Irish Republican News · December 22, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
An observer’s point of view

The following account of the trial of the Colombia 3 is by Stephen M. McCabe, an American attorney who observed the Colombian judicial process

On six separate occasions I visited Bogota, Colombia to observe the trial of the so-called Colombia Three who were charged by the Colombian government with aiding the FARC revolutionaries and traveling on false documents.

I was asked to observe this trial due to fears that the men could not receive a fair trial in Colombia which is world renowned for its corruption, narcotics trafficking by all elements of the political spectrum and a judicial system highlighted by its lack of fairness and due process.

Jurists and attorneys are routinely threatened and intimidated and it was felt that only by the presence of international observers could a fair trial be remotely possible considering the political atmosphere surrounding this case.

The observers included a member of the European Parliament, a member of the Irish Senate, a member of the Irish Parliament, a member of the Northern Irish Assembly, a member of the Australian New South Wales Assembly, representatives of human rights organizations and many distinguished attorneys from the United State and Australia. These observers represented every shade of political opinion and leaning. The trial was also extensively covered by members of the media not only from Latin American countries but also from Europe and America.

At the beginning of the trial it would not be unfair to state that most people were convinced that the men would be convicted. However, as the trial proceeded and the “testimony” of the prosecution unfolded it became clear to everyone, observers, the media and the man in the street, that there simply was no case against the three men.

The forensics testimony was pitiable. The only positive forensic findings were those conducted by representatives of the United States in a military barracks replete with traces of explosives. The Colombian authorities then conducted over 100 tests and they all proved negative.

The only live witness to testify on behalf of the prosecution regarding the activities of the men was a “defector” from the FARC who was under the “protection” of the army (“protection” from what, I would like to know).

Another witness refused to appear in court and his testimony was taken by written questions in a distant city. The reason he could not appear, according to the Colombian government, was that it was too expensive to fly him into Bogota. It was determined that the flight would have cost somewhere in the neighborhood of U.S. $250.

The testimony of these two “witnesses” was that they observed the three men giving training to the FARC at very specific time periods. This entire line of testimony proved to be perjurious when it was clearly demonstrated that the men were not in Colombia at the times testified to.

To begin with, a member of the Irish diplomatic corps. delegation testified that she had dinner with one of them in another country at the time it was testified he was in Colombia.

Highly reliable videos were admitted into evidence clearly demonstrating that another of the three was in Ireland at the time it was testified that he was in Colombia.

Indisputable records were introduced concerning the third accused showing that he was also in Ireland at the times in question. A highly respected medical doctor buttressed this testimony.

Colombia, where some 3,000 kidnappings occur per year, is a very dangerous place. It would be a particularly dangerous place for any jurist who had the temerity to acquit these three accused if he could find even the flimsiest of evidence to hang his hat on. But no such evidence was adduced. So even a judge in Colombia, who no doubt feared for the safety of not only himself but his family, acquitted the three men of the serious charges and fined them for the lesser offense of traveling on false documents.

Needless to say, the verdict was an unpopular one in certain quarters particularly in the higher echelons of the Attorney General’s office which was shown, at the very least, to be inept and more obviously, to be corrupt since the judge, in his opinion, called for an investigation into the clearly perjurious nature of the testimony proffered.

It has been reported over and over again that the Attorney General’s office has been infiltrated by paramilitary elements and sympathizers. No doubt elements of the army were also unhappy with this verdict.

Having observed the judge during the course of the trial it is clear that he is not a stupid man although there might be those who would say that he may very well be stupid for rendering a verdict such as this. But to all observers it is the only correct verdict that could have been rendered after listening to the evidence.

So called commentators and also politicians in different countries have also applauded the new verdict. None of them witnessed the trial. I doubt if they have ever read any portion of the trial transcript. On what do they base their opinions? Third hand rumors generated by drug traffickers? Stories planted by agents with interests in drug trade profits? Politicians interested in maintaining the status quo in a country beset by a civil war over forty years old? Operatives hopeful to deflect attention from their own activities?

We are now confronted with the spectacle of a judicial tribunal reversing this courageous jurist, finding the men guilty and sentencing them to 17 years in prison without ever having listened to one live witness and presumably only by reading a transcript of the trial.

While in Colombia the observers met with Vice President Santos, high ranking members of the judiciary and executive branch and U.N. observers. We were repeatedly told that the Colombian judicial system required extensive overhauling and that they all wished this would be done in order to establish a fair and just judicial system which would conform with internationally recognized standards of due process and fair play.

Tragically, the only verdict that could have been rendered by any sincere observer of the trial has been reversed, three men who were acquitted stand facing a 17 year sentence in Colombian prisons and the Colombian judicial system stands disgraced in the eyes of the world.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News