reviewed the Salvadoran criminal case about the murders.

[5] A prior post covered the Spanish court’s arrest warrants; another, developments in that case; and another, the requests for extradition. After Montano’s sentencing, the Center for Justice and Accountability, which backed the case against Montano, said that the U.S. has indicted that it would be amenable to his extradition to Spain after he had served his U.S. sentence.

CJA re Jesuits–


International Criminal Justice: Introduction

Since the end of World War II, we the peoples of the world, acting through our nation-state governments, have codified or created numerous international human rights norms. This started with 1945’s Charter of the United Nations and 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Other multilateral human rights treaties have followed, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[1]

Given the world’s nation-state sovereignty basis, we the peoples of the world have grappled with the very real problem of how to enforce such norms in order to punish violators, to deter future violations, to provide redress to victims and survivors, and to investigate and promulgate the “truth” about past violations. The response has been the creation of various mechanisms, none of which is perfect: state reporting to U.N. Charter and treaty bodies for review, comment and recommendations; complaints by states and individuals to such bodies for recommended solutions; international investigations of specific countries or problems; civil litigation for money damages against violators in domestic courts and international courts like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; and truth commissions.[2]

Another response has been seeking to subject violators to criminal sanctions (imprisonment) in national courts under the international law principle of universal jurisdiction whereby a nation’s courts have legitimate criminal jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes no matter where in the world such crimes were committed. Criminal sanctions have also been imposed by international criminal tribunals like the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals at the end of World War II and more recently by so called ad hoc tribunals created by the U.N. Security Council (the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)). Even more recently the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been created.[3] Collectively these mechanisms often are referred to as international criminal justice.

In future posts we will examine a Spanish court’s use of the universal jurisdiction principle to commence criminal investigations. In other posts we will analyze the International Criminal Court and its relations with the United States.

[1]  David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Joan Fitzpatrick, and Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process, ch. 1 (4th ed. 2009) [“Weissbrodt”].

[2]  Id. , chs. 4-6, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16.

[3]  Id. at 11, 483-586. The text of the Rome Statute, which will be referenced throughout this article, is available at: