Back to News & Commentary

What's Good Enough for FARC?

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Share This Page
June 6, 2007

In February 2003, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, known more ominously by the Spanish acronym FARC (a moniker outdone in being scary-sounding only by the Haitian Tonton Macoute), kidnapped three American counter-narcotics contractors, which it then attempted to exchange for prisoners and a chunk of Columbian territory. All three remain captive.Though FARC’s involvement in the drug trade has traditionally been its claim to infamy, recent administrations have increasingly focused on its use of terrorism (as well as its recruitment of child soldiers). It is currently designated a terrorist organization by both the State Department here and the European Union.Now, fast forward to Quito, Ecuador, in 2004. Officials capture the highest ranking FARC official to date—a senior leader named Ricardo Palmera, who goes by the combat handle Simon Trinidad. Palmera is extradited to the United States, where he faces charges of material support for terrorism and hostage taking.Why, you ask, am I talking about FARC? What does that have to do with Guantanamo?Well, first let me present you with a nice little point-counterpoint from officials at the Pentagon and Justice.This is from the Post story this morning on the political fallout from the collapse of the military commissions against Omar Khadr and Salim Hamdan at Guantanamo:

“Transferring trials before military commission from the security facility at Guantanamo Bay to the continental United States would hamstring the nation’s ability to prosecute terrorist war crimes,” Daniel J. Dell’Orto, the Pentagon’s deputy general counsel, said at a Senate hearing in April. “The existing civilian court system is ill equipped to handle the dispensation of justice in the chaotic and irregular circumstances or [sic] armed conflict.”

So, the civilian courts suck, and leak like Scooter. Or, do they? Now, the Justice Department from the LA Times story on the opening of the federal trial against Mr. Palmera, a.k.a. Simon Trinidad:

“Everything is focused on Iraq and Islamic terrorists. But there are other organizations out there that are actively targeting Americans and American interests, and there is a system in place for dealing with them other than Guantanamo,” one Justice Department official involved in the case said, referring to the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.Though some FARC members have been extradited to the United States on drug charges, Palmera, 56, is the first to face charges of providing material support to terrorists and hostage taking, according to a second Justice Department official.The Palmera case is unusual because of the involvement of his organization. The indictment seeks forfeiture of all FARC assets, foreign and domestic, citing provisions in the Patriot Act.

Notably, the parameters of the Palmera case look a heck of a lot like the parameters of your mine run al-Qaeda criminal indictment. Most folks are going to be charged with material support, or some other catch-all-esque charge. Most are not going to face conspiracy, attempted murder or murder charges. The government has successfully prosecuted cases where training camp attendance alone constituted “material support” under the statute.Contrary to Mr. Dell’Orto’s talking points, the civilian justice system is well equipped to handle these types of cases, which make up the vast majority of the alleged misconduct of the Gitmo detainees. The FARC trial underscores this point.Justice Department vs. Pentagon. Cage match. Now.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page