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Terror Drugs Justice'>America’s War against Terror Drugs Justice

This line appears somewhere in the middle of a substantial story on the impunity the US gave right wing Colombian paramilitaries for cooperation in drug prosecutions:

On Sept. 10, 2001, a day before his attention turned elsewhere, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell designated the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC, a foreign terrorist organization, just like the FARC.

It’s a reminder that doesn’t get much attention elsewhere in the massive article that the US brought a bunch of (right wing) terrorists to the United States and effectively gave them shelter from justice in their own country.

One reason the terrorists were spirited away to the US — and thereby hidden from the Peace and Justice process in Colombia — is because they had ties to former President Álvaro Uribe, as well as the CIA. In the one war where the US declared both sides terrorists, it managed to find a way to avoid treating “our” terrorists like we do all others.

Compared to either the sentences your average low level drug dealer gets or your average young Muslim kid set up by the FBI, the sentences these key players in the drug and terror industry are remarkably light: 7.5 years on average for the paramilitaries and 10 for the drug lords, according to the NYT’s calculation.

As such, I think this is one of the most important articles for you to read today, on Never Forget day. It reveals a dramatically different model for a war on drugs and terror than the Foreverwar we’re marking today, one in which America’s favored terrorists get impunity and the victims of terrorism get shafted.

Meanwhile, Uribe’s successor has brought about a peace deal (one Uribe attacks) that, if it works, might finally bring peace to Colombia.

I don’t think the US protection for Uribe’s thugs had an effect on peace. Indeed, our ambassador claims in the story that agreeing not to extradite Colombian drug criminals to the US is our contribution to the peace process.

President Santos has said he hopes that one dividend of the peace accord will be a reduction in the drug trafficking that financed the internal armed conflict. Coca cultivation has been soaring in Colombia, with a significant increase over the last couple of years in acreage dedicated to drug crops.

Extradition as a panacea has fallen out of favor. Colombia extraditions to the United States were half as frequent in 2015 — 109 — as the year the paramilitary leaders were sent away. And the new accord, if approved by voters, would guarantee the guerrilla leaders protection against extradition for their drug smuggling — with the blessing of the Americans.

“If you want to see that as the U.S.’s contribution to the peace process, you’re welcome to do so,” Kevin Whitaker, the American ambassador to Colombia, told Radio Caracol.

What is certain, however, is that by sheltering these thugs, the US has short-circuited justice in Colombia.

The article focuses on the case of Julio Henríquez Santamaría, who was assassinated because he was trying to help farmers move away from farming coca. His family has successfully fought to testify at his sentencing, for the first time demanding that the US consider the impact on victims outside the US in crimes the US has bigfooted jurisdiction on as if the US is the primary or even only victim of them.

Skinny but imposing with aviator glasses, a bushy mustache and a toothy smile, Julio Henríquez Santamaría was leading a community meeting in this sylvan hamlet when he was abducted by paramilitary thugs, thrown into the back of a Toyota pickup and disappeared forever on Feb. 4, 2001.

Ahead of his time, Mr. Henríquez had been organizing farmers to substitute legal crops like cacao for coca, which the current Colombian government, on the verge of ending a civil war fueled by the narcotics trade, is promoting as an antidrug strategy.

But Hernán Giraldo Serna, or his men, didn’t like it, or him.

From his early days as a small-time marijuana farmer, Mr. Giraldo had grown into El Patrón, a narcotics kingpin and paramilitary commander whose anti-insurgent mission had devolved into a murderous criminal enterprise controlling much of Colombia’s mountain-draped northern coast.

Mr. Henríquez was hardly his only victim; Mr. Giraldo, whose secondary alias was the Drill because of his rapacious appetite for underage girls, had all kinds. But Mr. Henríquez became the emblematic one, with a family tenacious enough to pursue Mr. Giraldo even after he, along with 13 other paramilitary leaders, was whisked out of Colombia and into the United States on May 13, 2008, to face drug charges.

[snip]

Victims’ advocates howled that it was like exporting “14 Pinochets.” Mr. Henríquez’s family, meanwhile, quietly vowed to hold at least one of them accountable for the Colombian blood that stained the cocaine shipped to American shores.

