[Marxism] FARC on trial

michael a. lebowitz mlebowit at sfu.ca
Tue Nov 7 07:57:20 MST 2006

From: <mailto:news_352004 at yahoo.ca>News 35

To: <mailto:news_352004 at yahoo.ca>News 35

Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2006 10:06 PM

Subject: The FARC on Trial: Simón Trinidad as Representative

The FARC on Trial: Simón Trinidad as Representative

Written by Paul Wolf

Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Ricardo Palmera, a Colombian guerrilla leader 
better known as Simón Trinidad, is charged with 
hostage-taking and providing material support to 
a terrorist organization, among other charges. 
Trinidad is well-known in Colombia for his role 
as a negotiator for the Fuerzas Armadas 
Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), a marxist 
guerrilla army that has battled the Colombian 
government for more than 40 years. Why is he on trial in Washington, DC?

The charges stem from an incident on Feb 13, 
2004, in which a Cessna 208 surveillance aircraft 
crashed in a FARC-controlled region of the 
Colombian jungle. After the crash, and the 
execution of two occupants of the plane, the FARC 
took three other occupants captive, and have held 
them ever since, along with about 60 Colombian 
police, military, and political figures they are 
holding somewhere in the dense Colombian jungle. 
The three Americans were employed by California 
Microwave Systems, a US military contractor. The 
FARC consider them to be prisoners of war.

Just a few months after the crash, Simón Trinidad 
was apparently sent by the FARC leadership to 
Quito, Ecuador, to meet with James Lemoyne, Kofi 
Annan's special representative for Colombia-FARC 
negotiations. The meeting was not to be. Trinidad 
was tracked by Colombian and US authorities and 
arrested by the Ecuadorans shortly after arrival. 
There he stated that he was a member of the FARC 
on a humanitarian mission to discuss the exchange 
of prisoners, and asked for the protection of the 
Ecuadoran government. He was shortly sent to 
Colombia, interrogated by the FBI, and then 
extradited to the US to face crimnal 
hostage-taking charges stemming from the Cessna incident.

It's conceded that Simón Trinidad has been a 
member of the FARC since 1987, working in the 
Carribean Bloc in the northwest of the country. 
It is not alleged, however, that Trinidad had any 
involvement in the Cessna incident itself. He did 
not give the order to shoot down this plane, and 
was not involved in the decision to take the 
Americans as prisoners. It appears that 
Trinidad's only involvement was to travel to 
Ecuador to attempt to lay the groundwork for talks on their release.

Although the Colombian government has 
successfully entered into negotiations with 
another guerrilla organization, the Ejercito de 
Liberacion Nacional (ELN), and with the 
right-wing Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), 
no progress has been made during the 
administration of President Alvaro Uribe with 
respect to the FARC. The Colombian government has 
in principle agreed to negotiations under the 
auspices of three friendly countries, 
Switzerland, France and Sweden, but its position 
has been that a prisoner exchange would only be 
part of broader talks on demobilizing the FARC. 
Public pressure, however, forced the Colombian 
government to raise the issue of a separate 
humanitarian exchange with the FARC. The FARC 
responded by stating its terms for the exchange, 
which include the creation of a small 
demilitarized zone, which would be limited in 
duration to what would be required to exchange the prisoners.

The issue of a prisoner exchange has loomed in 
the background of peace negotiations since at 
least 1998, when Andres Pastrana was elected 
President of Colombia with promises of ending the 
war with the guerrillas. Although Pastrana's 
experiment, granting the FARC a large 
demilitarized zone to rule as their own, 
ultimately ended in failure, the prisoner 
exchange issue has survived. In 2003, the FARC 
released hundreds of captives in exchange for a 
dozen FARC members held in Colombian prisons. 
Although US and Colombian officials are quick to 
term the prisoners as "criminals" and "hostages", 
respectively, the reality is that both sides 
consider them canjeable - a Spanish word meaning exchangable.

With the capture of the three Americans, and 
their inclusion on the list of canjeables, all 
this would come to an end. Trinidad's mission to 
Ecuador would be met with his arrest, and 
extradition to the US for hostage-taking. 
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe gave the FARC an 
ultimatum: release all the prisoners, including 
the three Americans, or face extradition to the 
dreaded north of America, where the harsh 
treatment of terrorist suspects has become 
legendary. The ultimatum went unanswered, and 
Trinidad was flown to Washington DC aboard John 
Ashcroft's private jet, with an entourage of FBI 
agents and heavily-armed guards.

