9 April 2015, NYT: U.S. Deports Salvadoran General Accused in 80s Killings
30 September 1991, NYT: Colonel Guilty In Jesuit Deaths In El Salvador
17 November 1989, NYT: 6 Priests Killed in a Campus Raid in San Salvador
SEPT. 13, 2015
U.S. Wants Former Salvadoran Ally to Face Justice in 1989 Massacre
By JONATHAN M. KATZ
Early in the morning on Nov. 16, 1989, soldiers from an elite battalion of the Salvadoran Army walked into the religious center of a Jesuit university and killed everyone they found inside.
The murders  -- of six priests, their housekeeper and her daughter -- broke the stupor of a world inured to the constant blood baths of El Salvador's civil war from 1979 to 1992, hastening the end of American support for the military regime and clearing the way for a peace accord.
Twenty-six years later, the United States government, which spent more than $4 billion in assistance to El Salvador's military during the conflict -- including training the Atlacatl Battalion, which massacred the Jesuits -- is now working to bring some of the officers it once partnered with to justice.
This quiet shift, taking place in hidden discussions and nearly empty courtrooms, is a sign of how much has and has not changed since the end of the Cold War. Championed by human rights advocates and condemned by critics who say it amounts to selling out old allies, the move speaks to the ever-complicated relationship between American foreign policy and human rights around the world.
For months, the most prominent example of this shift has been the push to extradite Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, a former vice minister of defense accused of participating in the meeting where the order was given to kill the Rev. Ignacio Ellacurria, the rector of the Jose Simeon Canas University of Central America, and to leave no witnesses alive. The officers believed that Father Ellacurria, who was trying to help broker peace, was an intellectual leader of the leftist guerrillas with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or F.M.L.N.
The Justice Department is now pressing for Mr. Montano, who is in American custody after immigration violations, to be extradited to Spain,  where he and 19 other former officers have been charged with murder and terrorism in the massacre. Five of the six priests were Spanish citizens.
"The U.S. government has moved from an era in which we help provide visas to resettle the Salvadoran military in the United States to an era in which we are supporting their deportation and extradition for criminal charges," said Geoff Thale, program director of the Washington Office on Latin America and a longtime El Salvador observer. "That's a really significant shift."
Mr. Montano, who was living in Massachusetts and was arrested by federal officials in 2011, is the only defendant in custody. At an Aug. 19 hearing, the judge in the case said she would most likely issue a ruling on the extradition request in the coming weeks. If Mr. Montano is sent to Spain, other defendants can be tried with him in absentia.
Those familiar with the case against Mr. Montano say it began as a result of efforts by human rights advocates and a specialized unit of the Justice Department, the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, as opposed to a directive from higher levels of government. But, they add, it would not have gotten this far without support from the top.
The action coincides with a renewed engagement by the Obama administration in Central America -- especially the so-called northern triangle region of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- spurred in part by recent surges in migration by people fleeing violence and poverty there. The administration's plan calls for a tripling of spending on American-run programs in the region to $1 billion, concentrating on areas like military cooperation, business development, education and reducing police corruption. Still, a senior State Department official said the legal proceedings against Mr. Montano and others were on a separate, independent course.
"I would say that those cases reflect U.S. commitment to due process under our laws and do not reflect any policy agenda that we have related to El Salvador," said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss department proceedings.
Not everyone in the United States is on board with the effort to prosecute the former officers. There were howls of protest this spring when Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former Salvadoran defense minister who had been living in Florida for 25 years, was deported  after an immigration court ruled that he bore responsibility for the rape and murder of three American nuns and a missionary by troops under his command in December 1980.
Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs under President Ronald Reagan, and Edwin G. Corr, a former American ambassador to El Salvador, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed  that Salvadoran military officials were American allies and that American officials today were forgetting "the circumstances in which they acted, and the debts owed to those who made American successes around the world possible."
The Reagan administration viewed the right-wing Salvadoran regime as a bulwark against the formation of a leftist government that might have aligned itself with the Soviet Union. The tiny country, home today to 6.3 million people, was by far the largest recipient of American aid in Latin America in the 1980s.
Mr. Vides remains a free man in El Salvador, where there is a similar hesitance to revisit the past among many officials. A 1993 amnesty law there prohibits prosecutions for human rights violations committed during the war.
The only two military officials found responsible for the massacre  and briefly imprisoned in El Salvador were released once the law was adopted. Observers say some politicians, including allies of the leftist government of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, fear they could be implicated if the amnesty law were to be modified or lifted.
Others feel differently. In a 2014 poll  of 1,267 Salvadorans, 76 percent said they would favor a government investigation into serious human rights abuses during the war. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Confronting the past is an essential part of dealing with El Salvador's troubled present, said Jeannette Aguilar, the director of the University of Central America's Public Opinion Institute, which conducted the poll.
A truce between two gangs -- the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and Barrio 18 -- has broken down. In August, the country recorded its highest one-month homicide rate since the war.
The gangs trace their roots to Los Angeles, where former guerrillas banded with immigrant youths to protect neighborhoods and commit crime. Many of the gang members were then deported back to El Salvador. ("Salvatrucho" was a nickname for guerrilla fighters.)
"Above all in this new stage of crisis, this state of violence the country finds itself in, it is fundamental to look toward the future in terms of taking back this grand debt, these historical deficits, with the removal of impunity," Ms. Aguilar said.
"To me, the extradition issue sends a message," she added, that the United States "is not going to support violators of human rights, even though in the past there were governments and politicians that backed that type of abuse."
The Justice Department unit pressing the case against Mr. Montano is a successor of the Office of Special Investigations, which was created to prosecute Nazi war criminals hiding in the United States and is now focused more broadly on human-rights abusers.
The prosecutors used one of the office's oldest tactics to get Mr. Montano into custody: charging him with having lied on an immigration application about his military past and date of entry to the United States. The retired colonel pleaded guilty to six counts of immigration fraud and perjury in 2012. At his hearing at John Joseph Moakley United States Court House in Boston, named for the congressman whose task force revealed that senior military officers were responsible for the Jesuit massacre, Mr. Montano denied involvement in the murders.
"I don't want to deny that there were violations of human rights in El Salvador in the hands of the soldiers or officers or commanders," he said, according to court transcripts. But, he added, "the institution is made up of individuals that were subject to commit errors."
Now 73, relying on a walker, Mr. Montano is being held at the Pitt County Detention Center near Greenville, N.C. He awaits a decision on his deportation in his cell, two hours up a country highway from Fort Bragg, where members of the Atlacatl Battalion once trained.