“In Cold Blood” – an alleged Salvadoran war criminal flouts his U.S. citizenship to avoid Justice

Reyes Mena was spotlighted in the Dutch the 2018 documentary "In Cold Blood" for his role in planning and ordering the 1982 ambush assassination of a Dutch film crew, an assassination carefully coordinated with Salvadoran intelligence officials in San Salvador. (Photo courtesy Greg Walker)

By Greg Walker (ret)
USA Special Forces


“When we think of Nazi war crimes, we — rightly — stress such atrocities should never be allowed to occur again (although the Balkans, Rwanda, and Darfur we have, largely, failed). But we should also guard against those who have committed terrible crimes against humanity being allowed to escape unpunished, simply because it is hoped they might furnish some advantages to our cause.” — Damien Lewis, “The Nazi Hunters – The Ultra Secret SAS Unit and Hunt for Hitler’s War Criminals,” Quercus Editions, LTD 2015

Fat and sassy

Why is retired Salvadoran army officer, Colonel Mario Reyes Mena, living comfortably in Virginia even as Dutch prosecutors continue to petition the U.S. Government to extradite him to the Netherlands for trial at the Hague? And Salvadoran prosecutors have likewise requested Joe Biden’s administration to remand him to their country for trial there but with little headway to date.

Reyes Mena, posted to the Salvadoran embassy in Washington, DC, in 1986 as a military attaché, retired while in the United States and in 1987 was granted U.S. citizenship. This despite the U.S. Government knowing of his direct involvement in what is an international war crime. He was provided a comfortable, well-paying job with Fannie Mae in the DC area and except for a few minor traffic citations he has led, until 2018, a quiet life hidden away from Dutch investigators.

Until a Dutch film crew and journalist found him on his daughter’s Facebook page.

From “In Cold Blood,” ZEMBLA’s documentary, which is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY5tQ593g-k

The McKay Memorandum

In a declassified 1982 U.S. State Department memorandum, then-USMC major John McKay, assigned to the U.S. embassy in San Salvador, rendered his professional findings after visiting both the ambush site and then the 4th Brigade headquarters.

McKay had received a phone call from a Salvadoran friend at the Salvadoran air force base near the capitol. “He told me something very bad had happened and that I might want to go out to the 4th Brigade.” Upon hearing what was being reported the Marine officer, a decorated and wounded veteran of the war in Vietnam, asked for a Salvadoran helicopter to fly him to the location. By 0530 hours he was on the ground.

“I saw the bodies,” McKay recalls. He then asked to speak with the 4th Brigade commander, Colonel Reyes Mena. I was told he was not available. I then asked to speak with Sergeant Bruce Hazelwood.” Hazelwood, who had earlier been a trainer for the Atlacatl Battalion, likewise declined to meet with McKay. The Special Forces mobile training team was charged with training the second Salvadoran Immediate Reaction Battalion, the ATONAL. It was a platoon from this unit that Reyes Mena had used as his ambush team.

In contrast, within hours of viewing the bodies of the Dutch, brought to the 4th Brigade by error (they were to have been stripped naked and thrown into the Lempa River, according to the original plan), U.S. Special Forces soldier Sergeant Angel Chamizo called the U.S. MilGrp in San Salvador with his observations. His doing so was in concert with U.S. reporting policy for all American advisers, trainers, and MilGrp staff in El Salvador.

Chamizo began his military career as a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam. He concluded that career as a Special Forces medic and as one of the most highly thought of and respected "Green Berets" to have served in El Salvador. He would go on to work for the DEA in Latin America.

The Chamizo Statement

As the investigation into the murders moved forward a formal statement from Sergeant Chamizo was submitted for the record. The below is the English translation of that statement as originally submitted to the Dutch investigator.

“From Feb to May 82, I was one of the 23 US Mil advisors that was training the 600-man ATONAL-battalion in El Paraiso. I did not have any business with the 4th Inf Bat and hardly had any contact with them (sometimes in the mess).

