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Jailed Colombian Revolutionary Brought Before Federal Court

by staff |
February 11, 2006
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Washington D.C. - Jailed Colombian revolutionary Ricardo Palmera was in the U.S. District Court of Washington D.C. Jan. 24 and 25. Palmera is an important leader for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, who represented the organization in the peace negotiations with the Colombian government. During the hearing, FBI agent Alex Barbeito testified that Palmera willingly and with the approval of his Colombian lawyer talked to the FBI on three occasions. This was challenged by the defense, who presented Palmera’s Colombian lawyer, Oscar Silva. Oscar Silva said he, “Never spoke to a jail administrator, or authorized a judicial procedure without his own presence, and that Silva himself spoke to Ricardo Palmera before his extradition, and he vowed, ‘he would not allow the FBI to interrogate him.’”

The FARC is a 27,000 member Colombian revolutionary army fighting an insurgent war against the Colombian government. The FARC rules around 40% of Colombia and its movement is growing. The U.S. government launched Plan Colombia seven years ago to militarily combat the growing revolution of poor peasants and workers. Many U.S. oil and mineral corporations operate in areas protected by the Colombian military. Now 800 U.S. advisors and 500 U.S. contract mercenaries are involved in Colombia’s forty-year old civil war.

This civil war is what brings Ricardo Palmera to a jail cell and trial in the U.S. Palmera stands accused of kidnapping three U.S. mercenary contractors after their spy plane was shot down by the FARC. The three mercenaries, Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell, have been detained by the FARC since Feb. 13, 2003. They are being treated by the FARC as prisoners of war, while the U.S. government is treating members of the FARC as criminals.

In a bizarre move by the federal prosecutor, the FARC is listed as Palmera’s co-defendant. The presiding judge, Judge Hogan, famously published advertisements in the Colombian press “ordering” the FARC to appear in his courtroom in Washington D.C., This raised eyebrows in the U.S. and laughter throughout Latin America.

While unusual, having the FARC as a co-defendant is a big plus for the defense lawyers in proving their case that Palmera is a combatant in an armed conflict and therefore immune from criminal prosecution. The defense lawyer argued, “Four years ago Ricardo Palmera was seated at the negotiating table with the [Colombian] government, that for forty years and up to today continues fighting the FARC. While we speak, the FARC negotiates with the government for a possible humanitarian exchange of those held as prisoners.”

The defense continued that if one follows this argument and considers that the FARC embodies all the characteristics described by Protocol II of the Geneva Convention prevailing over internal conflicts, then their combatants must have immunity. It applies in this case because the U.S., at the time of the U.S. mercenaries’ capture, was aiding the Colombian state in its military operations against the FARC. The defense continues, “This is not Al Qaeda or a small group of common criminals. It is impossible to eliminate the political element from this process.” The defense is hoping to have the case dismissed based on fact and logic.

Under Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft, the rule of law is being bent to the breaking point, while international law is trampled. The U.S. is violating the rights of Ricardo Palmera. Palmera is not allowed to speak to anyone, not reporters or supporters. Palmera is not allowed to speak to his own lawyer from Colombia unless the FBI is present. At the same time Ricardo Palmera sits in a jail cell near Washington D.C., he is also on trial in Colombia for numerous cases related to the civil war. Despite this, Judge Thomas Hogan ruled that Palmera has no constitutional right to be present at his own trials in Colombia and that his right to effective legal representation does not require him to be present. Palmera will likely be found guilty in Colombia without being able to speak or defend himself. Palmera’s case will continue in Washington D.C. in June.

Tom Burke of the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera says, “We are asking people concerned with civil liberties, legal standards and justice to attend Ricardo Palmera’s trial in June, 2006. We cannot allow Colombians struggling to liberate their own country from poverty and misery to be put on trial in the U.S. Palmera is fighting against Colombia’s corrupt, death-squad government. There is no evidence linking Palmera with the crimes he is accused of, only FBI inventions. Palmera is a political prisoner, a U.S. hostage if you like. Palmera’s trial in the U.S. turns everything on its head.”