Thursday, September 26, 2013
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- A former Guatemalan soldier told a jury he was sobbing as he took a 3-year-old boy to be killed -- but an officer said he was just doing his duty.
Three decades later, that officer, Jorge Sosa, is battling to remain a U.S. citizen.
Sosa, a small, mustachioed man, listened calmly and took notes Wednesday as an interpreter relayed details of the 1982 slaughter in the hamlet of Dos Erres.
Sosa, who was a second lieutenant during Guatemala's civil war, is charged with lying on his U.S. citizenship application about his military service and his command role in the massacre of at least 160 men, women and children in the village.
If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison and lose his citizenship.
But defense attorney Shashi Kewalramani said Sosa told U.S. officials about his role in the Guatemalan army when he applied for asylum, years before becoming a citizen.
War is horrible, but Sosa is only being tried for the way he answered questions on his immigration forms, Kewalramani has said.
Testimony is set to resume Thursday morning.
While Sosa is not on trial for war crimes, the government's case is bringing graphic and painful memories of Guatemala's war to a California courtroom.
Prosecutors say Sosa's patrol descended upon Dos Erres in December 1982 to search for missing rifles believed stolen by guerrillas, then decided to kill the villagers after some of the soldiers began raping the women.
Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Gilberto Jordan, a former sergeant, testified that the soldiers began throwing people into a well and that Sosa fired his rifle at the people inside and threw in a grenade.
"The people that were there, half-dead, were all screaming," Jordan said. "When he threw the grenade the people that were there were quiet because they were killed."
Sosa sought U.S. asylum in 1985, claiming that Guatemalan guerrillas were after him. The asylum was denied and he ended up moving to Canada. He later returned to the U.S., married an American, got a green card and eventually citizenship after filing an application in 2007.
After authorities searched his Southern California home in 2010, Sosa headed to Mexico and boarded a flight to Canada, where he also is a citizen. He was later arrested and was extradited last year to the United States.
Jordan is serving time in federal prison for lying on his U.S. naturalization application about his role in the war.
Wearing orange jail garb, Jordan testified that he took a woman to the well and shot her in the back of the head before pushing her inside, and started taking a teenage girl to be killed when another soldier stopped him and asked if he was going to rape her.
When he answered no, the soldier took the girl away and later brought her back, bleeding, to the well, Jordan said.
Another former Guatemalan soldier, Cesar Franco Ibanez, testified in Spanish through a translator that he was called to a meeting at the village well, and saw it was half full of men, some of them yelling at Sosa.
"They were cursing him," Franco Ibanez told the court. "At that time, I think he lost his head and he started firing."
Soldiers were then ordered to bring more people to the well. Everyone had to throw somebody in to show they were committed to the patrol, he said.
The women had already been lined up. Franco Ibanez said he took a woman and threw her in.
He also testified that he raped a woman that day, and that he watched women being killed.
"They would blindfold their eyes and they would kneel them at the edge of the well," he said.
The women were asked if they knew where the missing rifles were.
"When they would say no, they would hit them over the head with a sledgehammer. Then they would dump them into the well," he said.
After the killings ended, Franco Ibanez said he was told to keep quiet about what happened. When the country's civil war ended, he said he came forward with his testimony.
Sosa and Jordan were among four former members of the Guatemalan army arrested by U.S. homeland security officials in connection with the Dos Erres massacre.
Pedro Pimentel was deported from the U.S. and sentenced in Guatemala to 6,060 years in prison for the massacre. Santos Lopez is detained as a material witness in the government's case against Sosa.