[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

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 
is complete.

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