A few weeks ago President Alvaro Uribe began extraditing 15 of Colombia’s most murderous paramilitary leaders to the United States, where they are to be prosecuted for drug-trafficking. The extradition interrupts, and perhaps ends, their investigation and prosecution in Colombia for ordering and participating in the murder of tens of thousands of civilians in the “dirty war” carried out by the paramilitaries in collaboration with elements of the Colombian state.
Yet the Bush Administration apparently plans to prosecute these mass murderers only for drug-trafficking, and prosecutors in this country are said to be negotiating with these professional killers proposing they serve a period of years in U.S. prisons and then be freed. Although there is no legal reason why they could not be prosecuted in the United States for their crimes against humanity, under the international treaties the U.S. has signed, or be returned to Colombia to face prosecution there for their multiple murders, the U.S. Department of Justice apparently has no plan to pursue either of these alternatives.
And, remarkably, you and I are not privileged to know what the Department of Justice may do. Through an inquiry of Congressional Representatives by the Colombia Support Network (CSN), we learned that there may be no written agreement setting forth the terms of the extradition. We have been unable to obtain a statement of whether evidence of murders committed in Colombia can be collected and preserved for prosecution, nor whether relatives of persons murdered at the order of paramilitary leaders, such as A.U.C. chief Salvatore Mancuso and Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna”, who is said to have sent more than 10,000 people to their death, will be able to attend their trials and provide evidence in them. In a meeting in Bogota on July 16, Colombia’s Attorney General, Mario Iguaran, told us that he favored prosecution of the mass murderers in Colombia, where his government agency has done extensive investigation of the crimes committed by many of the paramilitary leaders.
The extradition of paramilitary leaders was ordered by President Uribe, likely to get them out of Colombian before they could testify to links between the paramilitary henchmen and politicians in Uribe’s own party and his supporters in the private sector, including some persons very close to the President, such as his cousin Senator Mario Uribe. The urgency with which Uribe has treated the extradition of the paramilitary leaders appears to have much more to do with his fears of what they may reveal about ties to the political structure supporting him than orderly prosecution for crimes committed.
And remarkably the Bush Administration is providing cover to Uribe by not agreeing to support the prosecutorial work of Attorney General Iguaran and instead agreeing to accept mass murderers for prosecution as drug-traffickers, and even then not telling the public on what conditions prosecution in the United States will be carried out.
The only way to reverse this infamous development is for the public to raise its voice and demand accountability of our government officials for a policy which favors thuggery over justice and minimizes the value of human life. We need to tell our representatives in Congress that we want to know the details of our extradition policy with Colombia, and that we believe in justice as much for Colombia as for the United States. Justice denied anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621