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View Full Version : Landmark Conviction in Colombia's Palace of Justice Case



Magda Hassan
06-12-2010, 04:18 AM
But the underlying power structures remain intact. So what's a few sacrificial lambs? Possibly just narcos falling out.


National Security Archive Update, June 11, 2010

Landmark Conviction in Colombia's Palace of Justice Case

First-Ever Criminal Sentence Handed Down in Infamous Army Assault

Declassified Documents Implicate Colonel, Army, in Civilian Killings, Disappearances

Washington, DC, June 11, 2010 - To mark the first-ever criminal conviction in Colombia's infamous Palace of Justice case, the Archive today posts a selection of key declassified documents pertaining to the episode, including a 1999 U.S. Embassy cable that found that Colombian Army soldiers under the command of Col. Alfonso Plazas Vega had "killed a number of M-19 members and suspected collaborators hors de combat ["outside of combat"], including the Palace's cafeteria staff."

On Wednesday, a Colombian court sentenced retired Col. Plazas Vega to 30 years in prison for the disappearances of 11 people, including members of the cafeteria staff, during Army operations to retake the building from M-19 guerrillas who seized control of the building in November 1985. In all, more than 100 people died in the conflagration that followed, including 11 Supreme Court justices.

U.S. Embassy Situation Reports obtained by the National Security Archive in collaboration with the Truth Commission on the Palace of Justice shed light on how the Colombian government and military forces responded to the crisis, indicating widespread agreement that the operation be carried out expeditiously and using whatever force necessary. In one cable sent to Washington during the crisis, the Embassy said: "We understand that orders are to use all necessary force to retake building." Another cable reported : "FonMin [Foreign Minister] said that President, DefMin [Defense Minster], Chief of National Police, and he are all together, completely in accord and do not intend to let this matter drag out."

The Embassy documents also include a pair of reports on the fate of "guerrillas" detained during the operation: one saying that "surviving guerrillas have all been taken prisoner," and another, two days later, reporting that "None of the guerrillas survived."

The conviction of Plazas Vega comes six months after the Truth Commission on the Palace of Justice, established by the Colombian Supreme Court, issued its final report, finding that "there never was a real or effective plan by the national government to try to save the lives of the hostages."

At least three other former Army officers face similar charges in the case, including former Army commander Gen. Jesús Armando Arias Cabrales, and former Army intelligence officers Gen. Ivan Ramirez Quintero and Col. Edilberto Sánchez Rubiano.



Tensions over a colonel's sentencing in Colombia (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/6df13719ee/utm_content=magnoliabloomberg@gmail.com&utm_source=VerticalResponse&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=Tensions%20over%20a%20colonel%26%2339%3Bs %20sentencing%20in%20Colombia&utm_campaign=%5BBlog%5D%20Tensions%20over%20a%20co lonel%27s%20sentencing%20in%20Colombia)

http://pr.ak.vresp.com/1aeb058c6/justf.org/files/images/blog/100611urib.jpg?__nocache__=1On Wednesday a Colombian court did something that only a few Latin American justice systems have managed to do: send a high-ranking former military officer to prison for an abuse of human rights. A judge sentenced (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/70b5e9dc56) Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega to 30 years.
The case goes back to 1985, when Colombia’s now-defunct M-19 guerrilla group staged a takeover of Colombia’s Palace of Justice (supreme court building) in downtown Bogotá. The military assaulted the building, and the resulting violence and fire killed over 100 people. Twenty-five years later, the Palace of Justice episode remains an open wound in Colombian politics. The right blames the M-19 for what Colombians call the “holocaust”; the left blames the armed forces.
Col. Plazas was on trial for a specific abuse committed in the aftermath of the Palace assault. Eleven employees of the court who survived the attack, mostly cafeteria workers, were taken to the Army’s Cavalry School in northern Bogotá. They never left. Witnesses said (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/da7013bdbf) that they were tortured and killed. The case against Col. Plazas, who is now 65 years old, was reopened in 2006 after new video footage of the attack showed that the eleven left the Palace of Justice alive.
Relatives of the victims called (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/b64c1f352c) the ruling against Col. Plazas “a milestone in the history of the fight against impunity” and evidence that “the country can meet international standards of justice.”
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who in 2002 had named (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/64d0a6b437) Col. Plazas to be his government’s first “drug czar,” didn’t share that view. Appearing on Wednesday in a joint press conference (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/21862ce9f1) with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, an angry Uribe said:

This is something that took place in 1985. This was a criminal alliance between drug traffickers and guerrillas that murdered a supreme court of justice. The — none of the criminals are in jail. And now I see that a member of the armed forces of Colombia has been convicted, someone who was simply trying to fulfill their duty. That hurts. That makes me sad.
A day later, appearing with the high command, Uribe was even more forceful (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/6c4acca0eb/id=26777):

The way to support the victims of the Palace of Justice is not by making victims out of members of the armed forces. … All we demand of the justice system is impartial and opportune justice for the selfless members of the armed forces, they can’t be the object of mistreatment for diverting the crimes of terrorism throughout our history.
Uribe proposed the passage of a law to protect the military from human rights charges. While his proposal was light on specifics, the President called for a requirement that higher standards of evidence be used in cases against officers.
The president’s words come a week after an episode in which he reacted aggressively after a prosecutor — apparently in error — issued a citation to open a human rights investigation against Gen. Freddy Padilla de León, the chief of the country’s armed forces. On that occasion, Uribe called (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/42065ca0ec) the prosecutors “useful idiots of terrorism who do nothing more than make false accusations.”
The atmosphere in Bogotá is tense. Colombia’s Supreme Court, in a clear response to Uribe, issued a statement (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/1e41a918db) “rejecting expressions, intrusions and undue interference” in judicial decisions. Gustavo Petro, a senator and recently defeated presidential candidate who is a former M-19 member, used Twitter to warn (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/106568cc89) fellow ex-guerrillas to “heighten their security measures” in the wake of the court’s ruling.


By Adam Isacson (http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JusttheFacts/1b391b39de/931eb20c4b/31d517dfd3/utm_content=magnoliabloomberg@gmail.com&utm_source=VerticalResponse&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=Adam%20Isacson&utm_campaign=%5BBlog%5D%20Tensions%20over%20a%20co lonel%27s%20sentencing%20in%20Colombia)
06/11/2010

http://justf.org/blog/2010/06/11/tensions-over-colonels-sentencing-colombia