The Narco-Terrorist Who Came in From the Cold

U.S. authorities have remained strangely silent regarding the Colombian government's decision to delay or cancel the extradition of AUC Chief Salvatore Mancuso on cocaine trafficking and money laundering charges. THE NARCO-TERRORIST WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD:
Why Isn’t Mancuso being Extradited?

On December 11, Stewart Tuttle, head of the Political Affairs division of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota looked on as Salvatore Mancuso, commander of Colombia’s largest and most brutal network of right-wing death squads, ceremonially surrendered his Berretta to Colombian Peace Commissioner Carlos Luis Restrepo.

But Tuttle and his superiors were strangely silent a week later when the government of President Alvaro Uribe announced that it would not extradite Mancuso to the U.S. to face cocaine trafficking and money laundering charges as long as the death squad leader agreed to “cease all illegal activities” and encourage other paramilitaries to take part in the government’s demobilization process.   While the U.S. hasn’t formally dropped its extradition request, neither the U.S. Embassy nor the U.S. State Department has issued a public statement about Uribe’s decision to delay or cancel Mancuso’s handover to U.S. authorities – which is highly unusual to say the least, given that Mancuso is the head of a terrorist organization and is accused of conspiring to smuggle over seventeen tons of cocaine to the U.S. and Europe.

THE CHARGES AGAINST MANCUSO

The U.S. State Department has classified Mancuso’s organization, the “Self Defense Forces of Colombia” (AUC,) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization – the same legal designation that it applies to groups like Ansar al-Islam, al-Qa’ida, and Hamas.  According to its website, the policy of the State Department’s Counterterrorism Office, which compiles the list of terrorist organizations, is to “make no concessions to terrorists and strike no deals” and  to “bring terrorists to justice for their crime.”  

Involvement in the operation of a Foreign Terrorist Organization is a capital offense under the PATRIOT Act.  

According to the State Department’s 2004 Human Rights Report on Colombia, compiled under Tuttle’s supervision, the AUC remains actively involved in terrorist operations throughout Colombia:

“Despite cease-fires declared in the context of demobilization negotiations conducted by the AUC--an umbrella organization of different paramilitary terrorist groups--with the Government, these terrorists continued to commit numerous unlawful and political killings, including of labor leaders, often kidnapping and torturing suspected guerrilla sympathizers prior to executing them. They also conducted kidnappings for ransom and committed ‘social cleansing’ killings of homosexuals and other supposedly ‘undesirable’ elements. The AUC terrorists often interfered with personal privacy in areas where they exercised de facto control, and regularly engaged in military operations in which they endangered civilian lives by fighting in urban areas and using civilian dwellings as combat shelter. AUC terrorists displaced thousands through both terror-induced forced displacements of suspect populations and military operations that drove peasants from their homes. AUC terrorists regularly threatened and attacked human rights workers and journalists who criticized their illegal activities. They also recruited child soldiers. Important strategic and financial areas continued to be heavily contested, especially as the Government eradicated coca crops, and created anti-kidnapping task forces.”

Mancuso has been the main public face of the AUC since the disappearance of the organization’s founder, Carlos Castano last year.  Sources in the Colombian human rights community allege that Castano is currently in hiding in Israel.

Mancuso’s role in massacres, disappearances, and assassinations would be sufficient grounds for his prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.   But the U.S. also claims that Mancuso was involved in a major cocaine trafficking operation designed by Castano to fund the AUC.  In a September 24, 2002 press conference announcing the indictment of Castano, Mancuso, and a third AUC leader, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said:

“Today's indictment charges AUC leaders, not as the anti-FARC freedom fighters they claim to be, but as criminals - violent drug traffickers who poison our citizens and threaten our national security. According to the indictment, Carlos Castaño directed cocaine production and distribution activities in AUC-controlled regions of Colombia, including protecting coca processing laboratories, setting quality and price controls for cocaine, and arranging for and protecting cocaine shipments both within and outside of Colombia. Castaño and his co-defendants used violence, force and intimidation to maintain this authority over cocaine trafficking activities. For example, the indictment alleges that Castaño resorted to kidnaping and threats, and that Salvatore Mancuso caused the brutal murder of another Colombian drug trafficker as retribution for failing to pay a drug debt.”

He went on to emphasize the seriousness of the charges, saying

“The men named in the indictment are accused of selling one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs: cocaine. Cocaine, including its derivative form crack, remains the most frequently mentioned drug in 14 of the 20 cities in the Drug Abuse Warning Network. In addition, cocaine accounted for 50 percent of all drug-related episodes in emergency rooms between 1999 and 2000.  Today, we see more clearly than ever the interdependence between the terrorists that threaten American lives and the illegal drugs that threaten American potential. As today's indictment reminds us, the lawlessness that breeds terrorism is also a fertile ground for the drug trafficking that supports terrorism. To surrender to either of these threats is to surrender to both.”

Tough words.  But the U.S. has not followed them up with action.  Earlier this year, the Colombian government suspended its own arrest order against Mancuso and allowed him to address the Colombian legislature – the U.S. remained silent.  And military aid has continued to flow to Colombia even though the State Department admits that there are widespread ties between the Colombian military and the AUC and human rights groups have documented the role of the AUC in the election of President Uribe.

TALKING WITH TERRORISTS

Despite the State Department’s stated policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, both the Colombian and the U.S. press reported that U.S. Embassy officials met with representatives of the AUC in May 0f 2003 to discuss the indictements against Castano and Mancuso.  See (Luis Gomez’s report -- http://www.narconews.com/Issue30/article801.html)   Colombian sources place Stewart Tuttle, and his deputy, Alex Lee at these meetings, and it seems clear that neither man would have jeopardized his career by meeting with terrorists in possible violation of the PATRIOT act without authorization from somewhere much higher in the chain of command.

In the weeks that followed the revelations about these meetings, Tuttle and Lee, who had previously met frequently with U.S. visitors to Colombia disappeared from the Embassy’s briefing room.  

During this time, an Embassy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the meetings had taken place, but insisted that the Embassy was merely trying to reiterate its desire to have Mancuso and Castano surrender themselves to U.S. authorities.  (Does this mean that if they were stationed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, Tuttle and Lee would meet with representatives of al Qu’aida to reiterate their desire to see Osama bin Laden surrender for prosecution.)

Apparently, however, Tuttle no longer sees the need to reiterate the U.S.’s desire to put Mancuso behind bars.   And its hard to believe that the Colombian government would cancel its plans to extradite Mancuso without consulting the Bush administration.  What remains to be seen is who in the U.S. decided to let Salvatore Mancuso get away.

So much for the “war on terror.”

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About Sean Donahue

Personal Website
http://www.seandonahue.org

Biography
Sean Donahue is a poet, healer, activist, and freelance journalist wandering through New England.