Colombian political prisoner holds Bush prosecutors at bay
An extraordinary trial, remarkable among other things for a novel legal doctrine unveiled by the Bush administration during the course of it, ended as a mistrial Nov. 21 in Washington. The jury could not reach a verdict in the case of Colombian political prisoner Ricardo Palmera, also known as Simon Trinidad.
Unofficially, the Marxist-oriented Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, to which Trinidad belongs, was in the dock too. For 42 years, the FARC, which author James Petras has called “the most important and oldest peasant guerrilla group in the world,� has sought to undermine one right-wing, U.S.-supported government after another. Its 20,000 combatants now control 40 percent of Colombia’s territory.
The FARC’s military operations are highly disciplined and typically conform to international conventions governing the rules of warfare. In effect, Colombia has been in a state of civil war for four decades.
Trinidad, 56, is an extraordinary personality. He grew up in a traditional landowning family. His father was a law professor. Trinidad’s early occupations included working as a university professor and as a banker.
In 1987 he joined the FARC, and he subsequently served the group as a teacher, researcher and diplomat. Beginning in 1999, he represented the FARC in a Colombian government-initiated peace process involving several European nations.
In late 2003, Trinidad was in Ecuador preparing for discussions with UN official James Lemoyne aimed at exchanging 60 prisoners held by the FARC for 600 guerrillas held by the Colombian government. With CIA help, Ecuadorian and Colombian police arrested him in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, on Jan. 2, 2004.
Imprisoned first in Colombia, Trinidad was extradited to the United States on Dec. 31, 2004. During the time he has been confined to a U.S. prison cell, he has been denied visitors, access to a lawyer of his choice and access to important documents needed for his defense.
He is also being tried in absentia in Colombia.
Central to the U.S. prosecutor’s case in Trinidad’s trial, which began Oct. 16, was the FARC’s capture on Feb. 13, 2003, of three U.S. “contract soldiers,� or mercenaries, who survived the downing of their reconnaissance airplane in Colombian territory.
The principal charge leveled against Trinidad was “conspiracy to take hostages,� although he was charged also with supporting “terrorism.� President Clinton designated the FARC as a terrorist organization in 1997.
Trinidad was never alleged to have had prior knowledge of, participated in or directed the capture of the mercenaries.
In attempt to publicize the case, which was blacked out by the U.S. media, the FARC wrote an open letter Nov. 9 to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, progressive academicians and film personalities, asking them to facilitate a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the FARC that would include Trinidad’s release.
Prosecutors described the FARC as a “criminal hostage-taking conspiracy,� initially identifying 20,000 FARC members as co-conspirators with Trinidad. Colombian newspapers printed summons for them to appear in court in Washington. In a tacit admission that such a request was somewhat far-fetched, prosecutors later came up with a list that included the names of 50 FARC leaders.
The government’s case broke new ground in that proclaimed Trinidad’s guilt by association. Notions of criminal conspiracy were expanded to hold all members of a “terrorist group� responsible for the alleged crimes of a few. Apparently this was done with an eye to bringing other captured foreign insurgents to trial on U.S. soil.
In effect, Washington was experimenting with a tool for de-legitimizing any and all political movements not to its liking, thereby undermining international and domestic legal protections. The Bush administration also appeared to be seeking validation for a category other than “enemy combatant� for use in its so-called war on terrorism.
However, the U.S. government’s lawyers did not prevail. The jury was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.
Much of the credit goes to Trinidad himself, according to lawyer and daily courtroom observer Paul Wolf. Disqualified from summoning witnesses and testifying on his own behalf, Trinidad told jurors why he joined the FARC. Having shown signs of lack of interest in prosecution arguments and Colombian politics, they began to listen as Trinidad told them of the “very special conditions� in his home country.
He described the demise of the liberal politics he and his friends pursued in the early 1980s. He told about his own torture in 1982, and about comrades who were murdered whose only offense was to have won an election. He said they and he wanted “to fight for social, political and economic changes in my country and to reach peace.�
Shedding tears as he recounted the 1987 killing of presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal, Trinidad aroused an up-till-then unengaged jury.
