Protest to demand release of Colombian rebel

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is turning justice on its head with the trials of Colombian revolutionary Ricardo Palmera, charges a U.S. group dedicated to his release. The National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera has called for a protest at the federal court building here on Sept. 17 to demand Palmera’s immediate release.

Palmera is a former professor and peace negotiator for Colombia’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). More than three years ago, Palmera was in Ecuador to meet a United Nations official to discuss prisoner exchanges between the FARC and the Colombian government.

U.S. and Colombian agents kidnapped and extradited him to the United States, where he now sits in solitary confinement. Palmera’s supporters say he is a political prisoner who should not be on trial in the United States.

Palmera’s trials are anything but ordinary. He was forced to accept a government-selected lawyer and was not allowed to call witnesses.

In the first trial, U.S. jurors did not find him guilty. Judge Thomas Hogan declared a mistrial.

Then, between the first and second trials, Hogan was caught improperly collaborating with the federal prosecutor, Ken Kohl, and the judge had to step down.

In the second trial, Palmera beat four counts against him, including “terrorism” and kidnapping charges. However, the jury found Palmera guilty of “conspiracy to kidnap,” based on his membership in the FARC.

In 2003, the FARC shot down a small plane over Colombia that was carrying U.S. mercenaries (former military personnel operating as “private contractors”) and held three of them, which is the basis of the conspiracy charge. Palmera was never alleged to have had prior knowledge of, participated in or directed the capture of the mercenaries.

The FARC is a 28,000-member rebel army that controls wide areas of Colombia where it functions as the de facto government. It supports replacement of the corrupt U.S.-backed Colombian government, the distribution of land to the peasants, the replacement of drug crops with food crops, and an end foreign corporate domination of the economy.

“The U.S. government has no right to put Ricardo Palmera on trial,” said Tom Burke of the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera in a recent statement. “The Bush administration putting the FARC on trial for drug trafficking is the same as looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The evidence simply does not exist. It is an excuse for military adventure.”

The Colombian government of President Alvaro Uribe, supported by the Bush administration, is viewed widely around the world as having strong connections with drug-dealing operations. Colombia is also one of the most dangerous places in the world for trade unionists, who are frequently victims of right-wing assassinations.

For more information about Palmera’s case, visit .