Colonel Montano and the Order to Kill
"Colonel Benavides left a meeting with the General Staff and informed the officers of the Military College that he had been given the following order: 'He [Ellacuría] must be eliminated and I do not want any witnesses,' said Professor Terry Lynn Karl, of Stanford University, during the trial of Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, former Deputy Minister of Public Safety. On the 31st anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests from the Central American University and their assistants, we offer an excerpt from the testimony of the well-known academic and researcher.
In September 2012, Montano pleaded guilty to six counts of immigration fraud and false testimony in US federal court in Boston, Massachusetts. Prosecutors claimed that Montano had falsified his immigration forms upon entering the U.S., knowing that if he had mentioned his former military status in El Salvador he would have been denied entry to the country. Thus, the trial against him revolved largely around his military career in El Salvador and his role in human rights abuses—in particular, the order to kill the Jesuits. The prosecution collected numerous statements about Montano's career, including a lengthy report by an "expert witness,” Professor Karl. The following is an excerpt from the core of the report entitled "Colonel Montano and the Order to Kill." All documents related to the trial are in the public domain and can be found on the website of the Center for Justice and Accountability.
Dr. Terry Karl’s Witness Account:
Colonel Montano was part of the small core of elite officers, one of whom gave the official order to "kill Ellacuría and leave no witnesses," on November 15, 1989. But even before the high command issued this official order, pressure was exerted for these and other killings to take place. The number of people outside the General Staff who had some prior knowledge that the Jesuits would be killed, even before the order was given, indicates that planning had already begun. According to reports from the U.S. Embassy, the CIA and Salvadoran officials, another meeting was held at the Military School at 2:00 PM, in which key decisions were made. Subsequently, smaller meetings between the high command and members of the Tandona circle were held, some including vice minister Montano. These meetings were held throughout the evening and night to implement plans for bombings, attacks on political leaders, and an action against the Jesuits of the UCA. These plans included the creation of a perimeter of security forces around the UCA.
During the last hours of November 15, in a general meeting, the chief of the General Staff, Ponce (the recognized leader of Tandona who was known to regularly consult with his inner circle) authorized the elimination of leaders, trade unionists and well-known leaders of the FMLN. Later, as the jurists of the Truth Commission tell in a narrative based on their confidential interviews with witnesses: "After the meeting, the officers stayed in the room talking in groups. One of these groups consisted of Colonel René Emilio Ponce, General Juan Rafael Bustillo, Colonel Francisco Elena Fuentes, Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda, and Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano. Colonel Ponce called Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides and, in front of the other four officers, ordered him to eliminate Father Ellacuría without leaving witnesses."
According to later confessions made by soldiers accused of the murders, Colonel Benavides left this meeting and informed the officers of the Military College that he had been given the following order: "He [Ellacuría] must be eliminated and I do not want witnesses."
The entire operation lasted approximately one hour. The Atlacatl command unit made the five-minute trip from the military base to the UCA, making little effort to conceal the operation in an area patrolled by dozens of other military and security forces and surrounded by a security perimeter. Father Martín-Baró opened the door of the residence, voluntarily allowing the soldiers to enter. After ordering five of the priests to lie face down on a grassy mound, two soldiers shot them one by one. A few meters away, another soldier killed Elba Ramos, who was hugging her daughter Celina. Lieutenant José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra, the only soldier who had covered his face with camouflage grease, confessed later that he left the university campus in tears; Father Segundo Montes, who now lay dead on the ground, had been the rector when he was a student at the Externado de San José. Another of the material actors recalled that the priests did not look dangerous, since they were "quite old, without weapons" and "in pajamas." But he said his colonel told him that the priests were "terrorist criminals," and that it was "their brains that mattered." All bodies were found shot in the head. A sixth priest died begging for his life as soldiers staged a fictitious confrontation in an attempt to pin the blame on the FMLN.
Dr. Terry L. Karl is a Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at Stanford University. She has received numerous international recognitions for her academic work in favor of human rights.
FI name: June 2020