“We hope that the effort we have made over all these years means that things won’t end with impunity,” said his daughter Bela Henríquez Chacín, 32, who was 16 when her father was murdered and hopes to speak at Mr. Giraldo’s sentencing in Washington next month. The Henríquezes will be the first foreign victims ever given a voice in an international drug smuggling case in the United States, experts believe.

Elsewhere the story talks about two women who were brought as 14 year olds to Giraldo in prison, after he had allegedly foresworn his crimes, in the guise of “conjugal visits.” Their testimony may expose Giraldo to a life sentence in Colombia.

This year, two young women cautiously approached the authorities in Santa Marta. They had decided to reveal that they had been victims of Mr. Giraldo’s sexual violence even after he surrendered and pledged to stop committing crimes.

When they were under 14, they said, they were taken to Mr. Giraldo for conjugal visits, both in a special detention zone for paramilitary members and later in a jail.

[snip]

If proved, the allegations would be grounds to deny Mr. Giraldo the eight-year alternative sentence he would get under Justice and Peace. He would face spending the rest of his life in a Colombian prison — if the United States sent him back.

Much of the rest of the article suggests Giraldo will avoid that fate here in an American prison, even while holding onto FARC members, like Simon Trinidad, who played a part on the peace process and had been thought might get released.

It’s an infuriating article: one that really underscores how fickle America’s opposition to drugs and terror really is.

Is this Why DOJ Is Sheltering Colombian Terrorists?

Karen DeYoung has an important article reporting that the Colombian intelligence agency implicated in political crimes, Department of Administrative Security, had support from the CIA.

American cash, equipment and training, supplied to elite units of the Colombian intelligence service over the past decade to help smash cocaine-trafficking rings, were used to carry out spying operations and smear campaigns against Supreme Court justices, Uribe’s political opponents and civil society groups, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Post and interviews with prosecutors and former Colombian intelligence officials.

[snip]

Some of those charged or under investigation have described the importance of U.S. intelligence resources and guidance, and say they regularly briefed embassy “liaison” officials on their intelligence-gathering activities. “We were organized through the American Embassy,” said William Romero, who ran the DAS’s network of informants and oversaw infiltration of the Supreme Court. Like many of the top DAS officials in jail or facing charges, he received CIA training. Some were given scholarships to complete coursework on intelligence-gathering at American universities.

Romero, who has accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, said in an interview that DAS units depended on U.S.-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline. “We could have operated” without U.S. assistance, he said, “but not with the same effectiveness.”

One unit dependent on CIA aid, according to the testimony of former DAS officials in depositions, was the National and International Observations Group.

Set up to root out ties between foreign operatives and Colombian guerrillas, it turned its attention to the Supreme Court after magistrates began investigating the president’s cousin, then-Sen. Mario Uribe, said a former director, German Ospina, in a deposition to prosecutors. The orders came “from the presidency; they wanted immediate results,” Ospina told prosecutors.

Of particular note–given the impending trade deal with Colombia–these CIA-supported spies also infiltrated union activists.

Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as “Chris Sullivan.”

The thoroughly unsurprising report that CIA was assisting DAS in its persecution of the political opposition is more troubling given that, in the same period, DAS had close ties to the right wing terrorist group, AUC. And DOJ actions taken since 2008 have effectively made key AUC terrorists from Colombia unavailable to testify about government officials who worked with the AUC as laid out in this report (I posted on it here; ProPublica wrote an important story as well). The US extradited a bunch of top AUC figures on drug charges (but not terrorism charges, in spite of the fact that their actions took place while on the State Department’s terrorist list). In spite of promises that these figures would continue to cooperate with Colombian investigations, such cooperation was for the most part ceased.

However, since their extraditions, the paramilitary leaders’ cooperation with Colombian investigators effectively has ceased. Logistical difficulties have been compounded by the absence of a written agreement between the U.S. and Colombia to coordinate judicial cooperation. Colombian prosecutors and judges face limited access to Defendants in U.S. custody. U.S. prosecutors also have rejected the efforts of Colombian victims to intervene in U.S. prosecutions to compel AUC Defendants to divulge information about their crimes.40

Among key AUC leaders extradited to the US on drug–but not terrorism–charges is Rodrigo Tovar Pupo (AKA Jorge 40), who commanded AUC’s Bloque Norte until he accepted amnesty in 2006.

