NEWS
09/02/2011 02:32 EDT | Updated 11/02/2011 05:12 EDT

Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa, Accused Guatemalan War Criminal, Ordered Deported To U.S.

AP
CALGARY - A judge has ordered that an accused Guatemalan war criminal alleged to have killed villagers with a sledgehammer be extradited to the United States to face immigration charges.

Queen's Bench Justice Neil Wittmann ruled Friday that the burden of proof has been met to approve a request from the U.S. Justice Department to return Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa to stand trial.

Sosa was arrested earlier this year in Lethbridge, Alta., and is accused of lying to American immigration authorities about whether he had committed a crime or been a member of a military organization when he applied for U.S. citizenship.

The 53-year-old, who is both a U.S. and Canadian citizen, is also wanted by Guatemalan authorities for his alleged involvement in attacks on the village of Dos Erres in which 222 men, women and children were massacred in 1982.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has the final say on whether the extradition order goes ahead.

Lawyer Cynthia Dickins laid out in detail the legal case on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice at Sosa's extradition hearing in Calgary earlier this week.

Dickins said there was evidence that Sosa was a sub-lieutenant at the Kaibil School, which trained special commando units in Guatemala in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The hearing was told he was one of the commanders of a 60-man unit that surrounded Dos Erres in December 1982. The group believed the village was under rebel control and that villagers were responsible for an ambush on a military patrol and the theft of 20 rifles.

"They went from house to house separating the men from the women and children,'' said Dickins, who was quoting a statement from one of three confidential witnesses who were members of the commando unit.

The villagers were brought to a well, blindfolded and interrogated, the hearing was told. No weapons were found.

"The decision was made to kill all the villagers. I witnessed the man known as Sosa hit villagers on the head with a sledgehammer, including one as young as 13,'' read Dickins from the witness statement. "One man was alive in the well. (Sosa) fired his rifle into the well and then threw a grenade down as well.''

Infants and small children were killed first, Dickins said. Women and young girls were raped before being slain.

Sosa's lawyer, Alain Hepner, acknowledged the atrocities committed in Guatemala formed a backdrop for the hearing, but argued the key was to determine if Sosa committed perjury.

Hepner suggested the questions asked by U.S. immigration officials were ambiguous and there is no proof Sosa committed any crimes.

The Canadian Centre for International Justice and Lawyers Without Borders Canada were hoping the judge would refuse the extradition request so Sosa could be tried under war crimes legislation in Canada. They feel that trying Sosa on immigration charges fails to send a message that people who commit such atrocities will be held accountable.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press