In a courtroom in Riverside, federal prosecutors accused Jorge Sosa, who holds U.S. and Canadian citizenship, of lying on his documents to become a U.S. citizen by not disclosing his involvement in the Guatemalan army during the civil war, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Prosecutors said Sosa was a commander in the Guatemalan military's special operations force and was involved in the 1982 massacre in the village of Dos Eres.
During Wednesday's court session, defense attorney Shaski Kewalramani argued in his opening statement that the trial is centered on whether Sosa lied on his paperwork, not the assault in Guatemala.
"It's not a war crimes tribunal," Kewalramani said. "We're not here to decide that. It's, 'Did he lie?'"
Prosecutors said the elite commando unit slaughtered about 200 people -- including women, children and the elderly -- during the attack. Women were raped and villagers were thrown into a well.
Prosecutors also said Sosa fired his rifle and flung a grenade into the well, the Times said.
Kewalramani said that in documents Sosa filed earlier as part of his unsuccessful attempt to gain political asylum, the defendant recorded his time in the military and a letter containing a threat against his family because of his service. Immigration officials could see that document when Sosa was being considered for naturalization years later, Kewalramani said.
In court Wednesday, prosecutors showed portions of the application, focusing on the section in which applicants are asked to list any previous affiliations and foreign military service. On Sosa's form, it said "None."
Prosecutors also called to the stands witnesses who had served with Sosa and were in Dos Eres. They said they were searching for weapons stolen by guerrilla forces. In the village, the women and children were ushered into a church and the men were taken to a school, they said.
Cesar Franco Ibanez, a former special ops member, testified he was following orders when he participated in the rapes and threw women into the well.
"We had to throw someone into the well to show that we were committed to the patrol," he said.
After the massacre, Ibanez testified, the soldiers were ordered not to discuss the attack because if they said anything,"we would not be alive anymore."
He later surrendered and, as a protected witness, told authorities in Guatemala about what happened in Dos Eres, the Times said.
Five soldiers convicted in the Guatemalan court system for their involvement in the incident were each sentenced to more than 6,000 years in prison. Ibanez was not prosecuted, which Kewalramani focused on during his cross-examination.
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