US military suspects not charged in Colombia rape case

A US soldier and military contractor who were taken out of Colombia after their arrest was warranted for the rape of a 12-year old girl in 2007, do not face criminal charges back home, Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald reported Thursday.

Suspects Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz, both deployed in Colombia as part of Plan Colombia, enjoyed diplomatic immunity and were flown out of the country when Colombian prosecutors warranted the Americans’ arrest.

According to the newspaper, an investigation by the Colombian Prosecutor General’s office concluded that the girl was sexually assaulted but did not go as far as identifying the suspects, according to the girl’s attorney, Jorge Gómez. Based on witness testimony and other evidence, the prosecutors did then issue an arrest warrant for the two men.

According to the U.S. the case is closed, because there is not enough evidence to prosecute the two suspected rapists.

However, Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office said it never received a request to interrogate the victim or her mother.

“There is no request in our files from U.S. officials to conduct interviews or interrogations regarding the girl’s rape,” a Prosecutor General spokesman told the Miami paper last week.

Jorge Gomez, the victim’s attorney, said he was never contacted by U.S. investigators either.

“You feel impotent when you face the unfairness and the selective way of administering justice in cases like these,” Maria Cristina Torres Gonzalez of the prosecution in Melgar, where the Americans were stationed, told El Nuevo Herald.

Torres Gonzalez’ office had done the initial investigation of the rape, in which it concluded the rape had taken place and the two Americans were suspected of committing it.

According to a U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command spokesman, investigators did return to Colombia to investigate the case. They re-established the now 14-year old girl was raped, but ruled the two Americans out as suspects.

Melgar residents confirm U.S. investigators came to the town, but only to inquire about the life of Olga Lucia Castillo, the victim’s mother. Castillo said she was interrogated by an armed U.S. Army investigator in Bogota.

“He seemed more interested in having me sign a release exonerating [Coen and Ruiz] for chasing me after I filed the rape complaint than learning what happened with my daughter,” Castillo told El Nuevo Herald.

The immunity of U.S. military contractors and soldiers became the center of controversy again after the U.S. and Colombia announced a renewed military cooperation, again granting diplomatic immunity to U.S. soldiers.

According to Colombia’s Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez, U.S. crimes will not remain in impunity and military contractors this time do not have immunity and that the U.S. takes charge in any investigations of criminal behavior by its citizens.

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