12 June 2003 Edition
Built on sand - Exposing the case against the Colombia Three
Next Monday, 16 June, the trial of three Irishmen held in Colombia and charged with aiding FARC guerillas resumes. Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan, who have expressed no confidence in the Colombian juducial system, will again refuse to appear in court, as is their right. The trial will continue to hear defence evidence, the prosecution case having already been heard. Here, the key elements of the defence case are explained. The strength of that case, particularly in terms of witness and video evidence contradicting key prosecution witnesses, and the weakness of the prosecution evidence, has led international observers to question their continued detention. Among those travelling to observe the trial proceedings will be Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe and Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White. Irish lawyers Ronan Monroe and Pat Daly will travel, as will US lawyers Natalie Kabasakalian and Steven McCabe. Brian Parker, assistant general secretary of a leading trade union and human rights lawyer Shaun Kerrigan from Australia, will also travel. This follows a recent successful awareness and fundraising trip to Australia by Paul Hill (Guildford Four).
US lawyers raise serious concerns about unfair trial
Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan were arrested on 11 August 2001 and have been charged with training the FARC and travelling on false documentation. Since their arrest, they have been held in six different jails and detention centres. They are currently being held in one of the most dangerous jails in Colombia, El Modelo in Bogota.
Their trial began on 4 October 2002 and has stopped and started on six different occasions since that date. In the last phase of the trial, back in April, evidence was heard from the defence witnesses including Ros O'Sullivan, Mike Ritchie, Keith Borer, Sile Maguire and Seán O'Domhnaill.
Generally the evidence given during this phase of the trial could be described as alibi evidence, refuting the evidence of the prosecution witnesses. The cross examination of each of the alibi witnesses was without exception concentrated on matters that were not in the evidence of the witness or on matters that were entirely irrelevant.
There was one notable exception to this and that was the evidence of Keith Borer, who is a chartered chemist and forensic science expert. The main thrust of his evidence was that the technologies of the FARC and IRA were entirely different and that the FARC technology was generally superior. The evidence was that there is no indication that any IRA methods have been employed by the FARC.
A team of international observers made up of human rights lawyers, politicians and human rights defenders from Europe, the United States and Australia have travelled to each stage of the trial. Each time they go they do detailed reports of the proceedings. The international team will travel with Bring Them Home coordinator Caitriona Ruane on Saturday 14 June for the next stage of the trial, which resumes on Monday, 16 June.
Caitríona Ruane said: "At the last hearing in April, the defence presented three videos (dated 7 February, 21 February and 22 February 2001) taken in Dublin and Belfast, with Jim Monaghan in each one. These videos categorically show that the witness Edwin Geovanny Rodriguez perjured himself on the stand. Mr Rodriguez said that he saw the three men training the FARC from 5 to 25 February 2001. Serious questions need to be asked here of the Colombian State - is the Colombian Prosecution 'schooling' witnesses to give false alibi evidence who are in military custody in return for reduction of sentence or freedom from prosecution? All the evidence indicates that they are. Meanwhile, three Irishmen remain in one of the most dangerous jails in Latin America."
Natalie Kabasakalian, a practising human rights lawyer in the US - who served as the Amnesty International (USA) country specialist for Ireland and Britain from 1999-2002 - has travelled on two occasions to observe the trial and will be returning next week to Colombia.
In her report following her last visit as an international observer, Kabasakalian wrote:
"Not only has the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof in establishing the charges against the defendants, but the untruth of every material fact and conclusion attested to by prosecution witnesses has been definitely established by credible defence evidence.
"Forensic testimony offered by an expert of international standing impugns the reliability and credibility of the sole piece of evidence purporting to link the defendants with illicit explosives. The same expert testified that the mortars used by the IRA differ from those used by the FARC in every design and functional detail, including size, contouring, mobility, length and accuracy of of trajectory and detonation mechanisms.
"The credible testimony presented by defence witnesses establishes conclusively that prosecution witnesses lied, and that the prosecutor suborned the perjurious testimony and knowingly submitted unreliable documents into evidence."
"The prosecutor and the in-court representative of the Procuraduria (solicitor general's office) both receive instructions from superiors during trial, and clearly act as members of a team; the Procuraduria does not even maintain a pretense of independence.
"While the pre-trial detention of the accused appears never to have been justified, the continuing deprivation of their liberty, in light of the protrated length of the proceedings and the total refutation of all substantive allegations, is now a cause for heightened concern."
She concluded: "Even if the veneer of this trial's legitimacy had not been torn off during the last phase of testimony, the defendants may be entitled to release from custody based on the sheer length of this process. However, now that the utter absence of incriminating evidence has been confirmed in open court, this observer concludes that the continued deprivation of the defendants' liberty constitutes a serious violation of their fundamental rights."
Steven McCabe, President of the Brehon Law Society and a practising lawyer in the US, said in his report:
"Based upon the uncontroverted testimony set forth above, it is quite clear to this observer that the three accused were not in Colombia during the times they were alleged to have been. If not present, they could not possibly have conducted the acts they are accused of. The evidence is persuasive, clear and convincing."
