Follow Guatemala’s Lead: Convene a Genocide Case Grand Jury

A Guatemalan court has ordered a criminal investigation of all others involved in the Rios Montt crimes.

It won’t be easy. Prosecutors and judges will be risking their careers and lives. Witnesses will know that they might die if they come forward to give evidence.

But Guatemalans have already shown great courage in advancing the Rios Montt case. It’s time for Americans to do the same and convene a US grand jury on Guatemala.

US prosecutors could aid law enforcement in two fundamental ways: first, with information and second, if warranted, with indictments.

The US, which supported Rios Montt’s army, has vast stores of information.

It should all be turned over to the prosecutors in Guatemala.

A proper disclosure would include still-classified White House, Pentagon, NSA, CIA and State Department documents, as well as US intercepts of communications among General Rios Montt and his army.

It’s important to remember that at the time of these crimes, as now, the US was not a mere outside observer: it was a full-fledged participant.

US bombs were dropped from US-supplied aircraft on fleeing Mayan villagers. US personnel were present in Guatemala, training and giving advice to the Rios Montt army. US personnel were inside the G-2, the notorious military intelligence and targeting unit. The CIA carried many top Guatemalan army commanders on its payroll.

And Rios Montt, as he was committing the crimes, got political support from President Reagan, personally.

So the US has responsibilities here, moral and political but also legal.

The US should now confess to Guatemalan law-enforcement.

It should tell them everything: what it knew, what it did, who it paid.

And the US should also indict and try any current or former US official who was accessory or accomplice — or worse — to the Rios Montt crimes.

And, of course, it should also be ready to comply with its responsibilities by being willing to extradite any US officials charged in Guatemala.

US prosecutors have an obligation to take these steps.

This case involves crimes of the highest magnitude.

US law enforcers who step forward might indeed run some career risk.

But unlike so many Guatemalans so far, they can be pretty sure they’ll live.