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Absurd Florida lawsuit against Colombian rebels

By Mick Kelly |
December 16, 2009
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Protesters in Washington D.C. demand freedom for Ricardo Palmera
Protesters in Washington D.C. demand freedom for Ricardo Palmera (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Speaking with Fight Back! Dec. 15, a leader of the U.S.-based National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera, Tom Burke, slammed a Nov. 12 lawsuit filed in Florida Middle District Court against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Burke stated, "This is nothing more than an attempt by a group of U.S. mercenaries to gain publicity and put some more money in their pockets. The lawsuit fits into a larger agenda - to criminalize the main Colombian rebel group, the FARC, an organization that is fighting for a free, just and independent Colombia."

At issue is this: On Feb. 13, 2003 a spy plane carrying military contractors Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, Tom Janis and a Colombian intelligence agent was shot down over territory controlled by the FARC. A firefight ensued in which one of the U.S. contractors, Tom Janis, and the Colombian intelligence agent were killed. The three U.S. mercenaries were captured by the FARC and became prisoners of war. The three mercenaries were released after an ill-advised 'rescue mission' by the Colombian authorities that could just as easily resulted in the contractors' deaths. Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and the some family members of Tom Janis are now suing in Federal Court.

The former prisoners of war allege they were mistreated by the FARC, claiming that they had to carry heavy backpacks when they were moved from place to place. "The mercenaries came home healthy and happy, which is something you cannot say about a lot of the prisoners the United States holds in Iraq and Afghanistan, where beatings and torture are commonplace," Burke stated.

In a bizarre twist, the lawsuit also targets about 100 Colombians who are alleged to be FARC members, including Ricardo Palmera and Anayibe Rojas Valderrama, (also know as Sonia.) Ricardo Palmera is the well-known FARC peace negotiator, who is currently being held in the Colorado Super Max. Sonia is being held in a Texas prison. The National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera has campaigned for the immediate release of both prisoners.

"The mercenaries went to another country to fight in a civil war. They were helping to keep Colombia's death squad government in power and ending up getting caught. They now are using the U.S. court system to attack the FARC, an organization that is fighting for freedom and justice in Colombia," says Tom Burke.