August 11, 2001, three Irish citizens were arrested
in Bogota, Colombia.
Connolly, Jim Monaghan, and Martin McCauley were
held for the next six months, without being charged
with any offense, in one of Colombia's notoriously
overcrowded, filthy, and extremely dangerous prisons.
Well aware that government-supported death squads
roam Colombia, torturing, disappearing, and murdering
human rights workers, judges, lawyers, and ordinary
peasants, the three men feared for the lives.
January, 2002, the Colombia 3 were charged with
using false documents, and with aiding and abetting
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC),
a Marxist guerilla group that has been fighting
since 1964 to overthrow the Colombian government.
These charges were false and patently absurd. What
might a group of South American guerrillas who'd
been at war for decades possibly learn from the
Irish Republican Army, or anyone else, about military
tactics? And why would three Irishmen risk their
lives to wander about Colombia, hoping to find some
clever ways to aide a formidable fighting force
to the Colombian government, the defendants were
wearing clothing contaminated by explosive materials
at the time of their arrest. Testifying for the
defense, forensic expert Dr. Keith Borer discredited
all of the government's evidence connecting the
three men to explosive materials. Prosecution witnesses
claimed to have seen the men in Colombia between
1999 and 2001, but video footage demonstrated the
defendants were elsewhere. Witnesses for the prosecution
proved to be misinformed, uninformed, and unreliable.
they were arrested illegally, and languished in
prison for two years before their trial ended in
August, 2003, the Colombia 3 were fortunate to secure
the support of an international team of observers,
including lawyers, politicians, and human rights
activists from Ireland, the United States, and Australia.
Without this support, the three men might well have
shared the fate of untold numbers of innocent people
who have died of neglect or been murdered in Colombian
the United States, where defendants are assumed
to be innocent until proven guilty, this case would
have faltered on the basis of political interference,
suppression of evidence, and witnesses who obviously
lied under oath. Government prosecutors failed to
gather exculpatory evidence. Defendants were prevented
from adequate access to lawyers. Forensic evidence
gathered by the United States Embassy did not stand
up under expert scrutiny. Intelligence given by
Colombian authorities was inaccurate or 20 years
out of date.
April 2004, a Colombian court cleared the three
defendants of the charges against them, and the
judge in this case even suggested that prosecution
witnesses might have committed perjury. Nevertheless,
state prosecutors mounted an appeal, and instead
of being deported the men were ordered to remain
in Columbia, even though they and their supporters
had been repeatedly threatened with death.
December 2004, a panel of three judges overruled
the acquittal of the Colombia 3 and sentenced them
to 17 years in prison.
Martin, and Jim managed to escape and they have
now returned to Ireland. Their supporters and their
families are delighted to see them again, while
hard-line unionists in N. Ireland and right-wing
politicians in the 26 Counties, and their counterparts
in the United States, are demanding that the men
be extradited to Columbia. One outraged member of
the Democratic Unionists Party (DUP) has even declared
that if Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, fails
to hand these men over to Colombia, he will be "terrorist
who believe that justice will be served by sending
Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan, and Martin McCauley
back to certain death in Colombia apparently have
not read, or have chosen not to believe, reports
by human rights groups on widespread corruption
and chronic human rights violations in Colombia.
Returning anyone to a country that practices torture
is a violation of international law. Sending the
Colombia 3 to die in South America would be a deliberate
act of terrorism. This is hardly the way to create
a more peaceful and more just world. Supporting
a government that terrorizes its own citizens is
not the way to wage war on terrorism.