NATION August 1, 2015 10:00 p.m.

Operation Cover-Up

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

SEMANA reveals audiotapes that demonstrate the strategy used by members of the military jailed for false positives to disrupt the investigations and, above all, avoid anything that might taint the higher-ups.

(There are more than 3,000 soldiers charged with false positives. Only ten of those are colonels.)

The conversation is explicit, revealing, and above all, extremely serious. It took place in the middle of this past June. Two members of the Army are talking. They are both confined in different penal institutions, charged with the extrajudicial executions known as false positives.

The first one is José Torres, a career soldier, jailed since he was captured five years ago by the Attorney General’s Office and charged with the murder of a campesino that he presented as a FARC guerrilla when he was attached to the Fourth Brigade in Medellin. He is also involved in 32 other cases of killings in units that he was part of. The other speaker is an unidentified noncommissioned officer who is also incarcerated and charged with killing 12 people entitled to protection.

Torres tells his old comrade that he is negotiating a plea deal with the Attorney General’s Office, because he knows it will be inevitable that he will be charged with the 33 murders and he would rather confess and try to get some kind of reduction in his sentence. “They’ve already found me guilty, but if they need my testimony, I’ll just make up some shit,” he tells Torres, his friend at the other end of the line. “We won’t mention the cases you know we’re mixed up in, we’re talking about me, the soldiers and the commanding officers. The trouble is that that Prosecutor 66 came over and showed us your testimony and you implicated the whole sonofabitching world. Torres Old Man, this whole situation is a big fuck-up. We’re stabbing you and you’re stabbing us. This war is all fucked up. Just shut up, we aren’t going to say anything about you. If they call you, say: I don’t know anything. The same as what Lt. Moreno did when the time came. But most of all don’t finger any colonels, don’t finger anybody. Major Hernández will have to give the same statement. He got off easy because we helped him out,” the noncommissioned officer told Torres, his voice sounding worried.

The call lasted several minutes and the whole time the two soldiers were blaming each other. The man who called Torres insisted on persuading him not to snitch on his old comrades, the ones he committed the false positives with. But most of his concern was directed mainly at persuading him not to let the prosecutors know about the role that the officers, especially the colonels had played. As part of the plan to “rescue them” he asked Torres to lie and to blame the murders on others. “Say that it was one of those paramilitaries from Chiriguaná and that will do it. The one they knocked off (killed) some days ago in Aurora. Franklin, that sonofabitch, were going to say it was him. We have to say that we weren’t around for that killing. That’s what we’ve agreed to say,
the noncom told the soldier Torres.

For a while, the conversation between the two men becomes tense and some threats are exchanged. “You only have some ten or 13 charges. I have 33. Don’t think I’m fighting this by myself. In reality, we are the ones who know how we did it. I got the guys and you’re the ones who killed them,” Torres told his old comrade in arms when the caller was pressing him.

Army spokesmen consulted on these calls told SEMANA: “Everything having to do with the legal proceedings is the responsibility of the Attorney General of Colombia and of Colombian judges. It is Army policy to comply with court decisions and to cooperate with legal requirements and that is what we have done.”

Since the scandal of the so-called false positives exploded in 2007 up until today about 3,000 soldiers have been arrested, and 815 of those have been convicted. The majority of those convicted are soldiers and noncommissioned officers. Of all those cases, only five colonels have been convicted. Three months ago, the Attorney General’s Office arrested and charged another five officers. This seems to show that in only one investigation the number of high-ranking military officers involved in false positives has doubled and is now up to ten.

The content of this conversation revealed by SEMANA shows that the strategy of “cover-up” explains why the responsibility for the majority of the 4,500 victims of false positives up to now has fallen on soldiers and low level officers, and very little on high-ranking officers.

The desperation and pressure of the man who called the soldier Torres also explains why, after years of investigation of the false positives, the Attorney General’s Office recently entered a crucial stage where prosecutors are starting to identify and charge those who were most responsible for those murders. The tactic of trying to avoid having the soldiers and noncoms testify and tell what their superiors did is revealed in these audiotapes.

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