By Ricardo Calderón, NOTICIAS CARACOL, November 15, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
NOTICIAS CARACOL is revealing audios, reports by experts, and photographs from an investigation that disappeared from the radar of the justice system years ago. In the file there was overwhelming evidence of dozens of extrajudicial executions that are still in impunity today.
In a military criminal court in Carepa, Antioquia, a macabre history has been written on false positives about which, as of today, nobody is admitting anything. A judge in this jurisdiction who is now in exile documented the lost file, and we are keeping his identity confidential, for reasons of security.
When the country was first starting to learn about the first cases of false positives in Colombia, a quiet judge in a military criminal court had already documented, and turned over to prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office, nearly 54 cases of murders in cold blood, apparently committed by soldiers in the 17th Brigade in the Antioquia part of Urabá.
“Because of the complaints about several events his court had learned about, and which were events that looked very much like extrajudicial executions, he filed a complaint about these events and sent the cases to the ordinary justice system. After that happened, he began to be persecuted by the interior of the military unit where he had been assigned to work as a judge. But there was also persecution of a legal character, using complaints that accused him of corrupt acts in his duties as a judge. “All of this was to try to de-legitimize the complaints that he had made,” stated Sebastián Escobar, attorney for the victims of the false positives, and who was very familiar with the judge’s case.
Telephone calls intercepted in real time, reports by experts, and photographs were part of the evidence that the judge had collected. All this demonstrated the frame-ups that members of the Colombian Army had concocted to present many murders as the results of military operations.
In spite of those grievous findings, 13 years later, after much of that evidence has disappeared, the tracks of the crimes can never be recovered by the prosecutors. It’s about a lost file that cost the career and the exile of the official who investigated it, and those responsible for the crimes have never been called to answer for the very serious events that were headlined in his complaint.
NOTICIAS CARACOL learned the details that point to retired Captain Duván Hernández and his superiors. Up to now, he is the only officer summoned to answer for the minimal part of what has been documented. The rest continue in impunity, thanks to the fact that a whole arsenal of evidence has disappeared.
“Troops attached to the 17th Brigade neutralized in combat in the last few hours six alleged members of criminal gangs at the service of drug traffickers, bacrim”: This is one of the paragraphs in a press release in 2008, in which the Colombian Army reported to the country the results of operations in Urabá. However, the processing of the bodies revealed a different and macabre reality.
NOTICIAS CARACOL had access to photographs of that operation, where the clumsy set-up is evident. Children were among the dead. The children appeared with grenades in the waistbands of their pants, something absurd because nobody would carry one of those there, for the high risk that it could go off accidentally. Another one of the children had new boots but had them on the wrong feet, and another one had close range gunshot wounds. The forensic examinations demonstrated that none of those children had evidence of gunpowder on their hands, even though soldiers stated that they had shot at them. With the bodies it was evident that some of the clothes they had on were too big for them and, if that wasn’t bad enough, the experts even concluded that the position in which they had fallen could not have resulted from combat.
“There was evident obstruction and cover-up. What we are putting forward now is that not only was that kind of phenomenon an obstruction of the investigation, but also, what pointed to a cover-up was one more step in this criminal plan,” said Sebastián Escobar.
For José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director of Human Rights Watch, the so-called “false positives” were a systematic practice that extended all over this country, and only when the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) came into full effect did we begin to find out the dimensions of that horror. But, as occurred in Carepa, in many cases, only the lowest-ranking of those responsible have been identified. “The JEP has carried out a very important role in the case of the false positives, because until now those have been beneath the notice of the ordinary justice system, even though it has identified and convicted and sentenced hundreds of non-commissioned officers, some officers of middle rank, including around here a Lt. Colonel and Colonel; the ordinary justice system has never had the nerve to charge a general. The generals were more than the ordinary justice system could handle when it came to the false positives.”
While the military criminal court was evaluating the inexplicable expert reports accumulated after “the combats”, the investigating judge listened to some intercepted telephone calls telling how the set-up took place.
In this conversation on June 10, 2008, the Captain hears his superior officer instruct him to kill the man he had just captured:
Colonel: Ok, let’s have it. How many kills have you got?
Captain: Colonel, more like it, they just about killed me.
Colonel: They almost killed you? Didn’t you kill anybody?
Captain: Don’t lose faith, Colonel.
Colonel: No, man, and they got away again or what?
Captain: Don’t lose faith. Don’t lose faith.