The Bogota weekly La Voz designated him as “Simon Dignidad� because he challenged “gringo justice � arrogant and classist � [and he] defended the right of rebellion.� Not least, he advocated for the FARC, the shadow defendant in the case.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan announced hearings on Dec. 14 for fixing a new trial date. Meanwhile Simon Trinidad and 50 co-defendants in Colombia go to trial in May 2007 on charges of “drug trafficking.�
On Nov. 21, Colombian police captured a “Marxist rebel� and 17 others suspected of kidnapping the three mercenaries.
The story of Simon Trinidad sheds light on the U.S. attitude toward peace in Colombia. Significantly, Trinidad’s punishment resulted from preparations for peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.
Parallel developments unfolded this year in Bogota. Bowing to demands from wealthy Colombians weary of war taxes and desirous of freedom for relatives held by the FARC, the government of President Alvaro Uribe seemed to be planning for talks on prisoner exchanges.
On Oct. 19, a bomb went off at a Bogota military academy, injuring 20 bystanders. The next day, Uribe charged the FARC with responsibility for the crime, declared the peace talks to be off and vowed to free the prisoners in FARC’s custody with Colombian troops.
Nicholas Burns, second in command at the U.S. State Department, quickly seconded the plan, promising that the Bush administration would continue its $700 million annual U.S. contribution to Colombia’s military. And yet Colombian Attorney General Miguel Iguaran said there was no evidence that the FARC was behind the bomb blast.
The Clinton and Bush administrations each had had reservations earlier about then-President Pastrana’s three-year peace campaign for his country. “Plan Colombia,� with money, mercenaries and U.S. troops at the ready, came into its own only when that effort collapsed in 2001.
Simon Trinidad told the jury, “The only way to find peace in Colombia is through humanitarian accords.� For top dogs in Washington and dependent military chieftains in Colombia, sentiments like that are clearly subversive.
Palmera Answers Accuser: You Are a Liar!
Washington D.C. - As the trial of Ricardo Palmera continues, a parade
of corrupt officials and paid informants are passing through the
federal courtroom here. With Judge Hogan looking on, Colonel Mora
from the Colombian military took the stand. The Colombian military
has the worst human rights record in Latin America. Now in its 42nd
year, Colombia's civil war pits the Colombian military against the
organization Palmera represented in peace negotiations, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC.
The government-appointed defense lawyer never objected to Colonel
Mora repeatedly calling Palmera a "terrorist." Mora described a scene
where a spy plane with U.S. mercenaries was downed by the FARC. A
Colombian sergeant and a U.S. mercenary with Colombian National
Police identification were shot dead. In war situations, spies are
often executed, but this time the FARC decided to detain the three
American mercenaries. This detention is the excuse the U.S.
government gives for kidnapping Palmera from Colombia, then jailing
and trying him. Everyone involved in the trial agrees that Palmera
knew nothing of the American mercenaries until he heard it reported
by news sources.
The next dramatic development came when the jury was startled awake
by Colombian revolutionary Ricardo Palmera standing tall and calmly
declaring, "You are a liar!" to FBI agent Alejandro Barbeito. The FBI
agent's testimony is not credible. The FBI agent claims Palmera's
Colombian lawyer, Oscar Silva, agreed to an interrogation of Palmera
without his presence. In an interview with Fight Back!, Oscar Silva
refuted this claim.
Furthermore, the FBI agent claims Palmera was in Quito, Ecuador to
negotiate with the family of a prominent politician detained by the
FARC. This is what caused Palmera to speak out, because as a FARC
negotiator, whether it be for peace talks or for prisoner exchanges
with the Colombian government, he could never do side deals with a
family. Palmera's role is formal - he only negotiates with
governments or the United Nations or other international bodies, not
with family members. The FBI agent exposed himself with his
The most recent 'witness' is a paid informant of the corrupt
Colombian government. There is an assumption that such witnesses are
offered money, green cards to the U.S., housing and other deals in
exchange for testifying against members of the FARC. The woman
testified against Palmera. Washington lawyer Paul Wolf writes, "The
defense had copies of three statements she gave to DAS (Colombian
secret police) which described her history in great detail. Most
interesting is that in her third statement, she mentions Ricardo
Palmera for the first time, and claimed that he, along with an
individual named Octavio had recruited her into the FARC as a girl.
