[Ppnews] Colombian Rebel Convicted of Conspiracy
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jul 9 18:00:20 EDT 2007
Colombian Rebel Convicted of Conspiracy
By MATT APUZZO
The Associated Press
Monday, July 9, 2007; 3:51 PM
WASHINGTON -- Colombian rebel leader Ricardo Palmera was convicted
Monday of helping hold three Americans hostage for years in jungle
prison camps. He is the only person ever found responsible for their capture.
Palmera, who is better known by his nom de guerre, Simon Trinidad, is
the most senior commander ever captured from Latin America's largest
rebel group. He was extradited to the United States in 2004 and
charged with hostage and terrorism charges.
Palmera is a senior member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC. The force of about 12,000 fighters has battled the
Colombian government for four decades and the U.S. government
considers it a terrorist organization and a drug cartel.
While jurors found Palmera guilty of conspiracy to commit
hostage-taking, they were split over whether to convict him of
supporting terrorism. A federal judge sent them back to keep
deliberating that charge and three counts of actual hostage-taking.
The three Americans _ Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell
_ were civilian Pentagon contractors flying a surveillance mission
over the Colombian jungle when their plane crashed in 2003 in a rebel
stronghold. They were taken hostage and were most recently seen in late April.
Palmera denied ever seeing the three men but acknowledged serving as
a negotiator to try to force a prisoner swap. He stood expressionless
as the jury foreman read the verdict.
Neither Palmera's attorney nor the Justice Department commented on
the conviction because the jury continued to deliberate the other counts.
The jury is split over whether Palmera actually held the three men
hostage and whether that was in support of a terrorist organization.
Though prosecutors repeatedly referred to the FARC rebels as
terrorists, Palmera described the organization as a legitimate
military organization and compared the dispute to the U.S. Civil War.
Gonsalves' mother, Jo Rosano, said she worried that the conviction
would make it harder to win the hostages' release. She supports
negotiating with the rebels for a prisoner exchange, something the
government has refused.
"Most countries hate America. This will only make it worse," she said.
Palmera's first trial ended in November with a hung jury. The Justice
Department immediately brought the charges again. He faces up to 30
years in prison and is awaiting trial on drug charges once this case
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