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U.S. imprisons Guatemalan army officer for covering up role in massacre

by: jim kouri | published: 02 17, 2014

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A Guatemalan Army special forces officer, who legally immigrated to the California and eventually became a U.S. citizen, was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for covering up his involvement in a 1982 massacre in the village of Dos Erres, Guatemala, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The 55-year-old Army officer and instructor, Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes of Moreno Valley, Calif., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips in the Central District of California. At sentencing, Judge Phillips also revoked Sosa’s U.S. citizenship. In his last job he worked as a karate instructor in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

“Jorge Sosa helped orchestrate the ruthless massacre of innocent villagers, including dozens of young children, and then lied about his past to obtain refuge in the United States,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman.

"Mr. Sosa fled his native country after being a persecutor who played a direct role in the massacre of an entire village in Guatemala. Because he is responsible for war crimes and for failing to disclose his role in a human rights offense, Mr. Sosa will be incarcerated for a lengthy period of time and will no longer be welcome in our country,” added U.S. Attorney Birotte.

Sosa, who was convicted by a federal jury in Riverside, Calif., on Oct. 1, 2013, of one count of making false statements in immigration proceedings and one count of unlawful procurement of naturalized U.S. citizenship, was part of Guatemala’s elite special forces division called the Kaibiles and was an instructor at the Kaibil School.

During his time as an officer, the Guatemalan Army was battling against an anti-government group that called itself the “guerillas” (guerrillas). In early 1982, Sosa and other Kaibil instructors were chosen to be part of the "Special Patrol," a counter-insurgency unit created to specifically combat guerilla forces. In early December 1982, Sosa's special operations unit was deployed along with approximately 40 other Kaibil soldiers to the village of Dos Erres to recover military rifles that they claimed were stolen during a guerilla ambush of Guatemalan soldiers. When the Special Patrol operatives, under Sosa's command, raided suspected homes of the guerrillas in Dos Erres, they found no rifles nor evidence that the insurgents were in the area.

According to evidence at Sosa's criminal trial, members of the Special Patrol then rounded up villagers, separated the men from the women and children, and sexually assaulted some of the teenaged girls. To cover up the rapes, all of the villagers were brought to the center of the village, where the Special Patrol members systematically killed the men, women and children by, among other methods, bludgeoning them on the head with a sledgehammer, shooting them or throwing them into the village well while still alive.

Testimony from two Kaibiles who participated in the massacre revealed that Sosa supervised the Special Patrol soldiers as they filled the well with Dos Erres villagers. The evidence also showed that at some point during the massacre, a villager screamed out at Sosa from the well, and Sosa responded by cursing and shooting his assault weapon and throwing a grenade into the well.

According to the testimony and evidence presented at Sosa's trial:

Approximately 12 years after the massacre at Dos Erres, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense, or EAAF) exhumed the 40-foot well. Also, a member of EAAF testified that the team found 162 skeletons in the well. Of those skeletons, 67 appeared to be those of children under the age of 12.

The evidence further showed that after Sosa became aware he was being investigated for unlawfully procuring citizenship, he fled the United States to Mexico and eventually traveled to Canada. Sosa was arrested in Canada and extradited to the United States to face these charges.

The jury found that when Sosa applied for lawful permanent residence in 1997 and naturalized U.S. citizenship in 2007, he purposely omitted the fact that he was a member of the Guatemalan military and that he had committed a crime for which he had not been arrested. During trial, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service examiner testified that if Sosa was truthful at the time about his military past and the allegations regarding his war crimes, his applications for both permanent residence and citizenship would have been denied.

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