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Human Rights Violators
06/11/2009

Former Argentine police officer wanted for alleged involvement in clandestine detention centers arrested

WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested Juan Miguel Mendez, 67, a native Argentinean on Wednesday for immigration violations. He is wanted by the Argentine government for his alleged involvement in at least two clandestine detention centers in Argentina.

In March 2006, a federal magistrate in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 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. The warrant alleges 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.

"Human rights violators who enter the United States must know that they cannot evade prosecution and punishment for crimes they have committed elsewhere," said James Dinkins, special agent in charge for ICE Office of Investigations in Washington, D.C. "We will not relent in our efforts remove human rights violators from our communities."

During the so-called "Dirty War" period from 1976-1983, Mendez is alleged to have been involved with the operation of several clandestine detention facilities, where suspected "leftists" were routinely tortured and later murdered. Overall, the conflict resulted in a death toll officially estimated as 13,000 although most human rights groups believe the actual number is closer to 30,000. The “Dirty War” ended following the fall of the ruling Argentine military junta after the defeat of Argentine military forces in the Falklands in 1983.

In 1986 and 1987, Argentina passed broad amnesties that 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." In June 2005, after almost two decades, these amnesties were annulled by the Argentine supreme court following a ruling that the laws that were issued under were unconstitutional.

Identifying and removing persecutors and human rights violators from the United States is a priority for ICE. To achieve this goal, ICE created the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU), which has national oversight over investigations of individuals alleged to have committed crimes such as genocide, extra-judicial killings, torture, suppression of religious freedom and other forms of persecution. The unit also seeks to prevent the admission of known or suspected human rights abuse suspects into the United States.

As of December 2008, ICE has nearly 170 active investigations and is pursuing over 1,000 leads and removal cases involving suspects from approximately 89 different countries. These cases are predominantly focused on Central and South America, Haiti, the former Yugoslavia, China, and Africa. They represent cases in various stages of investigation, prosecution or removal proceedings.

ICE encourages the public to come forward with any information they may have regarding human rights abusers living in the United States. Nationwide, anonymous tips may be reported at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423).