This statement was given just after Trinidad was taken into custody.
She was called back from her new life in the reinsertion program to
give this new statement. It contradicts her other two statements..."
The trial of Ricardo Palmera will continue with more informants,
spies, military and government officials testifying. Meanwhile,
Ricardo Palmera is held in solitary confinement, with no access to
his family, friends or supporters; denied a defense lawyer of his
choosing, and enduring endless hours of testimony from people
motivated against him and his political beliefs.
In a letter from Palmera, which was snuck past his captors, he
writes, "Others will make use of their physical freedom to achieve
our dream. If this imprisonment is the price that must be paid for
our ideals and the principles that have motivated the struggle and
are the reason for our existence, then I welcome prison."
Source: Fightback News
THE FARC ON TRIAL: Simón Trinidad Prosecution as Terror War Test Case
Ricardo Palmera, a Colombian guerrilla better known as Simón Trinidad, is on trial in Washington D.C. for hostage-taking and related charges of conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Trinidad is well-known in Colombia for his role as a negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrilla army that has battled the Colombian government for more than 40 years.
The charges stem from an incident on Feb. 13, 2003, in which a Cessna 208 surveillance aircraft crashed in a FARC-controlled region of the Colombian jungle. After the crash, and the execution of two occupants of the plane, the FARC took three other occupants captive, and have held them ever since, along with about 60 Colombian police, military, and political figures they are holding somewhere in the dense Colombian jungle. The three Americans were employed by California Microwave Systems, a US military contractor. The FARC consider them to be prisoners of war.
In January 2004, Simón Trinidad was apparently sent by the FARC leadership to Quito, Ecuador, to meet with James LeMoyne, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Colombia-FARC negotiations. The meeting was not to be. Trinidad was tracked by Colombian and US authorities and arrested by Ecuadoran authorities shortly after arrival. There he stated that he was a member of the FARC on a humanitarian mission to discuss the exchange of prisoners, and asked for the protection of the Ecuadoran government. He was shortly sent to Colombia, interrogated by the FBI, and then extradited to the US to face criminal hostage-taking charges stemming from the Cessna incident.
It's conceded that Simón Trinidad has been a member of the FARC since 1987, working in the Caribbean Bloc in the northwest of the country. It is not alleged, however, that Trinidad had any involvement in the Cessna incident itself. He did not give the order to shoot down this plane, and was not involved in the decision to take the Americans as prisoners. It appears that Trinidad's only involvement was to travel to Ecuador to attempt to lay the groundwork for talks on their release.
Although the Colombian government has successfully entered into negotiations with another guerrilla organization, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and with the right-wing Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC), no progress has been made during the administration of President Alvaro Uribe with respect to the FARC. The Colombian government has in principle agreed to negotiations under the auspices of three friendly countries, Switzerland, France and Sweden, but its position has been that a prisoner exchange would only be part of broader talks on demobilizing the FARC. Public pressure, however, forced the Colombian government to raise the issue of a separate humanitarian exchange with the FARC. The FARC responded by stating its terms for the exchange, which include the creation of a small demilitarized zone, which would be limited in duration to what would be required to exchange the prisoners.
The issue of a prisoner exchange has loomed in the background of peace negotiations since at least 1998, when Andres Pastrana was elected president of Colombia with promises of ending the war with the guerrillas. Although Pastrana's experiment, granting the FARC a large demilitarized zone to rule as their own, ultimately ended in failure, the prisoner exchange issue has survived. In 2003, the FARC released hundreds of captives in exchange for a dozen FARC members held in Colombian prisons. Although US and Colombian officials are quick to term the prisoners as "criminals" and "hostages," respectively, the reality is that both sides consider them canjeable—a Spanish word meaning exchangeable.