"Whether the standard of proof is full absolute certainty or beyond a reasonable doubt, the case against them should fall. A verdict of guilty on the charges of training in illegal activities would be totally without foundation and a miscarriage of just in any civilised modern system of jurisprudence. The verdict would clearly be suspect on the grounds of being politically motivated and would not withstand even the most superficial judicial scrutinisation."
In his report following the last session of the trial, Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe noted the outside influences that may yet affect the outcome of this highly politicised trial: "The high profile nature of this trial and the escalation of the conflict in Colombia must be putting Judge Acosta under extreme pressure at this stage of proceedings. The regular and almost daily references to guilt of the three accused by senior politicians, military and the local and international media has continued unabated. This insidious pressure has to be acknowledged in any objective report.
"Former Colombian Attorney General Alfonso Gomez recently said: 'This type of pressure cannot be quantified but more worrying it may have a significant effect on the outcome of this trial'."
Evidence presented to rebut the Prosecution's case
1. Edwin Geovanny Rodriquez
A 25-year-old Colombian, currently in jail in Villa Vicencio, Rodriquez gave evidence in February 2003 and claimed that he was outside the door of the room where he claims Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan were training the FARC from 5 to 25 February 2001.
The Defence provided the court with three original DVD tapes and NSTC (American) VHS copies of videos
Video No. 1 February 7, 2001 - Coiste na nÍarchimí offices in Dublin
Jim Monaghan introduced the speakers, Becky Garcia, whose son was killed by the FARC, and Mary Kelly. More than ten people were present at the talk. Jim Monaghan thanked the speakers on tape and was visibly present throughout the entire discussion. This videotape was played in court by the Judge in April.
The Defence has provided authenticated sworn Affidavits from people in the video and the person who filmed the discussion.
Defence will present to the court on June 16
- A copy of the Irish Times of 7 February 2001 which has an article on Colombia and was mentioned by Jim Monaghan on the tape.
- An authenticated transcript of the Irish Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, mentioned on the Tape by the speakers, which took place one month prior to 7 February 2001.
Video No. 2, February 21, 2001 - Coiste na nÍarchimí Offices in Dublin
Sean Kinsella, an ex-prisoner from England, gave a presentation to a group of people about his experiences in English jails. Jim Monaghan was visibly present throughout the discussion. This videotape was played by the Judge in court in April.
The Defence has provided authenticated sworn affidavits from people in the video and the person who filmed the discussion.
Video No. 3, February 22, 2001 - Coiste na nÍarchimí Offices in Belfast
Catherine Murphy was commissioned by Coiste to carry out a series of training sessions on presentation skills. At the end of the training, each of the participants had to make a five-minute presentation on camera on peace and reconciliation in front of the other participants and Catherine Murphy.
Jim Monaghan appeared on the video making his presentation. After his presentation, there was a discussion. Robert Russell referred to an article written by Irish News Columnist Brian Feeney and talked about its content. When RTE contacted Brian Feeney to enquire about the content of his article on the date mentioned in the video, it was verified and RTE showed clips of the video with an interview with Catherine Murphy.
The Defence has presented the court with sworn authenticated affidavits from Catherine Murphy, Michelle Devlin (the person who filmed the video) and all the participants in the video. Invoices and receipts paid to Catherine Murphy were presented to the court. These invoices were verified and stamped by the Belfast European Partnership Board, part of the European Peace and Reconcilation Funds.
The Defence brought Catherine Murphy and Michelle Devlin out to Colombia in April and on two occasions requested that the Judge call both these witnesses to give evidence. Both these requests were denied by Judge Acosta.
The Defence will be providing the court with a copy of the Irish News with Brian Feeney's article.
2. John Alexander Caviedes
Currently in a witness protection programme, the Prosecution is claiming that he is a civilian witness, though in court in Medellin he admitted that he was living in a military barracks prior to giving evidence and that he met with Colombian Military Intelligence officer Captain Pulido (who arrested the three Irishmen). Caviedes claims that he saw the men training the FARC in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. He gave evidence on three different occasions and each time it was riddled with inconsistencies.
The Defence provided three alibi witnesses to refute the allegations given by Caviedes.
a) Sile Maguire - First secretary in the Embassy of Ireland in Mexico. The 26-County government waived Ms Maguire's diplomatic immunity to allow her give evidence. Ms Maguire verified that she and Irish parliamentarians Jim O'Keeffe, Madeleine Taylor Quinn and Ben Briscoe had dinner with Niall Connolly on 17 January 2001. She also verified that she spoke to Niall Connolly in Cuba four weeks prior to 17 January 2001.
b) Sean Ó Domhnaill provided credible alibi testimony placing Martin McCauley in Ireland for the period beginning February 1999 to early June 2001.
c) Ros O'Sullivan, an aid worker with Concern Worldwide, gave evidence that he spent Christmas 2000 (from December 23 until 5 January 2001) with Niall Connolly.
The Defence has provided the court with work records for Jim Monaghan for these periods.
The Defence will present further authenticated affidavits from employers, colleagues and alibi witnesses to the court.