Earlier today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) removed wanted war criminal Juan Miguel Mendez to Argentina, where he was transferred to the custody of the Argentinean government. Argentina intends to try Mr. Mendez, a native Argentinean, for his alleged involvement in torture and extrajudicial killings in at least two clandestine detention centers during the so-called “Dirty War” in that country, which lasted from 1976-1983.
In May 2009, the ICE Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU) identified Mr. Mendez, 67, as the subject of an Interpol notice which indicated that he had been involved in the operation of clandestine detention centers in Argentina from 1976 to 1979. On June 11, 2009, following an investigation led by the ICE Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), special agents arrested Mr. Mendez. ICE charged Mr. Mendez with overstaying his visa in violation of U.S. immigration law.
“ICE will not allow the United States to be a safe haven for those who have come to our country in an effort to evade prosecution and punishment for the crimes they have committed against others,” said ICE Director John Morton. “We will not relent in our efforts to ensure that human rights violators are brought to justice and removed from our communities.”
“The United States is proud to assist the Argentine government in bringing to justice alleged human rights violators,” said U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martinez.
During the “Dirty War” in Argentina, suspected members of the government opposition were routinely tortured and later disappeared or murdered. Official investigations determined that approximately 13,000 people were killed during this period. Recently released documents, however, indicate that this number should be higher; human rights groups assert that the true number killed is closer to 30,000.
In March 2006, a federal magistrate in Buenos Aires issued an arrest warrant for Mendez for his involvement in torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings in connection with at least two clandestine detention centers that operated in Buenos Aires from 1976 to 1979. It was alleged that Mendez, a former member of the federal police, was involved with the detention, torture and disappearance of detainees from the notorious “El Olimpo” clandestine detention facility, as well as the associated “El Banco” clandestine detention facility.
The arrest warrant was issued after the Argentinean Supreme Court’s June 2005 ruling that annulled the broad amnesties of 1986 and 1987. These amnesties had precluded the investigation of most military, police, security services and penitentiary services personnel who were under the rank of colonel for their involvement in human rights abuses during the “Dirty War.” The Argentinean Supreme Court, however, found that the laws under which the amnesties were granted were unconstitutional.