"The Colombian military
should not get a clean bill of health until it severs its ties to paramilitaries,"
argues José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of HRW's Americas
Division. "U.S. assistance should not be provided either to those
who directly commit human rights abuses or to those who effectively contract
others to carry out abuses on their behalf and with their assistance."
Because sales is not the most
honorable profession, smart people who are looking to buy a used car --
but don't know a gasket from a spark plug -- bring along a knowledgeable
friend. That friend will ask tough questions and follow up on evasive
answers. He or she will look under the hood and put that vehicle through
a demanding test drive.
Members of Congress and big-shot
journalists with scant experience in Colombia need to bring a knowledgeable
friend when they question Pastrana. Otherwise, they won't have a clue
whether he is telling the truth or selling a lie.
On the April 15 edition of
the CNN show Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, Al Hunt asked Pastrana
about the accuracy of the latest HRW report, "The Ties that Bind,"which
asserts that half of the army's 18 brigades feature links between military
intelligence, the paramilitary and hired killers.
Pastrana replied, "No,
I don't say that it's correct because sometimes it's not absolutely correct.
But we have been investigating, and I think if you see the figure four
years ago, three years ago, the people that were linked with the paramilitaries,
according to Human Rights and even according to the militaries and the
attorney's office in Colombia, were about 1,500 men. Today, it's not more
than 50, 60 men that were accused of having links with the paramilitaries.
So we're working very hard on that."
Hunt, a lame moderate who
plays a liberal on CNN, did not have a buddy along. One who could have
helped is Robin Kirk, a careful, experienced researcher for HRW. Via email,
I got her responses to Pastrana's statements.
"I have not seen any
reports that show a dramatic decrease in the number of military officers
linked to support for paramilitary groups," she wrote. "In Colombia,
a common tactic of the government is always to cite vague and unconfirmable
'statistics' that are very general. That is why we nailed it down to at
least nine out of eighteen brigades, three of which operate in Colombia's
largest cities. When you use specifics, it is clear that this relationship
continues and is met with, at the very least, tolerance by the armed forces.
I can give several concrete examples of high-ranking officers who government
investigators have tied to work with paramilitary groups, who remain on
active duty and have been promoted."
Pastrana told Hunt that "we
proposed a reform inside our militaries in Colombia to really reform our
institution, because legally, according to the law in Colombia, you cannot
seize or throw away of the military any military before they're 50 years
in the military. So that's why we're going to reform the army."
Kirk's response: "What
he is referring to is a proposal we and other groups have put forward.
It is to purge the military of officers against whom there is credible
evidence of human rights abuses. The police have this ability, and have
used it effectively to clean up their ranks. But the military refuses
to get rid of these killers NOT because they can't (with one executive
order, Pastrana could get rid of them all) but because they won't. Pastrana
himself has signed orders cashiering several generals BEFORE this spurious
50-year limit -- which is a crock, by the way -- and he should do it much
more often. The reason he doesn't is probably because he risks a military
mutiny if he does -- precisely because they tacitly support the alliance
with [the paramilitaries] and shield the officers involved."
Hunt, without a buddy along,
bought the used car. He praised the salesman as "an extraordinarily
courageous and determined man" who "may well be the last best
hope for any chance of peace." So in the name of peace, Hunt will
support massive military aid to an army that collaborates with murderous
paramilitaries, refuses to subject itself to the rule of law and
is hostile to the peace process!
Bear in mind that Hunt is
far better informed than most viewers, as he had read HRW's latest report
and talked to skeptical policy experts. If Pastrana sold him, what chance
did defenseless viewers have? That show was, in effect, an infomercial.
If CNN cares one whit about its reputation and obligation to viewers,
it will get Pastrana back in the studio and subject him to cross-examination
by informed experts, such as Kirk and Vivanco of HRW and Carlos Salinas
of Amnesty International.
A few months ago Pastrana
pulled the wool so far over Mike Wallace's eyes that the December 5 <60
Minutes> puff profile, which implicitly endorsed military aid, contained
not one word about the army-paramilitary alliance. CBS left viewers with
the impression no such alliance existed.
In a portion of his interview
with Pastrana that didn't make the 60 Minutes final cut, Wallace
did in fact ask the president a series of questions about the links, eliciting
dubious answers that satisfied the interrogator. (The unedited, 80-minute
Wallace-Pastrana dialogue aired several times on C-SPAN last December.)
For example, Wallace asked, "Does the army and the paramilitaries
ever go after the guerrillas together?"
"No," Pastrana replied.
"I don't think so. Really, I don't think so."
I asked Kirk about that. She
said Pastrana's "own Attorney General contradicts him" and directed
me to HRW's report "The Ties that Bind." One passage states:
"In 1997, 1998, and 1999,
a thorough Colombian government investigation collected compelling evidence
that Army officers worked intimately with paramilitaries under the command
of Carlos Castaño [who, I might add, is regarded by the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency as a "major drug trafficker"]. They shared
intelligence, planned and carried out joint operations, provided weapons
and munitions, supported with helicopters and medical aid, and coordinated
on a day to day basis. Some of the officers involved remain on active
duty and in command of troops. . . .
investigative agencies, in particular the Attorney General's office, are
capable of sophisticated and hard-hitting investigations. However, many
investigators assigned to cases that implicate the Army and paramilitaries
have been forced to resign or to flee Colombia."
U.S. congressional and journalistic
investigators have no such fear, and the lesson for them is clear: Before
you buy anything from Pastrana, be sure to bring along some knowledgeable
friends. And take a long hard look under the hood.
Hans is a freelance writer and an occasional adjunct professor of mass
communications and American foreign policy at the University of South
Florida in St Petersburg. His work has appeared in the New York Times,
Washington Post, National Post (Canada), San Francisco Chronicle, Miami
Herald, In These Times and online at Mother Jones, Working Assets and
Z Magazine, among other outlets. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.
©2000 Dennis Hans