Human Rights Watch and several journalists said on Wednesday that the Colombian military is trying to find out who “told the truth” to the New York Times about a new military instruction that could seriously endanger civilians.
Caracol Radio journalist Gustavo Gomez revealed that military commanders had been ordered to go to the 2nd Division headquarters under various pretexts, only to be interrogated about who among them had spoken to the American newspaper, New York Times
“The hunt for those who made denunciations has begun,” said Gomez on Twitter.
Back to war: Colombia’s military reports 33% increase in combat kills, 52% increase in captured combatants
Lie detector tests?
Newspaper El Espectador said that Gomez’ claim was confirmed by “highly credible sources,” who were asked to “confess” which commanders had talked to the New York Times and were even subjected to a lie detector test.
The Americas Director of Human Rights Watch has subsequently asked Defense Minister Guillermo Botero whether it is true that 15 commanders had been summoned and stressed that the situation “would be serious if there were to be retaliations for officials who tell the truth.”
Multiple military officers told the American newspaper and Colombian media that the instruction to double combat kills and captures, lower the threshold required to engage in combat (i.e. make it easier to resort to combat), and offer incentives to soldiers who report combat kills creates conditions that could lead to the soldiers murdering civilians in order to obtain benefits.
Military denies claims, journalist sticks to statement
In a press release, that army denied any meeting meant to “identify sources” of the New York Times, and said the commanders were summoned to discuss “the rolling out of military operations” and “Operation Artemisa,” an offensive to combat environmental crimes.
Gomez responded that he had received images of the meetings and that no officials involved in this military operation were present at the meeting.
The reports on the army’s controversial instructions that would put civilians’ lives at risk dropped a proverbial bomb on the military.
Prominent members of the Democratic Center, the far-right party of President Ivan Duque, retaliated by accusing the New York Times’ bureau chief of having received money from the FARC, which spurred the journalist and his photographer to leave the country amid concerns about their safety.
Military headaches turning into constant migraines
The military is already in unprecedented legal trouble because of war crimes tribunal investigations into the mass killing of civilians that took place when Duque’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, was in office between 2002 and 2010.
The defense minister is additionally under fire after trying to cover up the murder of a member of demobilized guerrilla group FARC – now a political party.
Army Chief Nicacio Martinez is linked to the murder of 23 civilians, including a 13-year-old girl who was presented as a guerrilla killed in combat.
At the same time, both the defense ministry and the military are under immense pressure amid ongoing failures to assume territorial control over territories that were abandoned by the FARC after their demobilization in 2017 and are trying to combat the highest cocaine production in the history of drug trafficking.
To make matters worse, multiple commanders accused of war crimes are being monitored by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and could end up in prison if they are found complicit in crimes against humanity committed after the peace deal was signed in 2016.