Now-declassified secret CIA cables indicate the United States had knowledge of the atrocities being committed against the Ixil Mayans but did little about them.
Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan went as far as to say that Rios Montt was being given a "bum rap" by critics. At the same time, the United States was backing other strongmen in Latin America against leftists.
Responding to Friday's verdict, the State Department noted the importance of a "strong and transparent justice system as an essential component of democracy," according to a statement from spokesman William Ostick.
"We see an opportunity for progress toward a true reconciliation in Guatemala, an essential step for the Guatemalan people to continue moving forward as everyone hopes," Ostick said.