Ex-Guatemalan army officer tied to massacre sentenced to U.S. prison

LOS ANGELES Mon Feb 10, 2014 9:24pm EST

A child runs past an arrangement of flowers and candles that reads: ''Justicia'' (or Justice) in front of the Supreme Court at Guatemala City August 2, 2011. Guatemala on Tuesday sentenced four soldiers belonging to an elite unit known as the Kaibiles, to 6,060 years of prison each, in the first conviction for a massacre during the country's brutal 36-year civil war. More than 200 people were killed when Guatemalan soldiers attacked the northern village of Las Dos Erres in 1982 at the height of Guatemala's civil war. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

A child runs past an arrangement of flowers and candles that reads: ''Justicia'' (or Justice) in front of the Supreme Court at Guatemala City August 2, 2011. Guatemala on Tuesday sentenced four soldiers belonging to an elite unit known as the Kaibiles, to 6,060 years of prison each, in the first conviction for a massacre during the country's brutal 36-year civil war. More than 200 people were killed when Guatemalan soldiers attacked the northern village of Las Dos Erres in 1982 at the height of Guatemala's civil war.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A former Guatemalan army commander convicted of covering up his role in a massacre during that country's bloody civil war in order to gain U.S. citizenship was sentenced on Monday to 10 years in federal prison.

Prosecutors say Jorge Sosa lied to immigration officials about his involvement in the 1982 mass killings of nearly all of the men, women and children in the northern Guatemalan farming village of Dos Erres, considered one of the worst atrocities in that country's 36-year civil war.

Because U.S. prosecutors have no jurisdiction in Guatemala, they could not charge Sosa, also known as Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, in connection with the massacre.

Sosa's U.S. citizenship was revoked at the sentencing and he was expected to face extradition to Guatemala following his release, where he will face trial for war crimes.

"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," acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman said in a statement following the sentencing.

"This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to deny safe haven to human rights violators and to ensure that these criminals are held accountable," Raman said.

Prosecutors say Sosa was a member of a so-called Special Patrol of Kaibiles dispatched to Dos Erres in December 1982 to find members of a guerrilla group that had ambushed a military convoy, killing soldiers and taking their weapons.

When the Special Patrol failed to find the guerrillas or guns, they seized villagers from their homes, raping many of the young girls. To cover up the rapes, they killed nearly everyone living there by bludgeoning them in the head with a sledgehammer, shooting them or throwing them down a well.

162 SKELETONS FOUND IN WELL

Two witnesses testified during Sosa's trial in U.S. District Court in Riverside that he supervised Special Patrol soldiers as they filled the well with bodies, at one point shooting and hurling a grenade into the well when he heard a scream from inside.

A forensic examination more than a decade later found 162 skeletons at the bottom of the well, 67 of them children under the age of 12.

Jurors found Sosa guilty of one count each of making false statements during an immigration proceeding and unlawful procurement of naturalized American citizenship in October.

Prosecutors say Sosa came to the United States in 1992 and for a decade prior to his indictment had lived in the Riverside County community of Moreno Valley, some 70 miles east of Los Angeles, where he ran a karate studio.

Sosa fled to Canada following his indictment but was taken into custody there and extradited back to the United States. He is the fourth accused member of the Kaibiles living in the United States to be targeted by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement.

In July 2011, Pedro Pimentel Rios, 54, was deported to Guatemala to face prosecution there in connection with the massacre.

In September 2010, 54-year-old Gilberto Jordan was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison and his U.S. citizenship was revoked after he pleaded guilty to lying to immigration officials about his role in the Kaibiles.

In February 2010, Santos Lopez Alonzo was arrested By U.S. immigration agents in Houston and charged with illegal re-entry into the country after deportation.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Leslie Adler and Ken Wills)

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