“On March the 17th, I sat with some colleagues on the sidewalk of our barrack, when some Salvadoran officers excitedly called to us: ‘finally success, a complete guerilla-patrol has been taken down by ambush, we must celebrate. The bodies lie in a truck outside of the camp. Have a look.’ Out of curiosity, I went to see their success. It was pitch black outside. There was a guard at the truck. With a flashlight, I shone light on the naked (standard procedures) bodies. I remember to have seen 6 bodies, of which 4 physically, by facial character and skin color, did not resemble Salvadorans, the other 2 did.

“Their lethal wounds were by my strong impression (and I know what I’m talking about) not caused by ‘close range shooting.’

“Back in the camp, I reported to a present officer of the comandancia that I doubted that all of them were ‘muchachos.’ Subsequently, they showed me the belongings that the patrol had taken with them. They had left the clothing at the scene (Duarte, then junta member, would have found them, days after when he visited the place of the shooting with about 40 journalists. JWB) They showed me backpacks, photo camera’s, a TV-camera, film rolls, medicine (i.e., boxes with anti-malaria pills, bought in Amsterdam, according to the label), TV-batteries and ID-cards (I did not read the names) and a M-16 rifle. I do not remember other items right now. I got convinced that at least a few journalists got killed. The Amsterdam-label let me believe that they were Dutch.

“Meanwhile, camp commander Col. Reyes Mena appeared, accompanied by a few officers.

“He took the ID-cards (turned out to be press cards afterwards, passports were left in hotel in San Salvador. JWB) with him and disappeared into his office, saying something like we will look into it.

“Subsequently, I went to my barrack, because I had an early shift next day and a heavy training program. I vaguely told my colleagues some things and mentioned the word stupidity.

“Later on (the day after the training) I heard that the 4 Caucasians were brought to sickbay after I took action (turned out to be 5, JWB).

“Early in the morning, the bodies were picked up by helicopter, to be taken in boxes to the capital. The dead had received military honors and were — they told me — treated with dignity.

“In the late afternoon, I accidentally walked into the instruction room were the sergeant of the patrol and an officer gave a press conference. The blackboard still showed the ambush position of the patrol.

“Meanwhile at the camp, many realized – especially the officers- that they had made a mistake. The sergeant involved and some of his men were mocked already allegedly. I also heard that the comandancia had given them hell.

“I have also reported to my superiors, both from my own initiative, but also in reaction to questions asked.

Conflicting accounts given by former DELTA operator Bruce Hazelwood

Also participating as a trainer for the ATONAL was Bruce Hazelwood. In 1992, Hazelwood agreed to be interviewed by UN investigators about the killing of the Dutch.

He would later deny ever having been interviewed as he, today, is a paid security consultant for the current Salvadoran president and self-reported to be living fulltime in El Salvador / Guatamala.

Even so, in an email sent to me in 2016, despite knowing the Dutch had contacted me through the ICE war crimes unit in Washington, DC, he offered this.

Now retired and living fulltime in El Salvador / Guatemala and working on behalf of El Salvador’s self-identified “coolest dictator in the world”, Nayib Bukeke, Hazelwood has been interviewed by Dutch investigators at least once. Although the former DELTA commando claims to have been represented by U.S. DOJ lawyers during his interview, inquiries and a FOIA submitted to the U.S. DOJ office in south Florida as well as the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa have either not been replied to or have (U.S. SOCOM) been discounted.

The McKay Report

Major McKay’s report was submitted to the U.S. State Department and is on record. Its finding is clear. The Dutch film team had been deliberately targeted by the ATONAL platoon under direct orders from Colonel Mario Reyes Mena.

The platoon was selected because most of the soldiers under the command of Reyes Mena at 4th Brigade were poorly trained, would not patrol more than 5 kilometers from the base, and were afraid to remain outside the base after dark. The original Salvadoran officer, a lieutenant, who had received the kill order as well as how the bodies were to have been disposed, was called away without Reyes Mena’s knowledge. He was replaced by another lieutenant who only knew he’d be conducting an ambush and any bodies were to be brought to the base. His doing the latter is the only reason what occurred became known and promptly investigated by the U.S. Embassy/MilGrp.

