- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Trump administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer argued Wednesday that extraditing a former high-ranking Salvadoran official to Spain for trial on 30-year-old war crimes would promote good relations with an important ally against terrorism.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco urged the high court to clear the final hurdle to sending Inocente Orlando Montano Morales to Spain on charges that he helped plot the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, five of whom were Spanish. The former colonel in El Salvador’s armed forces served as vice minister for public security in 1980s during the Central American country’s civil war.

Francisco said lower courts have thoroughly considered and rejected Montano’s arguments against extradition, including questions about evidence and objections to how Spanish “terrorist murder” charges against him were weighed by U.S. courts.

Spain is an important partner of the United States in terrorism and other cases of national importance, and timely compliance with its extradition requests advances the United States’ foreign policy and law enforcement interests,” Francisco wrote. He noted that the battle over extradition has stretched 2 ½ years.

The State Department, which has final say over extraditions, has already signed a warrant allowing authorities to send Montano to Spain if the Supreme Court declines to step in, Montano’s attorney told the court last month. It’s not clear when the court will act on Montano’s request for an emergency stay.

Court documents say Montano was among an inner circle of military officers accused of plotting to kill the priests, who were helping broker peace talks. The killings sparked international outrage.

Montano denied involvement in the killings, but a federal magistrate judge in North Carolina ruled in 2016 that evidence presented by U.S. prosecutors showed he took part in the plot. Another federal judge subsequently agreed with the extradition, and a federal appeals court refused to block it.

Montano’s lawyer, James Todd, argued in his Supreme Court appeal that lower courts didn’t look closely enough at flaws in evidence used by Spanish authorities. Another question raised by Todd was whether the five priests maintained their Spanish citizenship.

Todd has also cited the precarious health of Montano, a 76-year-old cancer survivor.

“He faces extradition to a country totally foreign to him, because he has never set foot in Spain, whose jurisdictional over-reach might result in his death,” Todd wrote in a letter to the State Department.

Montano arrived in the U.S. in the early 2000s and worked at a candy factory near Boston. He was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to nearly two years for immigration fraud and perjury. He served that time in a federal prison in North Carolina, where his extradition case subsequently unfolded.


Associated Press writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.


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