The defence team for the three Irish citizens accused of training the FARC, will begin to present their case in Bogotá on the 7th April. Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly have been detained in various Colombian prisons since their arrest in August 2001. The defence team will present independent forensic evidence and sworn affidavits that testify to the whereabouts of the three men during the time they are alleged to have been training FARC rebels in the former demilitarised zone. Jim O’Keefe, a member of the Irish parliament and Sile Maguire, the first secretary of the Irish embassy in Mexico will both testify that they attended a dinner in Havana at which Niall Connolly was present on a date on which prosecution witnesses have testified that he was involved in bomb making classes in Colombia. The defence team will also present a video shown by RTE news in Ireland, that clearly shows Jim Monaghan attending a lecture in Belfast, on a specific day when the prosecution allege he was training the FARC in Colombia.
Since 4th October 2002, when the trial started (the court has only sat sporadically) the prosecution has presented its three star witnesses. The first, the soldier who arrested the three men after an anonymous telephone tip off, testified that the accused admitted to travelling on false documents. The two main witnesses, both alleged deserters from the FARC, have presented confused and contradictory evidence. Edwin Giovanni Rodriguez gave evidence in February after refusing to attend the court as programmed in December. The witness, clearly terrified, and claiming that his wife and child had been kidnapped days before, gave a rambling and often contradictory testimony as to the activities of the three accused. Under cross examination, he claimed that as he is illiterate he is unable to remember much, and that his state of stress was responsible for the differences in and inconsistencies of his evidence.
Jhon Rodriguez Caviedes, now in a witness protection scheme and receiving money from the Colombian army, gave evidence for the third time in a closed court session in Medellin, after the witness protection system claimed that they could not afford the ticket to Bogotá. His new evidence as to when he joined the FARC, when the defendants came to Colombia, and what was taught in the bomb making classes, differed significantly from his previous statement, which in turn differed significantly from his first.
Despite the strength of the defence case, and the flimsiness of that of the Colombian state, worries remain as to the overtly political nature of the trial, and the defendants’ right to the presumption of innocence. Following the men’s arrest, the then President Andres Pastrana made prejudicial remarks about the men’s guilt, as did Fernando Tapias, head of the Colombian armed forces. Most recently current President Alvaro Uribe is quoted in Newsweek, following the bomb in El Nogal, as saying “we have in jail some IRA members who came to help the FARC”. Furthermore, the allegations that traces of explosives and drugs had been found on the men’s clothing, so widely reported in the media at the time of the arrest, were not mentioned in any court testimony, after it turned out that the US Embassy who apparently conducted the tests and reported the allegations, did not actually have any equipment capable of carrying out such tests.