US trained Colombian soldiers jailed for working with cartel, says human rights group Print
Saturday, 18 August 2007 00:00
BOGOTA, Colombia: Seven Colombian officers accused of working for the country's biggest cocaine cartel were trained by the U.S. military to help Colombia fight leftist rebels and its illegal drugs industry, a human rights group said Friday.

The officers attended courses at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation — formerly called the School of the Americas — at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, said School of the Americas Watch group, a leading critic of the institute.

Six are in jail on charges of conspiring with the Norte del Valle cartel, the largest and most violent cocaine-trafficking organization in Colombia, and another is on the run, the group said.

School of the Americas Watch said in a statement that it matched the names of those in the scandal with its database of attendees at the institute.

Calls to Colombia's Ministry of Defense were not returned and an e-mail to the school's public affairs office was not answered.

The group said Col. Byron Carvajal, who is on trial for allegedly overseeing the killings of 10 investigators and an informant of an anti-drug unit as they were carrying out a raid in 2006, received combat weapons training at the institute in 1985.

Col. Alvaro Quijano who led a special counterinsurgency unit in western Colombia — a cartel stronghold — taught classes on Peacekeeping Operations and Democratic Sustainment at the school from 2003 to 2004. Quijano and other soldiers were arrested Aug. 9 and are accused of helping train the armed wing of the cartel.

The soldiers are also alleged to have provided security for the Norte del Valle cartel's leader and most-wanted drug lord, Diego Montoya, who sits alongside Osama bin Laden on the FBI's 10 most-wanted list. The public prosecutor's office has said they hatched a plan to bust Montoya's brother from jail, where he is awaiting extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges.

The School of Americas, founded in 1946, became known throughout Latin America for teaching students who went on to work in dictatorships across the region, and appearing to advocate torture and extra-judicial executions in their training manuals. It was closed in 2001 and the institute opened shortly afterward in the building, providing many of the same courses.

The institute is the U.S. Defense Department's largest Spanish-language training facility for Latin America's military and law-enforcement officers.

Officers of Colombia's armed forces have long been accused of working with the country's far-right death squads, which continue to kill union members, leftist rebels and suspected collaborators.

Colombia has received around US$5 billion (€3.72 billion) in aid in the past seven years, much of it for Colombia's security forces. U.S. aid to Colombia is under greater scrutiny as the Democrat-controlled Congress criticizes the military's human rights record and failure to stem the cocaine industry.