Colonel: Well, man, maybe so, my boss is calling, let me know when you kill the SOB.
Captain: Sure, sure, sure, I’ve got one.
The following communication from the Captain is with an official of the Attorney General’s Technical Investigation Team (CTI), asking him to process a dead body. Even though the official senses that something irregular is going on, he ends up going along with the pretense.
Captain: I have a little dead guy.
Speaker: When and where?
Captain: We started out like 4:00 in the afternoon, man, a combat, but really bad, you hear? Almost killed me.
Captain: In a patch ( . . . )
Speaker: What time did it happen?
Captain: It was just about 4:00 p.m., but we didn’t go to get the body until something like 6:00 ( . . . )
Speaker: How long did the fight last?
Captain: Nearly an hour. I didn’t see them; they almost screwed us over. They were waiting for us with a lot of people ( . . . )
Speaker: What time is it right now?
Captain: Right this minute it’s 10 in the morning. It’s just that I couldn’t get out until now.
Speaker: You just got back?
Captain: I just now got away from there, man.
Speaker: It’s something like 10:40 already. What time did the combat take place?
Captain: It started at something like 4:00 p.m., man.
Speaker: What time was it when you found the body?
Captain: Well, we found it at about 6:00 pm.
Speaker: And why didn’t you call us then?
Captain: Don’t you see, I thought my Colonel had called you, and I just got here and right now I called him and he said, “no, you are the one that’s always supposed to call them”, so I said, “sonofabitch, I should have called earlier.”
Speaker: No, because I think you are messing with me. I’m going to write down that you called me at 7:00 p.m. then ( . . . )
And almost simultaneously with that conversation, the Captain is talking with a paramilitary. He’s anxious to, because the most important thing he needs now is to get something done: manipulate the crime scene.
Captain: Dude, listen to what I’m saying. We got a kill.
Paramilitary: Really? A dead body?
Captain: That’s the problem. We killed the SOB.
Paramilitary: And so? Can anybody protect us?
Captain: Are you going to help me or not?
Paramilitary: The kid’s dead?
Captain: Before he starts to rot on me.
Paramilitary: So what do you want us to do?
Captain: Whatever you want, pal, whatever you want, however you can help.
Paramilitary: Cork him?
Captain: Cork him? Just don’t take forever or it will be a problem. It’s that the prosecutors mess with us a lot.
Paramilitary: I don’t have a lot of time right now. A submachine gun?
Captain: Submachine gun? If it’s working? Sure.
Paramilitary: Is that OK?
Captain: That’ll work. Sure.
A day after these communications, the Colombian Army informed, by means of a press release, that thanks to its offensive, a guerrilla of the 5th Front of the FARC had been killed, and his machine gun and grenade had been captured.
The audios also demonstrate how the Captain and his troops were operating in coordination with criminal groups. In the following communication in May of 2008, it was evident how the officer obtained, with help of judicial authorities, to free a member of a criminal gang that was captured with a weapon.
Speaker: Isn’t there any way of doing something?
Captain: Sure. As I reported at the time, it was up to me to make it look legal, so I got him for carrying a weapon illegally and then I talked with a prosecutor that I knew pretty well. So they follow the routine and the next day they let him go. But the gun did get lost, if you get my meaning ( . . . ) I talked with the guy so they would tell him and offer to let the charges go and the next day they released him.
There is also evidence showing how the Captain gave the criminal gang information about operations the Army was planning and criticized their lack of coordination.
Captain: Juancha stuck his head in where he had no business and they told him they killed somebody.
Speaker: ahhh sonofabitch . . .
Captain: What I’ve been telling you all the time.
Captain: You can see what a mess you made . . . ( . . . ) I’m one of those that are sick and tired of telling you, we need to have the situations going well, well coordinated, well synchronized . . .
There are fifty victims that are documented in intercepted phone calls and other evidence that now is not on the radar of the authorities including the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). The JEP calculates, not counting these cases, that there were 6,402 extrajudicial executions throughout the history of Colombia.
For Eduardo Cifuentes, President of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, there is no doubt that the extrajudicial executions were an “institutional and systematic policy. Not just a few ‘rotten apples’ but rather that, the different military units where the investigations are being undertaken reveal situations like those that the country knows about. It was the subjugation of vulnerable populations by deceit, to bring people, laborers, defenseless people, then a simulation of combat, disappearance, and later there was the way they covered up what they did, and not in one case, not in two cases, but rather, they did it systematically.”