On human wrongs: Yair Klein and the European Court of Human Rights

Yair Klein is a sinister man. A professional killer, expert in the use of brute force, he is the personification of an angry, dangerous bulldog. Born in 1948, Klein joined the Israeli Defense Forces, where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, and fought to defend his homeland in the Six Day War. In 1972, Klein was part of a team that rescued a number of hostages held in a Libyan plane in Tel Aviv’s airport. That action was carried out with such military precision that it took the Israelis just seven seconds to neutralize the hijackers. One year later he fought for Israel again in the Yom Kippur War. After leaving the IDF in 1983, Klein founded his own company of mercenaries, and ever since he has used his contacts in Israel and in the wider world to make juicy profits out of war in faraway nations.

Klein’s business interests led him to Colombia in the mid 1980s, when the country’s bloody war between the state and drug traffickers was starting to escalate. At that time he made contacts with people like Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, the leaders of the Medellin Cartel. Klein provided them with weapons. A couple of weeks ago I was reading a book called “Cocaine Politics” by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, and I found Klein’s name mentioned on pages 76 and 77: “Klein became the center of another scandal involving a large shipment of Israeli arms to the Medellin cartel […] The weapons traveled via the Caribbean island of Antigua.” In 1989, when Escobar’s thugs blew up an Avianca airliner in midflight killing over 110 people, the Colombian authorities also saw Klein’s hand behind the terrorist attack. According to “Cocaine Politics,” at the time, “Colombia’s top drug investigator, Gen. Miguel Maza Marquez, blamed Yair Klein […] : “He is the person who trained these people (the Medellin cartel) in the making of bombings and is responsible for this aggression.”

Besides acting as weapons supplier and bomb maker-in-chief, Klein also trained dozens of the cartels’ paid assassins. He taught them how to shoot with accuracy, how to attack a moving vehicle, how to kill their target in seconds. Klein was instrumental in the creation of the first paramilitary groups that would later merge into the massive Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the far-right terrorist group that had the FARC as its sworn enemy, and that wanted to “refound the homeland” by putting political allies in strategic positions in government. Fidel Castaño, a top paramilitary leader, was one of Klein’s apprentices.

In 1991, an Israeli court sentenced Klein for exporting weapons to Colombia illegally, and he had to pay a fine of about $13,000. Later in the ’90s Klein left for Africa, where he profited from the blood diamond industry in war-torn Liberia and Sierra Leone. In one of his most famous transactions, Klein tried to exchange a military helicopter for access to a diamond mine in Sierra Leone. He ended up spending sixteen months in a Freetown jail, after he was found guilty of aiding the Revolutionary United Front, an actor in the Sierra Leone civil war that was notorious for mutilating the genitals of its victims, especially children.

In 2002, a court in the Colombian city of Manizales sentenced Klein for his training of paramilitary groups. Klein was tried in absentia (he was a fugitive at the time) in order to prevent the legal deadline from expiring, as the crimes had taken place almost twenty years before, the maximum time given by law to bring the case to trial. Klein’s debt to Colombian justice amounts to a little less than eleven years in jail and a fine of $5,500. In 2007, Caracol, a Colombian television network, broadcast an interview with Klein, in which he said that he did not regret his actions in the country. In fact, Klein said his best years were those he spent in Colombia, helping in the fight against the guerrillas. He even added that demobilizing the paramilitary groups was a mistake and that if the Colombian government allowed him to return to the country, he would get rid of the FARC in six months. Throughout the interview, Klein maintained that he first went to Colombia at the request of the national police. After that, the Colombian government used INTERPOL to have Klein captured, and Russian authorities caught him in April of 2007.

The fight that followed was over Klein’s extradition to Colombia. Klein’s lawyers took the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), of which Russia is a member. The ECHR, based in Strasbourg, is Europe’s highest court on human rights issues, and its decisions are binding on all of its member states. As you may know, at the beginning of this month, the ECHR decided that Russia could not extradite Klein. The court’s judgment was that Klein would face “a danger of ill-treatment” if he were extradited to Colombia, given that “the evidence […] demonstrates that problems still persist in Colombia in connection with the ill-treatment of detainees.” Furthermore, the ECHR took a comment by a former vice president of Colombia that Klein should “rot in jail” as an “indication that the person in question runs a serious risk of being subjected to ill-treatment while in detention.” The court went as far as to insinuate that “the practice of torture” is some sort of standard procedure in Colombia’s fight against terrorism. It seems that the Russian authorities will attempt to appeal the decision.

With this ruling, the ECHR has done a disservice to its own name and to the noble cause it claims to defend. Klein is a criminal, and he deserves to pay for the crimes he committed in Colombia and against Colombians. No other country in the world will try him for those heinous acts, and now that a Colombian court is finally trying to administer justice, the ECHR blocks it all. The judges in that European court are either incredibly ignorant or stupidly naïve. They have brought shame upon themselves. But nothing is worse than their arrogance, their act of pure jurisprudential snobbery, claiming that Colombia’s judicial system is unreliable, biased and corrupt. What a typical show of Eurocentrist superiority. Lest we forget, at the time when half of today’s ECHR member states were either ruled by communist or pseudo-fascist dictatorships, Colombia was a liberal, democratic nation, where the rule of law was certainly much stronger than in places like Bulgaria, Hungary, Armenia, Spain and Portugal.

God knows that Colombia’s courts are far from perfect, but after reading the ECHR’s opinion on Klein’s extradition, my conclusion is that European justice is no better. Colombia, the territory in which some of Klein’s terrible crimes were committed, has the right to try him. But the ECHR ended up protecting a murderer, a horrendous mercenary who has spread terror and death in some of the planet’s most vulnerable countries. A sad day for Europe. A sad day for Colombia. A sad day for justice.

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