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Cablegate: 2005 Massacre Trial Delayed Again, Defendants Will Not Be

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0233/01 0431548
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 121548Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2778
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000233

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PTER KJUS CO
SUBJECT: 2005 MASSACRE TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN, DEFENDANTS WILL NOT BE
RELEASED

REF: BOGOTA25; BOGOTA35

SUMMARY

-------

1. (SBU) On February 4, Poloff attended the trial in Medellin of 10
former members of the Colombian Army's 17th Brigade for the 2005
massacre of eight members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace
Community. During the trial, a military witness implicated former
Army Commander General Mario Montoya. The prosecutor introduced as
evidence sworn statements from three colonels, all of which
indicated that General Montoya had approved paramilitary
participation in "Operation Phoenix," the operation that led to the
massacre. After the National Prison Institute (INPEC) failed to
transport key witnesses on February 5, the judge postponed the
trial until March 16. She emphasized that the defendants would not
be released in the interim since the trial had already begun. End
Summary.

POLOFF ATTENDS TRIAL

--------------------

2. (SBU) On February 4, Poloff attended the Medellin-based trial of
10 former members of the 17th Brigade for the February 21, 2005
massacre of eight members -- including three children aged 2, 6,
and 10 -- of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community.
Representatives from the European Union and the Embassies of Spain
and Sweden were present, along with a standing-room only audience
of military personnel, victims' family members, defendants' family
members, the press, and several non-governmental organizations
(NGOs).

3. (U) The trial began in December, and after one day of testimony
was postponed until February because the Prosecutor General's
Office (Fiscalia) had accidentally misdirected several case files
to the incorrect office in Medellin. Defendants in the case
include a colonel, a major, a lieutenant, a captain, five
sergeants, and a corporal.

MILITARY COLLUDED WITH AUC IN OPERATION PHOENIX

--------------------------------------------- --

4. (U) The Prosecution's case is based on confessions from former
Captain Guillermo Armando Gordillo Sanchez and several former
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary members.
According to those confessions, the 47th Infantry Battalion of the
17th Brigade colluded with AUC leader Diego Murillo Bejarano's (Don
Berna) "Heroes of Tolova" bloc to combat the FARC during the 17th
Brigade's "Operation Phoenix." (Note: This was an earlier
operation in 2005, not the operation of the same name carried out
March 1, 2008, against the Raul Reyes camp site in Ecuador. End
note.) During the operation the paramilitary members, serving as
"guides" to the military, entered the homes of two Peace Community
leaders in the hamlets of La Resbalosa and Mulatos Medios and
tortured and beheaded the leaders, their spouses and children, and
a friend; the military made no effort to stop the killings.
Gordillo and three former AUC members -- Jose Joel Vargas, Jose
Luis Salgado, and Adriano Jose Cano -- have confessed to their
involvement in the crime and have accepted plea bargains.


WITNESSES IMPLICATE MONTOYA

---------------------------

5. (U) In his testimony on February 4, Gordillo said retired Army
Commander Mario Montoya, then Seventh Division Commander, had
participated in planning sessions for Operation Phoenix and had
authorized military cooperation with paramilitary forces. The same
day, the Prosecutor introduced as evidence the sworn statements of
Colonels Nestor Ivan Duque, Jose Fernando Castro, and Felix Acosta
who all attested that Montoya participated in planning Operation
Phoenix.

TRIAL POSTPONED UNTIL MARCH,

CLOSED COURTROOM, INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY INVITED

--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) On February 5, after learning the National Prison
Institute (INPEC) had failed to transport required witnesses to
Medellin from Tierra Alta, Cordoba and Barranquilla, the judge
convened a meeting between the defense, prosecution, victims'
defense lawyer, and international community representatives to
announce the trial had been rescheduled for March 16-18. She
emphasized that since the trial had already started, there would be
no danger of the defendants being released due to pre-trial
detention limits (REFs A and B).

7. (SBU) At the request of the defense, the judge agreed the
remainder of the trial would be closed to the public, with only the
international community permitted to attend. A representative for
the U.S.-based accompaniment organization Fellowship of
Reconciliation (FOR) told us they were pleased with the decision
since her organization believes the considerable military presence
at the trial had been intended to intimidate victims' families.
The FOR representative added that they would petition the judge to
allow victims' accompaniment groups to attend as well.
BROWNFIELD

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