JOURNALIST GOES TO US APPEALS COURT
ON FIRST AMENDMENT PETITION TO UNSEAL DOCUMENTS
IN 3 UNION MURDERS AT DRUMMOND¹S COLOMBIA COAL MINES
By Stephen Flanagan Jackson
BOGOTA,COLOMBIA— Fernando Leyva, publisher of LatinAmericanPost.com, said today he encouraged editor Stephen Flanagan Jackson to file in US Federal
Court an appeal of the US judge¹s denial of his—and the media¹s and the public¹s— First Amendment rights in covering the long-running civil murders case of three slain Colombian union leaders brutally executed near the Drummond coal mines in La Loma, Colombia in 2001. The civil case has been in a US court since March, 2002 under the obscure Alien Torts Claim Act of 1789. Coca-Cola, Del Monte, Unocal and other multinationals are being called to task by international labor under the almost-forgotten law which allows foreigners to sue private US citizens or corporations for alleged wrongdoings (a tort) abroad.
Jackson¹s First Amendment hearing is set for Feb. 1 in Montgomery, Ala. at the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Presiding judges are William Pryor, Edward Carnes, and Jerome Farris.
³I am the only Gringo journalist to have a copy of these sealed documents,² said Jackson, referring to a Colombian¹s deposition and also to the depostion of Garry N. Drummond, CEO and head of Drummond Coal Co. Jackson¹s lawyer, Barry Ragsdale, filed the appeal after the judge denied an earlier request by Jackson to unseal the documents which reveal the sworn-to testimony of a Colombia eye witness to a $200,000 payoff from Drummond¹s top man in Bogota, Augusta Jiminez, to paramilitary hitmen in order ³to kill trade union leaders² at Drummond¹s La Loma coal mines. The massive mountain of sealed documents also reveal the extent and details of Drummond¹s alleged influence of the US State Department and the US Justice Department to have the Drummond civil murders case dropped due to the possibility of sensitive, secret relations between the US and Colombia governments being made known. Mr. Drummond, a University of Alabama trustee emeritus and a member of the US Business School Hall of Fame, testifies about paying a half million dollars in ³stipends² to the Colombia police and military for protection of the Drummond mines and port.
Jackson¹s motion to open documents was denied in Federal Court in Birmingham where previously the judge slapped a ³SINTRAMIENERGETICA² lawyer with a $500 fine for contempt because he introduced the payoff witness¹s document into open court May 16. Federal judge Karon O. Bowdre, incensed that the Colombian labor union lawyer, Daniel Kovalik, had the temerity to enter the volatile documents, ordered them sealed at the request of Drummond lawyers on May 17. The judge denied a Jackson motion to unseal the documents, thus prompting Jackson¹s date for oral argument in federal appeals court.
In denying Jackson¹s original motion to unseal the documents, the judge said, ³This case (should) not be tried in the media, but instead be tried in the courtroom.² She said the sealed documents with the bombshell revelations should not have been filed and was a ³gratuitous filingdesigned to inflame the media and public opinion² The judge added, in denying Jackson¹s First Amendment appeal to open the documents, ³sealing these documents is not designed to be a prior restraint on the publication of any materials by the press. However, the court encourages judicious action that is mindful of the firestorm that could result from widespread publication of these unexamined statements by a witness who is in prison in a foreign country and therefore not readily available for direct questioning.²
The judge is referring to the ³Colombia Canary,² former DAS officer Rafael Garcia who is in Carcel Picota, a prison south of Bogota, on charges of money laundering and computer manipulation of DAS data. Garcia has recently been singing a tune of corruption in the Colombian government, including relations with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and voting fraud charges against Colombian President Uribe, a landslide winner in the May Colombia election. Based on Garcia¹s testimony, a number of former DAS officials have been indicted by the Colombian government. DAS is the Spanish acronym for Department of Administrative Security, Colombia¹s equivalent to the FBI.
³We are under constant threats from the paramilitary and ³sicarios² (hired assassins) while Drummond has the Colombian army—backed by US funds—guarding its La Loma facilities and we (union members) are left to fend for ourselves,² charges Omar Estupinan, a SINTRAMIENERGETICA union local president at La Loma. Estupinan fled his hometown for temporary sanctuary in Bogota, the capital city.
Three previous Colombia union leaders—Gustavo Soler, Valmore Locarno, and Victor Hugo Orcasita— were brutally assassinated near the Drummond mines in 2001. No charges have been filed in Colombia, but Drummond faces a controversial civil wrongful deaths case meandering turtle-slow in US Federal Court in Birmingham, Ala. Jury selection—if the judge does not issue a dismissal at a February hearing—is expected in May, 2007 in the case filed by the Colombia union¹s lawyers of the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh and the International Relief Fund in Washington, DC.
Other documents sealed by the US judge—a Bush appointee—reveal efforts by Drummond to influence the US State and Justice Departments to dismiss the case on grounds that US national security would be compromised by information related to the trial. Sources indicate that the US State Department has, indeed, sent a letter to the judge regarding the Drummond civil murders case.
Drummond Co. has consistently stated that the allegations of its complicity in the murders are false. ³The charges are liesdamnable lies,² commented William Jeffress, Jr., a Drummond attorney with Baker Botts of Washington, DC, previous to the judge¹s first gag order in 2004.
In a recent speech on an unrelated matter in Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe maintains passport records show that Drummond¹s Jiminez was out of Colombia at the time Garcia claims to have been in the payoff meeting with Jiminez and the paramilitary. Uribe never produced conclusive evidence to support this claim about Jiminez
Drummond¹s lawyers have rolled out the ³political question² doctrine and the ³international comity¹ doctrine in a last ditch effort to quash the homicide charges and stop the civil case, maintaining a trial presents the possibility of compromising US national security issues. The US has officially declared the left-wing guerrilla and the right-wing paramilitary as ³terrorists²—both Colombia groups active around the Drummond mines.
³Judge Bowdre¹s order has a chilling effect by cutting me off from my sources, potential sources, and information about this case,² says Jackson, also a journalism professor at Stillman College. ³The judge¹s order is a violation of my First Amendment rights as a journalist, of the media¹s First Amendment rights, and the general public¹s First Amendment rights—which include the right-to-know.
³The judge is throwing a shroud over this case,² says Jackson. ³Mr. Ragsdale, my lawyer, and I are not threatening Drummond¹s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.
³ We are looking out for the First Amendment right to monitor the administration of justice without any undue restrictions on the monitoring and without regards to the manner and style in which the information in communicated.
³To paraphrase Mark Twain, you can always find 12 ignoramuses in Alabama who do not read the newspapers or watch the news on TV,² remarks Jackson. ³This plethora of sealed documents could possibly reveal violations of the Leahy Amendment which regulates the use of US funds in Plan Colombia,² adds Jackson. ³This is also a case of massive human rights violations. Three people were murdered some six years ago!²
Drummond ships coal from its lucrative Colombia mine all over the world, including to one of its biggest customers—Israel. Domestically, the Southern Company—parent of Alabama Power— receives Colombia coal shipments through the Port of Mobile to burn in its electric-generating plants all over the Southeast.
(Note: Permission to use/ Your support is appreciated/Contact Jackson at 205 366-8858 or email@example.com. For further reference go to PACERS for US District Court case No. CV-03-BE-0575-W)
(Contact Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205 366-8858)
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