ICE War Crimes Unit Shackled by the CIA?

The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) is the only government entity focused completely on investigating global atrocities and the perpetrators of human rights violations and war crimes. Initiated by HSI in 2008, the HRVWCC leverages the knowledge and expertise of a select group of special agents, attorneys, intelligence analysts, criminal research specialists and historians who are charged with preventing the United States from becoming a haven for individuals who engage in the commission of war crimes, genocide, torture, and other forms of serious human rights abuses from conflicts around the globe. The HRVWCC also brings together other DHS components and federal partners, to include the FBI and the Department of Justice, who work collaboratively alongside HSI to pursue human rights violators and war crimes investigations and prosecutions. With bona fide successes supporting this crucial concept, former ICE Director John Morton established the HRVWCC as a permanent ICE entity in October 2009.

The HRVWCC is led by HSI and comprises the following agencies and components:

  • ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, Human Rights Violator Law Division
  • ICE Enforcement Removal Operations
  • DHS U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • DHS U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • The FBI’s International Human Rights Unit
  • The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs
  • The U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Office of Immigration Litigation
  • U.S. Department of Defense U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division Terrorism and Criminal Investigations Unit (TCIU)

The question remains as to why the Biden Administration with its very public commitment to Human Rights and aiding our allies who are pursuing alleged war criminals living here illegally or legally, as is Mario Reyes Mena per his U.S. citizenship, has yet to remand the colonel to the Dutch for trial?

Especially given his heavily redacted official biography when he was his native country’s military attaché in Washington, DC.

One must ask what biographical information was redacted and for what reasons?

Two in jail, and one still in the United States courtesy of the CIA?

In July of this year charges were filed against those Salvadoran soldiers alleged to have carried out this atrocity. The charges were filed in El Salvador. Just last month the sitting president of El Salvador forced the retirement of over 200 Salvadoran judges, age 60 and over. One of these was the judge assigned to hear the evidence against the soldiers in El Salvador, to include Mario Reyes Mena. In contrast, the female judge who ordered the arrest of Colonel Dennis Moran and General Jose Garcia, appears very much to be overseeing this case with the tacit approval of Bukele.

Colonel Dennis Moran and General Jose Garcia remain confined to a military compound despite their formal pleas to be released. For some time now there has been discussions of a civil suit being filed in the United States against Mario Reyes Mena, who is reported to have engaged an attorney in El Salvador in preparation for the possible criminal trial there along with GRAL Garcia and Colonel Moran. In theory, should such a suit be filed it could reveal how and why Reyes Mena entered the United States and was granted citizenship. This is much like the civil suit filed by the Goldman Family against O.J. Simpson which found him responsible for the deaths of his former wife and the Goldman’s’ son.

“Doe, who is using a fictitious name because of his secretive role, is the focus of an unusual Supreme Court case involving a little-known CIA program that relocates foreign agents. His case, which will be argued Tuesday, will hinge on how the court interprets a century-old case involving a bumbling spy hired by Abraham Lincoln.

“The CIA says Doe has no right to sue because the very existence of a suit would jeopardize national security. Attorneys and CIA critics say Doe’s case could have wide repercussions.”


A source retired from the CIA has shared that Mario Reyes Mena was indeed granted citizenship under PL 110, although she/he would not disclose what “services” the Salvadoran officer provided his CIA paymasters during the war that would qualify him for PL 110’s graciousness. Should this source be correct it would explain why, since Reyes Mena came up on ICE’s radar screen in 2013, its agents have been unable to make headway in extradition or deportation actions against the colonel.

Still, should a civil trial be held in the United States, with its lower bar evidence wise for resolution and judgment, the whole ugly truth about yet another alleged murderer who has managed to flaunt justice with the help of Biden’s Central Intelligence Agency.