With the capture of the three Americans, and their inclusion on the list of canjeables, all this would come to an end. Trinidad's mission to Ecuador would be met with his arrest, and extradition to the US for hostage-taking. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe gave the FARC an ultimatum: release all the prisoners, including the three Americans, or face extradition to the dreaded North America, where the harsh treatment of terrorist suspects has become legendary. The ultimatum went unanswered, and Trinidad was flown to Washington DC aboard John Ashcroft's private jet, with an entourage of FBI agents and heavily-armed guards.
The possibility of a canje, with Trinidad himself part of the exchange, came to an abrupt end last week, one week after Trinidad's trial began, when a car bomb injured 20 people inside the military academy in Bogot�. President Uribe not only called off negotiations with the FARC, but also announced that the Colombian military would undertake a mission to rescue the 60 prisoners held by the FARC. The announcement drew little support in Colombia, particularly among the prisoners' family members. Nicholas Burns of the US State Department quickly arrived, announcing US support for a rescue attempt. Whatever the fate of the prisoners may be, negotiations with the FARC have hit an impasse.
Breaking New Legal Ground
The prosecutors of Simón Trinidad are breaking new legal ground, in the form of a broad expansion of US criminal conspiracy laws to hold members of a designated "terrorist" organization responsible for crimes committed by other members of the group. The FARC is being described not as an insurgent army, or even as an army of unlawful combatants, as is the case with the Guantanamo detainees. In Trinidad's case, the prosecutor characterizes the FARC as a criminal "hostage taking conspiracy" of some 20,000 co-conspirators. Members of the designated "foreign terrorist organization" become co-conspirators through their status as members of the organization. The case represents an experiment by the Department of Justice to try a foreign insurgent using ordinary criminal conspiracy laws.
Simón Trinidad originally had a "co-defendant" in the case—the entire FARC organization. Thomas Hogan, the Chief Judge of the D.C. District Court, went so far as to summon the organization to appear in his courtroom, publishing notices in Colombian newspapers and shortcutting the extradition process. For whatever reason, this unique approach to terrorism was abandoned. The co-defendant army was dropped from the case, and the top 50 leaders of the FARC indicted separately in a drug case hailed as the largest prosecution in US history. Simón Trinidad is not a defendant in that case, nor does he show up in Colombian intelligence documents used to prepare "The FARC Indictment," or in seized FARC documents which describe the organization's leadership. These intelligence reports and captured documents, if admitted into evidence in Trinidad's trial, put the government in the position of convicting a rank-and-file member of an insurgent army as a co-conspirator for crimes he could not have ordered, or even influenced.
The trial began Oct. 17 in Washington DC, and is expected to last several weeks. What is odd about this trial is that very few facts are in dispute. There is no argument that Simón Trinidad is a member of the FARC. There is no doubt that the three Americans were taken captive by the FARC, who are still holding them. There is no doubt that Trinidad knew that the FARC takes and holds prisoners. These are the elements of the charge of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking. This evidence is undisputed, but presented in the form of a slick multimedia presentation, using video clips, computer images of documents, and recordings of radio transmissions. It is supported by some 20 witnesses flown in from Colombia. The jury will not only be convinced, but impressed and perhaps even entertained. It is only the rarest of trials that is interesting to watch.
What the jury will not get to decide is whether US laws against hostage-taking should apply to this situation at all. Or whether it is appropriate to use judicial proceedings as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations. The jury will have no idea that their verdict in the trial could have far-reaching implications that go well beyond the fate of the individual defendant. They will not know the context, or the reason this prosecution is occurring. They will not know that there are some 80 cases pending against Trinidad in Colombia, in which he is being tried in absentia for other FARC activities, or that he is not permitted a private attorney of his choice. After hearing the evidence, they will be given a simple set of rules to follow, called "jury instructions." The mechanical application of these instructions can only result in finding the defendant, and the entire 15,000-member FARC organization, guilty of hostage-taking.
