WASHINGTON – A special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was honored at an awards ceremony yesterday for his work in locating and arresting a former Argentine police officer. This former Argentine official was allegedly involved in torture and extrajudicial killings in at least two clandestine detention centers during the so-called "Dirty War," which lasted from 1976 to 1983.
Special Agent Michael Tarantino received a SHIELD award from the Washington, D.C., Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). This annual award honors law enforcement professionals for significant contributions to protecting communities from extremism, hate crimes and terrorism.
"ICE's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center is committed to ensuring the United States is not a safe haven for those who have carried out war atrocities or violated the basic human rights of citizens in foreign nations," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI field office in Washington, D.C. "The work of Special Agent Tarantino is an outstanding example of that commitment."
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 is closer to 30,000.
In March 2006, a federal magistrate in Buenos Aires issued an arrest warrant for Juan Miguel Mendez, a former Argentine police official 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.
In May 2009, ICE HSI identified Mendez as the subject of an Interpol notice that indicated 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 ICE HSI Special Agent Tarantino, Mendez was arrested in Virginia and charged with overstaying his visa in violation of U.S. immigration law.
In December 2010, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officers escorted Mendez to Buenos Aires where he was transferred to the custody of the Argentinean government.
ICE's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center was established in 2009 to further ICE efforts to identify, track and prosecute human rights abusers. The Center leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency's broader enforcement efforts against these offenders. Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to call the ICE tip line at1-866-DHS-2423 (1-866-347-2423) or complete the agency's online tip form. To learn more about the assistance available to victims in these cases, the public should contact ICE's confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973.
Since fiscal year 2004, ICE has arrested more than 200 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders for and physically removed more than 400 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. ICE is pursuing more than 1,900 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from approximately 95 different countries. These cases are predominantly focused on Central and South America, Haiti, the former Yugoslavia and Africa. They represent cases in various stages of investigation, prosecution or removal proceedings.