Still, the Dutch Prosecutor’s Office continues to patiently urge the U.S. GOV to extradite the alleged mastermind of the fatal ambush to the Netherlands where he would then face trial at the Hague.

SAN SALVADOR, July 16 (Reuters) — “Human rights organizations on Friday filed a criminal complaint against 25 El Salvadoran soldiers and an officer, accusing them of the murder of four Dutch journalists during the 1980s civil war that ravaged the Central American nation.

“The criminal complaint was filed in the municipality of Dulce Nombre de Maria and accused Colonel Mario Adalberto Reyes Mena of leading an ambush when he commanded the Fourth Infantry Brigade that led to the deaths of the journalists, who worked for Dutch television company IKON.”


An international outcry for Justice

Post by Arjan Hut on Jul 14, 2020, at 4:53am

“This is a column that I wrote for radio/tv station Omrop Fryslân on 7-14-2020. It is about the murder of four Dutch journalists in El Salvador in 1982. The accused murderer is Colonel Mario Reyes Mena, who has fled to the USA and currently lives in Virginia. One of the journalists was Koos Koster, who went to school in Leeuwarden.

There’s a poem in the pavement next to the school, written by one of his former classmates and it mentions the rain of bullets in El Salvador. In 2018, Mena was located in the USA by other Dutch journalists. He is still living in freedom and has not yet been extradited.”

The original column can be read and heard here: Wurden Arjan Hut Omrop Fryslân (https://www.omropfryslan.nl/fy/nijs/976256/kollum-wurden)

This is a rough translation:

“A colleague / poet calls the poetry tableaus of Leeuwarden ‘tombstones’. And they look like that too, they are heavy concrete slabs with text. They lie gray in the sidewalk. Especially the gloomy stone of Jean Pierre Rawie next to the cemetery on the Spanjaardslaan has the character of a tomb monument. It smells like death there too.

“Next to the Beyers Naudé gymnasium is also a tableau. On this is a poem by Koos Hagen, De Gelukkige Klas (The Happy Classroom). ‘We were alphas, making noise/filling school newspapers and classrooms,’ it begins. Hagen attended this school and recalls memories of his classmates H. and K.

“H. was ill and died in bed. About K. the poet writes: ‘as before in every free hour/he fell through bullets in El Salvador.’

“K. was Koos Koster, journalist and specialist on the Cold War. He wrote as a correspondent about East-West relations and how they led to fear and oppression. In ’82 he was covering the war in El Salvador with three colleagues of Dutch television. There, the people fought against a US-backed military regime. According to the regime, the Dutch camera crew was producing communist propaganda because they were also talking to the insurgents. The four journalists were lured into an ambush and shot dead.

“The war would rage on for another ten years. A special United Nations Commission investigated the killings and discovered that Colonel Mario Reyes Mena was responsible for the organizing and carrying out of the ambush and execution of the four journalists. The Colonel escaped to the United States.

“Only in September 2018, journalists from the Dutch TV program Zembla managed to track down the killer. He lives in Virginia, not far from Washington. They film and ring the doorbell at his place. The old warrior is angry and accuses the Dutch — almost thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union — of being part of the great communist conspiracy with their questions.” https://jfk.boards.net/thread/607/murder-journalists-colonel-mario-reyes

“The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread.

“When evildoing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out ‘stop!’

“When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.”

Bertolt Brecht, Selected Poems

ABOUT THE AUTHORGreg Walker is an honorably retired “Green Beret” with wartime service in El Salvador and later Iraq as a combat adviser. He is the co-founder, along with Colonel (ret) John McMullen, of the Veterans of Special Operations – El Salvador, the organization that in 1996 was successful in its ten-year political effort to see the war in El Salvador officially declared a U.S. military campaign to include combat awards and decorations.

“Remembering the Fallen at Arlington” —

Mr. Walker is also a retired Oregon law enforcement officer. Today he lives and writes from his home in Sisters, Oregon, along with his service pup, Tommy.