A lieutenant colonel of Colombia’s National Army has been sentenced to 58 years in prison for the murder of five civilians who were fraudulently presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
Lieutenant colonel Beismarck Salamanca was the commander of the Urban Counter Terrorist Special Forces (AFEUR) unit, an elite unit created to carry our counter-terrorism and hostage rescue operations.
However, instead of going after alleged terrorists, Salamanca’s unit executed innocent civilians in separate operations in 2004 and 2005, dressed their victims’ bodies in guerrilla outfits and presented the homicides as combat kills.
According to a Medellin court, the lieutenant colonel’s unit executed at least four civilians between 2004 and 2005. Other alleged homicides carried out by the unit are still before the judge.
What Salamanca and his unit did during at least three operations was lure victims to remote areas outside the city of Caldas, Antioquia, where the civilians were executed, dressed up and reported as guerrillas killed in combat.
Two of the victims were never identified.
This practice to inflate the military’s success in Colombia is euphemistically called “false positives.” The gruesome practice became widespread during the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe (2002 – 2010) and cost the lives of more than 4,500 civilians.
The executions were most prevalent in the years current President Juan Manuel Santos was serving as minister of defense.
The practice got so out of hand that by 2007, more than 40% of the 2,700 combat kills reported that year were in fact executed civilians.
Salamanca is one of the few commanders to have been sentenced for false positives.
Colombia’s prosecution official has said it is investigating more than 5,000 members of the military, including 22 generals, for the civilian killings, but has so far mainly sentenced lower-ranked officials.