ProPublica had an important story a few days ago reporting that the cases of a number of Colombian paramilitaries extradited to the US on drug–not terrorism–charges have been sealed and largely disappeared.
Since 2006, more than a dozen of Colombia’s most notorious paramilitary leaders have been extradited to the United States to face drug-trafficking charges in federal district court in Washington.
The extraditions stunned Colombians, who had hoped that testimony from the men, given as part of a national amnesty program, would help expose the truth about two decades of vicious murders, assaults and kidnappings. In videotaped confessions in Colombia, one had taken responsibility for more than 450 slayings.
But outrage over the extraditions reached a boiling point earlier this year, when U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton blocked public access to seven of the paramilitary leaders’ cases, erasing virtually every trace of their existence.
There is no way to know if the men have negotiated lenient sentences — or if they are even still in custody. An eighth defendant, accused in Colombia of murdering a judge, was released on his own recognizance, records show, after cousins in College Park, Md., vouched for him.
The story is important on its face–for what it reveals about judicial secrecy–but also because of our unique relationship with Colombia and its right wing terrorists.
If I’m not mistaken the accused in these cases are members of the AUC (the story says the accused in these cases are members of the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia; the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia–the AUC–is usually translated as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), a terrorist group that has been on the State Department’s list of official terrorist organizations since 2001. If that’s right, in addition to being alleged drug traffickers, these accused are also terrorists.
Yet the ProPublica story doesn’t use the word “terrorist” once.
It doesn’t consider whether, rather than being sealed to protect an ongoing investigation of drug trafficking, they might be sealed because of national security claims connected to the accused’s role as terrorists.
Most charitably, the cases might be sealed because these accused drug traffickers are helping the government find other terrorists. But I don’t buy that.