The head of DAS from 2002 to 2005, Jorge Noguera Cotes, had ties to Tovar going back to the period when Noguera managed Álvaro Uribe’s campaign in a department largely controlled by Tovar. There are allegations that AUC carried out assassinations for DAS (including of trade union leaders).

Tovar was extradited to the US on May 13, 2008. Roughly a month later, Noguera was released from prison on a technicality (though he was rearrested in December of that year). Since that time, Tovar has avoided testifying about his ties with Noguera and other Colombian officials, most recently citing threats to his family members in Colombia.

Extradited paramilitary Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias “Jorge 40,” refuses to testify in the parapolitics trials against former Magdalena Governor Jose Domingo Davila, and former director of government security agency DAS, Jorge Noguera Cotes.

Jorge 40 claims that there is a letter threatening to kill the families of ex-paramilitaries who testify before the Supreme Court.

Now, given US efforts to avoid treating the AUC like the terrorists they are, given the way the US relies on Colombia to counteract populist politics in Latin America, it is unsurprising that it used drug cases to remove top AUC figures from Colombia, thereby protecting the ruling party.

But the whole thing makes a lot more sense if the CIA was involved in Noguera’s collaboration with the AUC to target opposition in Colombia.

Colombia Refuses to “Look Forward”

In Colombia, apparently, you get arrested when you oversee illegal domestic wiretapping.

Colombia’s Prosecutor General ordered the arrest of Jorge Noguera, a former director of Colombia’s state intelligence agency DAS, for the his alleged involvement in the illegal spying on government opponents.

Noguera, who was director of the DAS between 2002 and 2006, is suspected of having set up the illegal activities of the DAS that included wiretapping supreme court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and opposition politicians.

Imagine if Michael Hayden (who oversaw the NSA when Cheney set up his illegal wiretap program) or John Brennan (who was in charge of the departments that chose whom to target with the system) got arrested for their role in the program?

Hell, imagine if Cheney himself were arrested (President Alvaro Uribe’s Chief of Staff is reportedly one target of this investigation)?

Pretty crazy, isn’t it, imagining what it would be like to live in a country with a functioning rule of law … like Colombia?

US Paramilitaries in Colombia: Now Twice as Illegal

Remember that Jeremy Scahill report that listed Colombia among the 75 places where JSOC has deployed?

The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.”

In my post on it, I noted that we’re engaging in belligerent activities without apparent legal approval to do so. But that was because this program seemed to use the legal approval to fight al Qaeda to fight other entities, like Latin American leftist terrorist or drug cartels.

Wednesday, the Colombian aspect of our paramilitary activities became even more illegal, because a Colombian court struck down that country’s cooperation agreement with the US because it lacked Congressional approval. (h/t Max Fisher who has a bunch of interesting links on this development)

A high court in Colombia has voided an accord with the United States that would allow an increased U.S. presence on seven Colombian military bases. The ruling on Tuesday by the Constitutional Court declared the agreement signed by outgoing President Alvaro Uribe unconstitutional because it bypassed approval of the Congress.

The agreement was signed in October and faced intense criticism from Colombia’s more left-leaning neighbors, including Venezuela and Bolivia. President Juan Manuel Santos (pictured above right), who was inaugurated on Aug. 7, enjoys a wide political majority in Colombia’s Congress and told reporters Wednesday that the ruling would have no effect on cooperation between the U.S. and its closest ally in Latin America.

It may well be that Uribe’s successor, Santos, simply gets Congressional approval for this. But until that happens, this decision serves to heighten questions about US involvement in Latin American, not least with regards to incursions into populist Venezuela and Ecuador.

As Adam Isacson explains, this won’t prevent US paramilitaries from doing what they have already been doing.

U.S. military and contractor personnel were still acting under the authorities laid out in a series of old accords (1952, 1962, 1974, 2004, 2007), whose validity the Colombian court did not challenge.Under these old accords, U.S. personnel have already been frequently present at the seven bases listed in the DCA, as well as several others. The difference is that today, there is no “free entry”: each U.S. deployment is subject to a series of Colombian government approvals that would be unnecessary under the DCA. It also means that construction of new facilities at the Palanquero airbase in Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca – for which Congress appropriated $46 million in 2010 – cannot yet begin.

But it may result in more scrutiny–in Latin America, at least–at what our troops and contractors are doing. (It also may increase pressure on the Administration to pass the free trade accord with Colombia.)