A Wikileaks cable from February 2009 on the extrajudicial killing of innocent civilians in Colombia under the “false positives” scandal has been added to the list of the Colombian army’s abuses. Soldiers had been killing civilians and dressing them in guerilla garb in order to inflate guerilla body count.
The lead investigator of the scandal Gen. Carlos Suarez revealed in one of the leaked cables that the “phenomenon originated in the 4th Brigade in Medellín,” led by “former Army Commander Mario Montoya and current Army Commander Oscar Gonzalez.” Suarez noted that,“insistence by some military commanders on body counts as a measure of success despite [Ministry of Defense] directives to the contrary—coupled with some commanders’ ties to criminals and narcotraffickers—led to the specific pattern of murders”
Unfortunately, it appears the issues runs even deeper beyond just specific commanders all the way to President Álvaro Uribe who “continues to view military success in terms of kills…leaving him susceptible to the arguments of some military officers and politicians that the [Ministry of Defense’s] emphasis on human rights is overstated and is harming the war effort against the FARC.”
Gen. Mario Montoya resigned before the investigation results were leaked in November 2008, but made no specific references to the scandal. That same week of his resignation President Uribe had fired 27 soldiers and officers over the issue.
However, the issue of “body count mentality” in the Colombia army has been know by the CIA as far back as 1994, according to some now unclassified state documents.
While it is good to see that the military officers are not completely free from impunity within their own ranks in that they can be fired or pressured to resign, the investigation was still done in secret and no explicit legal actions were taken.
It is also disturbing the see that this issue keeps reoccurring despite whatever measures are being taken, they are surely not sufficient.
The culture of the Colombian army is proving itself to be generally corrupt, and while it’s good to see President Uribe taking slight action on this issue by firing some soldiers involved, but he is still suspect of other illegal actions, especially paramilitary ties. In general the scandal is delegitimizing the role of the army and decreasing the population’s faith in them.
Human rights concerns, and even legal concerns, are clearly being overlooked for military objectives which will certainly harm the people of Colombia in the long run who are already suffering from violence and displacement during the conflict.
Breaches on human rights are bring the US under suspicion as well as it is the top ally of Uribe’s government. The US provides $500 million a year to fight drug trafficking and rebel forces, and should be checking the army for human rights abuses before the aid is granted.