Guatemalan War Criminal Jailed, Officials Say

     DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Nearly three decades after aiding in the slaughter of 160 defenseless villagers, a Guatemalan immigrant and former military operative will face a prison sentence for the first time, according to court documents.
     Immigration officials say they tracked down Gilberto Jordan in Palm Beach County, and that he “readily admitted that he threw a baby into [a] well” during his military unit’s rampage on the rural Guatemalan town of Dos Erres. The 54-year-old cook from Delray Beach pled guilty to concealing his past on his naturalization documents and is awaiting sentencing and possible extradition to Guatemala, where he is wanted for war crimes.
     According to federal prosecutors, Jordan had been living in Florida for more than 13 years, his long-past atrocities kept secret.
     Last summer, members of his Guatemalan military unit ended his anonymity, purportedly telling Immigration and Customs Enforcement of his role in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre.
     The Dos Erres massacre, one of the most widely publicized civilian slayings of Guatemala’s 34-year civil war, occurred at the height of de facto president Efraín Ríos Montt’s campaign to suppress insurgents in rural Guatemala. In retaliation for a guerilla attack that killed several military personnel, Guatemalan commanders ordered a special forces unit known as the Kaibiles to storm the village of Dos Erres and kill “everything that moved,” according to an investigation by the Organization of American States.
     Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims that its two confidential witnesses in Jordan’s case were among the Kaibiles soldiers, and that these witnesses stood alongside Jordan while they carried out the siege of the village, which was suspected of harboring guerillas.
     “Jordan … was present at the [village’s] well,” as his unit began to beat civilians, one of the confidential witnesses allegedly told ICE agents.
     According to accounts published by the Organization of American States’ human rights commission, the Kaibiles put the victims on their knees, “struck them with a mallet or iron rod,” and then tossed them into the well.
     “Girls, ages 11 [and] 12 years, were set aside, and [the Kaibiles] raped them,” the commission wrote.
     ICE’s first confidential witness “could see the well was almost full of villagers, and he could hear their voices,” ICE’s affidavit states.
     He purportedly told ICE agents that an unidentified soldier dropped a fragmentation grenade into the well to silence the trapped townspeople.
     The second witness added that he saw Jordan throw a living infant down the well, the ICE affidavit states.
     Both witnesses “have been repeatedly interviewed by individuals involved in the investigation of the Dos Erres massacre,” ICE wrote in the affidavit. “In some of their statements, they each minimized their own involvement in the massacre. However, the other portions of their statements, including the portions related to Jordan’s involvement in the massacre, have been consistent.”
     No warrants were issued for any of the soldiers’ arrests for almost 20 years, in part because Montt and members of his military regime held sway over the Guatemalan judiciary until the formal resolution of the civil war in 1996.
     Despite outcry by humanitarian groups, Montt served in the Guatemalan congress for years after the reconciliation and later ran for president amidst a stalled investigation into his alleged wartime policy of brutality.
     In April 2000, shortly after the government entered into a $3.1 million settlement with families of the Dos Erres victims, a judge in Peten, Guatemala issued the first large-scale order to arrest former Kaibiles accused of participating in the massacre.
     One of the 16 wanted men was Jordan, the OAS’ report states.
     By the time the judge issued the warrant, however, Jordan had moved to America and applied for residency in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He lied about his past on his immigration documents and secured his U.S. citizenship in the summer of 1999, according to the ICE affidavit.
     Meanwhile, in Guatemala, the vast majority of the accused avoided prosecution by filing a string of amparo actions (petitions to protect constitutional rights), which according to the OAS’ report, were intended by the defense to endlessly delay a trial.
     Further stifling efforts to move the cases forward, many soldiers claimed to have been granted amnesty under provisions of the National Reconciliation Act that ended the civil war.
     “Most of these judicial remedies were declared notably unfounded by the various courts that decided them, both at first instance and on appeal. This shows the [defense’s] clear dilatory strategy … tolerated and permitted by the judicial organs involved,” the OAS’ report states.
     In 2008, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, a court of last resort set up by OAS members in 1979, initiated proceedings against the Guatemalan government in an effort to catalyze the stagnant cases.
     In addition to ordering reparations beyond those outlined in the 2000 settlement, the Inter-American Court required Guatemala to pursue the prosecution of the suspects in the Dos Erres case and to commence a comprehensive retraining program for its justice agents.
     “Special mention must be given [in] these programs to this Judgment and to other cases adjudicated by the Court against Guatemala, as well as to international instruments on human rights and international humanitarian law, specifically that related to human rights violations and the components of the victims’ access to justice,” the Inter-American Court wrote.
     Within a month of the first public hearing in the Inter-American Court proceedings, U.S. immigration agents received Jordan’s profile from Guatemalan officials, the ICE affidavit shows.
     Investigators matched the date of birth on Jordan’s Guatemalan cedula to his U.S. driver’s license and confirmed his identity prior to interrogating him at his home in Delray Beach, according to the ICE affidavit.
     ICE says that when its agents questioned Jordan about his past, he made no effort to conceal what he had done to the villagers almost 30 years ago.
     “Jordan admitted that he had served in the Guatemalan military and identified himself in the photograph contained in the cedula,” the affidavit states. “[He] readily admitted that he threw a baby into the well and participated in killing people at Dos Erres.”
     Following his guilty plea on immigration fraud charges, his sentencing was set for September.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Office refused to comment on the possibility of Jordan’s extradition. If the State Department decides to suspend his prison sentence and extradite him, Jordan will be sent back to Peten to face murder charges in a Guatemalan court system that, according to victims’ representatives, has not convicted a single person for the murders at Dos Erres.

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