The possibility of a canje, with Trinidad himself 
part of the exchange, came to an abrupt end last 
week, one week after Trinidad's trial began, when 
a car bomb injured 20 people inside the military 
academy in Bogotá. President Uribe not only 
called off negotiations with the FARC, but also 
announced that the Colombian military would 
undertake a mission to rescue the 60 prisoners 
held by the FARC. The announcement drew little 
support in Colombia, particularly among the 
prisoners' family members. Nicholas Burns of the 
U.S. State Department quickly arrived, announcing 
US support for a rescue attempt. Whatever the 
fate of the prisoners may be, negotiations with the FARC have hit an impasse.

Breaking New Legal Ground

The prosecutors of Simón Trinidad are breaking 
new legal ground, in the form of a broad 
expansion of our criminal conspiracy laws to hold 
members of a designated "terrorist" organization 
responsible for crimes committed by other members 
of the group. The FARC is being described, not as 
an insurgent army, or even as an army of unlawful 
combatants, as is the case with the Guantanamo 
detainees. In Trinidad's case, the prosecutor 
characterizes the FARC as a criminal "hostage 
taking conspiracy" of some 20,000 
co-conspirators. Members of the designated 
terrorist organization become co-conspirators 
through their status as members of the 
organization. The political decision to label a 
group as a "foreign terrorist organization" is 
controlling. The case represents an experiment by 
the U.S. Department of Justice to try a foreign 
insurgent using ordinary criminal conspiracy laws.

Simón Trinidad originally had a "co-defendant" in 
the case - the entire FARC organization. Thomas 
Hogan, the Chief Judge of the D.C. District 
Court, went so far as to summon the organization 
to appear in his courtroom, publishing notices in 
Colombian newspapers and shortcutting the 
extradition process. For whatever reason, this 
unique approach to terrorism was abandoned. The 
co-defendant army was dropped from the case, and 
the top 50 leaders of the FARC indicted 
separately in a drug case hailed as the largest 
prosecution in US history. Simón Trinidad is not 
a defendant in that case, nor does he show up in 
Colombian intelligence documents used to prepare 
"The FARC Indictment," or in seized FARC 
documents which describe the organization's 
leadership. These intelligence reports and 
captured documents, if admitted into evidence in 
Trinidad's trial, put the government in the 
position of convicting a rank-and-file member of 
an insurgent army as a co-conspirator for crimes 
he could not have ordered, or even influenced.

The trial began two weeks ago, and is expected to 
last several more weeks. What is odd about this 
trial is that very few facts are in dispute. 
There is no argument that Simón Trinidad is a 
member of the FARC. There is no doubt that the 
three Americans were taken captive by the FARC, 
who are still holding them. There is no doubt 
that Trinidad knew that the FARC takes and holds 
prisoners. These are the elements of the charge 
of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking. This 
evidence is not only undisputed, but in the form 
of a slick multimedia presentation, using video 
clips, computer images of documents, and 
recordings of radio transmissions, and is 
supported by some 20 witnesses flown up from 
Colombia. The jury will not only be convinced, 
but impressed. And perhaps, even entertained. It 
is only the rarest of trials that is interesting to watch.

What the jury will not get to decide is whether 
U.S. laws against hostage-taking should apply to 
this situation at all. Or whether it is 
appropriate to use judicial proceedings as a 
bargaining chip in peace negotiations. The jury 
will have no idea that their verdict in the trial 
could have far-reaching implications that go well 
beyond the fate of the individual defendant. They 
will not be know the context, or the reason this 
prosecution is occurring. They will not know that 
there are some 80 cases pending against Trinidad 
in Colombia, in which he is being tried in 
absentia for other FARC activities, or that he is 
not permitted a private attorney of his choice. 
After hearing the evidence, they will be given a 
simple set of rules to follow, called jury 
instructions. The mechanical application of these 
instructions can only result in finding the 
defendant, and the entire 15,000 member FARC 
organization, guilty of hostage-taking.

Yet the prosecution's efforts have resulted in 
some leakage of information, perhaps enough to 
confuse some jurors. The prosecution's proof of 
the FARC's "demands" for the release of the 
Americans - in actuality the FARC's response to 
the government's initiative - has opened the door 
to some mention of the prisoner exchange issue 
lurking behind this trial. There is no room in 
the jury instructions to consider these factors, 
and the defense's efforts to ask witnesses 
questions about the subject have been cut off by 
the judge at every instance. Yet, it only takes 
one person to hang the jury, and these jurors are 
being asked to vote on a very abstract idea: 
whether the negotiator of a "foreign terrorist 
organization" can be held criminally responsible 
for the actions of his organization. It would 
only take one juror to say no, and the outcome is far from certain.


Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

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