US Immunity in Colombia Scrutinized ; Colombia's Congress Will Hold Hearings about Revising a Treaty That Shields US Troops from Prosecution

By Rachel Van Dongen Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2005 | Go to article overview

US Immunity in Colombia Scrutinized ; Colombia's Congress Will Hold Hearings about Revising a Treaty That Shields US Troops from Prosecution


Rachel Van Dongen Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The Colombian inspector general is demanding that Congress review a diplomatic treaty with the United States that shields US soldiers operating on Colombian soil from local prosecution for misdeeds committed here.

In a May 20 letter to President Alvaro Uribe, Inspector General Edgardo Maya argued that the 1974 diplomatic agreement that protects US soldiers from Colombian justice is invalid because it violates the Constitution.

In the past three months, seven American soldiers have been arrested in two separate incidents involving arms smuggling and drug trafficking. At the start of May, Army Warrant Officer Allan Tanquary and Sgt. Jesus Hernandez were arrested near the Tolemaida military base with nearly 40,000 rounds of ammunition that were allegedly intended for right-wing paramilitaries. At the end of March, five US soldiers were detained for allegedly smuggling 35 tons of cocaine from the Apiay base to El Paso, Texas. Two have been released, while the others are in the US awaiting trial in military courts.

In line with its resistance to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the US says immunity from local prosecution is key in places like Colombia because politically motivated claims could be made against its troops, who are put into dangerous combat zones that other countries often shun.

US Ambassador William Wood insists that the wayward US troops will be punished harshly, if found guilty, in US military courts. "Immunity does not mean impunity," Wood said last month.

A handful of Colombian legislators have invited Mr. Wood to testify before Congress, though they can't compel him to appear. The lawmakers decry what they see as a double standard. While a record 200 Colombians have been extradited to the US under Mr. Uribe, Americans who commit crimes here are believed to get preferential treatment.

"The minimum that we want is for them to inform us about how the investigations are going in the United States," says Sen. Jimmy Chamorro. "Obviously, we believe that the treaty should be revised, but the political reality is that it's not going to be revised. That would be disastrous for [Uribe's] democratic security strategy."

Indeed, Colombia, and specifically Uribe, with his hard-charging military offensive against leftist guerrillas who have been waging war for 40 years, are heavily dependent on US military aid. …

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