Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Trial of Ricardo Palmera

FARC negotiator unjustly convicted in U.S. court
July 17, 2007
By Emmanuel Lopez
Heightened attack on Colombian revolutionaries

The U.S. war on the Colombian revolutionary movement took a serious turn on July 9 when a Washington, D.C., federal court convicted Ricardo Palmera of conspiring to kidnap three U.S. defense contractors in 2003.

Palmera, the lead negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was captured in Quito, Ecuador, and later extradited to the United States in December 2004.

The three U.S. agents at issue worked for Northrop Grumman, a defense conglomerate contracted by the Pentagon to carry out spy work in Colombia.

After an initial trial last year ended in a hung jury, this second trial ended in inconsistent verdicts on the various phony charges levied against Palmera. The jury found him guilty on one count of conspiracy, but told Judge Royce C. Lamberth that they could not reach a consensus on the remaining three charges of taking hostages and a final count of providing material support to a "terrorist" organization.

Conspiracy is a charge that is always used by U.S. prosecutors in political cases. A conspiracy is an agreement between people to commit a substantive crime. By using the charge of conspiracy, the government does not have to prove any underlying crime. It’s a loaded, "catch-all" charge that almost always results in a guilty verdict.

This case was no different. After the verdict, Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, said: "Anyone involved in the hostage-taking and murder of Americans anywhere around the globe should pay close attention to this verdict. This prosecution demonstrates we will spare no effort to apprehend, prosecute and punish any individual who participates in the abduction of our citizens."

Two days after he was found guilty, the U.S. Department of Justice indicated that it would seek a reduced sentence for Palmera if the FARC released the three CIA agents. The DOJ also said it would not make "concessions to terrorists."

Palmera still faces trial in the Untied States on patently false charges of drug trafficking and dozens of additional charges in Colombia.

Palmera’s conviction comes days after another FARC member, Anayibe Rojas Valderama, also known as Sonia, was sentenced to 17 years in U.S. prison on wrongful charges of cocaine trafficking.
Hostage Release Could Ease Rebel's Term

Tuesday July 10, 2007 11:16 PM

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department is offering leniency for a Colombian rebel leader if guerrillas release three Americans from a jungle prison camp unharmed.

Prosecutors made the offer Tuesday in the courtroom where Ricardo Palmera, a leftist paramilitary commander, was convicted of a hostage-taking conspiracy. Though the government's terrorism case against Palmera ended with a hung jury and a mistrial, he faces decades in prison on the conspiracy charge.

Palmera, who is better known by his nom de guerre, Simon Trinidad, is a senior member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The force of about 12,000 fighters has battled the Colombian government for four decades and has held three Americans hostage since their plane crashed in 2003.

``Our priority has always been the release of the hostages,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth C. Kohl said. ``If they were released, say, next week, we would take that into consideration.''

The Justice Department said it was not trying to negotiate with the group, which the U.S. has labeled a terrorist organization. Rather, authorities said they would view the hostage release as any other overture of cooperation in a criminal case. Prosecutors regularly consider such factors when recommending a sentence.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth will have the final say on sentencing after weighing recommendations from prosecutors, defense attorneys and probation officers. Kohl would not say how much credit they would give Palmera if the hostages were released but said time was running short.

``The FARC has two months'' until Palmera likely is sentenced, Kohl said. ``Release them unharmed so they can be with their families.''

The three Americans - Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell - were civilian Pentagon contractors flying a surveillance mission over the Colombian jungle when their plane crashed in a rebel stronghold. They were taken hostage and were most recently seen in late April.

The FARC has rejected previous calls to release the Americans. Even if the hostages are freed, it is unclear how much leniency Palmera could receive.

He faces the equivalent of a life sentence in this case and, even if prosecutors called for a substantial reduction, he awaits trial on drug charges that could keep him imprisoned for the rest of his life.

Though prosecutors were unable to persuade jurors that Palmera supported terrorists, Kohl said the case was a ``complete and total victory for the U.S.'' Hostage-taking is a terrorist act, so Palmera is a convicted terrorist, Kohl said.

Palmera has admitted serving as a FARC negotiator but said he never saw the Americans or kept them captive himself. He justified hostage-taking as a legitimate military tactic and compared the struggle in Colombia to the U.S. Civil War.

This is the second time prosecutors have brought charges against Palmera, the highest-ranking FARC member ever captured. The first case ended in a mistrial last year after jurors failed to reach a verdict on any charges.
U.S. mistrial for convicted Colombian rebel leader
Tue Jul 10, 2007 3:14PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. jury on Tuesday could not reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared on four remaining counts charging a Colombian rebel leader with hostage-taking and providing material support to a terrorist group.

The jury on Monday found Ricardo Palmera, the most senior leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to go on trial in the United States, guilty on a single count of conspiracy to take hostages in the kidnapping of three American contractors in 2003.

The judge in the case declared the mistrial after the jury said it could not agree on a verdict on the remaining four counts.

Palmera, also known as Simon Trinidad, was captured in Ecuador and then extradited to the United States from Colombia in December 2004.

His first trial ended in November 2006, when jurors said they could not agree on a verdict. He then was tried the second time.

A spokesman for the federal prosecutors said no decision had been made on whether to press ahead with a third trial on the hostage-taking and terrorism charges. Palmera also faces a separate trial, scheduled for later this year, on drug trafficking charges.