Yet the prosecution's efforts have resulted in some leakage of information, perhaps enough to confuse some jurors. The prosecution's proof of the FARC's "demands" for the release of the Americans—in actuality the FARC's response to the government's initiative—has opened the door to some mention of the prisoner exchange issue lurking behind this trial. There is no room in the jury instructions to consider these factors, and the defense's efforts to ask witnesses questions about the subject have been cut off by the judge at every instance. Yet, it only takes one person to hang the jury, and these jurors are being asked to vote on a very abstract idea: whether the negotiator for a "foreign terrorist organization" can be held criminally responsible for the actions of his organization. It would only take one juror to say no, and the outcome is far from certain.
Comienza juicio a Simón Trinidad
El juicio contra el líder de las guerrilleras Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) Ricardo Palmera, alias Simón Trinidad, comienza hoy en Washington, precedido de una manifestación a favor de su liberación.
Decenas de manifestantes, la mayoría de ellos estadounidenses, consideran que el proceso de Trinidad en ese país constituye una intromisión de Washington en los asuntos internos de Bogot�. En declaraciones a la emisora colombiana W, el presidente del Comit� de apoyo para la liberación de Ricardo Palmera, Tom Burke, asegur� que la administración del mandatario Geroge W. Bush no tiene autoridad legal ni moral para enjuiciarlo. Por ello, las FARC apuntan que "se trata de un revolucionario, un rebelde, que es encerrado en las mazmorras del imperio en un proceso amañado y una extradición inmoral y apátrida".
Después que fuera suspendido el martes el juicio, según el tribunal, por demoras en la selección del jurado, este miércoles arrancar� el acto judicial contra el integrante de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
El juicio contra Ricardo Palmera, mejor conocido como ''Simón Trinidad'' jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia (FARC) se espera que arranque este miércoles en la Corte Distrital de Columbia, Estados Unidos.
Desde tempranas horas del miércoles comenzaron a presentarse evidencias en el juicio contra el jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), sin embargo, el proceso no se ha reanudado oficialmente por la ausencia de dos miembros del jurado.
El martes el tribunal estadounidense suspendi� el juicio contra ''Trinidad'' tras alegar demoras en la selección del jurado.
Además de ello, un grupo de manifestantes lleg� a las puertas de la Corte, en Columbia, para protestar por la realización de este proceso que consideran ''ilegal''.
Según la corresponsal de TeleSUR en Estados Unidos Roselena Ramírez, los autores de la protesta pedían con pancartas que el líder de Las Fuerzas Armas Revolucionarias de Colombia, no fuese enjuiciado en EEUU.
El Comit� Nacional para la Libertad de Ricardo Palmera, consider� que es Colombia y no Estados Unidos el que debe enjuiciar al integrante de las FARC.
''Consideramos que este juicio no debe ser llevado a cabo. Es una intervención al sistema judicial de Colombia y además viola su soberanía'', afirm� Tom Burke del Comit� Nacional para la Libertad de Ricardo Palmera.
Colombian Guerrilla Fighter Goes to Trial in US
Bogota, Oct 10 (Prensa Latina) The trial of Ricardo Palmera, alias
Simon Trinidad, leader of Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces
(FARC), began Tuesday following a protest for his liberation by mostly
The protesters consider the trial interference in Colombian affairs
and Tom Burke, head of the pro-release committee, says the
administration lacks the legal and moral authority to judge him.
He added that US taxpayers contribute five billion dollars to Plan
Colombia, but they do not wish their country's involvement since they
consider it a violation of Colombian laws.
In addition, the DEA denied FARC involvement in drug trafficking to
the US or terrorism in statements to the Bush Administration, he said.
The rebel leader was extradited in December 2004 despite appeals to
President Alvaro Uribe, and will be tried in Washington D.C. for
terrorism, drug trafficking and the death of a US citizen.
FARC called Trinidad a revolutionary and anti-imperialist fighter and
claims his extradition was immoral and unpatriotic, an opinion shared
by most Colombians.
Public prosecutor Bob Tucker said the case is delicate because
Trinidad belongs to a rebel group at war with the Colombian
government, therefore deserves immunity under the Geneva Convention.