As we learn more about the Colombian military’s daring hostage rescue last week, one detail stands out: In tricking FARC rebels into putting the hostages aboard a helicopter, undercover special forces simply told the comandantes that the aircraft was being loaned to them by a fictitious nongovernmental organization sympathetic to their cause called the International Humanitarian Mission. It may have taken years for army intelligence to infiltrate the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and it may have been tough to convincingly impersonate rebels. But what seems to have been a walk in the park was getting the FARC to believe that an NGO was providing resources to help it in the dirty work of ferrying captives to a new location.
I am reminded of President Álvaro Uribe’s 2003 statement that some “human rights” organizations in his country were fronts for terrorists. Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd got his back up over Mr. Uribe’s statement, and piously lectured the Colombian president about “the importance of democratic values.” But as the helicopter story suggests, Mr. Uribe seems to have been right. How else to explain the fact that the FARC swallowed the line without batting an eye?
This warrants attention because it adds to the already robust evidence that left-wing NGOs and other so-called human rights defenders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, are nothing more than propagandists for terrorists. When passions over kidnap victim Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages were running high, these actors pressed Mr. Uribe to grant FARC demands. Now it is clear that the pressure was geared more toward strengthening the rebels’ hand than freeing the captives. Left-wing NGOs have made undermining the Colombian government’s credibility a priority for many years. A 2003 internal report from the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá titled “A Closer Look at Human Rights Statistics” confirmed as much. It found that NGO analyses – for example by the Jesuit-founded Center for Popular Research and Education known as Cinep – of the human-rights environment contained a heavy bias against the government while granting a wide berth to guerrillas. Since the late 1990s, the NGO practice of dragging the military into court on allegations of human rights violations has destroyed the careers of some of the country’s finest officers, even though most of these men were found innocent after years of proceedings. “Judicial warfare” turned out to be especially effective because under legislation pushed by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, “credible” charges against officers put at risk U.S. military aid unless the accused was removed. The NGOs knew that they only had to point fingers to get rid of an effective leader and demoralize the ranks. Given this history, it’s not surprising that the FARC thought a helicopter from an NGO was perfectly natural. As to Mr. Chávez, documents captured during a Colombian raid of a guerrilla camp in Ecuador show that, in his role as “mediator” in hostage negotiations since last year, he was advising the rebels as to how to best use their hostages as leverage to advance their revolution. Last fall, Mr. Chávez and the FARC hatched an audacious plan whereby the Venezuelan would take “proof of life” of Ms. Betancourt to French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, where the plight of Ms. Betancourt was a cause célèbre. The rebels wrote that Mr. Chávez was sure French pressure for negotiations would cause President Bush to “order Uribe to allow the meeting” between Mr. Chávez and the rebels on Colombian soil, something Mr. Uribe had refused to do. The rebels reported that Mr. Chávez was “super-motivated,” because he viewed the rendezvous as a public-relations coup that would give him and the FARC “continental and world renown.
That plan flopped, but Mr. Chavez had other cards up his sleeve. One involved Ms. Cordoba, who is currently under investigation by the Colombian attorney general for ties to the FARC. She figures prominently in the captured rebel documents, and is notoriously close to Mr. Chávez.She met at the Venezuelan presidential palace with FARC leaders last fall. From that meeting the rebels reported that “Piedad says that Chávez has Uribe going crazy. He doesn’t know what to do. That Nancy Pelosi helps and is ready to help in the swap [hostages in exchange for captured guerrillas]. That she has designated [U.S. Congressman Jim] McGovern for this.” If the speaker of the House was working with Ms. Cordoba in this scheme, her judgment was more than a little misguided. The rebels write that on a trip to Argentina Ms. Cordoba told them, “It doesn’t matter to me the proposal that Sarkozy has made to free Ingrid. Above all, do not liberate Ingrid.” In short, why give up such a useful pawn?