Declassified documents by senior U.S. diplomats show that the murdering of civilians to increase body counts is an old practice in the Colombian military and U.S. authorities have known about it since 1990.
The declassified documents were made public by the National Security Archive, a Washington-based independent NGO that publishes declassified US government records.
The documents suggest that in order to secure promotion, mid-ranking and junior military commanders cultivated a ‘body count’ mindset that led them to commit ‘false positives’ and to work along with the paramilitary to increase their ‘body count’.
In a 1990 declassified document, the US embassy in Bogota reports to the State Department in Washington about an investigation by the Inspector General, concerning allegations of the extrajudicial killing by militaries of nine people in El Ramal, Santander, on June 7, 1990. The Colombian Army had reported the dead as guerillas killed in combat. According to the diplomatic report, the criminal investigation and the Inspector General’s administrative investigation strongly suggested that the ‘nine were executed by the army and then dressed in military fatigues’. The document states that according to a military judge who arrived at the scene ‘apparently there were no bullet holes in the military uniforms to match the wounds in the victims’
The report stresses that the extra-judicial killings and the human right abuses were carried out by mid-ranking and junior army officers acting on their own, and not the product of a high level army conspiracy.
In a October 1994 document, the USA embassy in Bogota, again reporting to the State Department, says ‘despite the generals’ lip service to the progressive human rights policies of the Samper administration, a ‘body count’ mentality persists, especially among Colombian Army officers since promotions depend on a good record for aggressive anti-guerilla activity.
A 1997 US government document also made public by the National Security Archives, says that there was a ‘body count syndrome’, which ‘tends to fuel human rights abuses by otherwise well-meaning soldiers trying to get their quota to impress their superiors’. The document also states that this mindset would have helped the military-paramilitary marriage. The paramilitaries who would act as proxies for the militaries who strived to improve their ‘body count’. This document also suggests that there were high-ranking military officers with clean human rights records who would turn a blind eye to abuses by their junior commanders.
In a 2000 report from the US embassy in Bogota to the State Department, Ambassador Curtis Kamman reports the killing of two long-demobilized guerrillas near Medellin. According to the report, both the paramilitaries and the Colombian army claimed responsibility for the killings. The paramilitaries said they have executed the two, while the Colombian Army claimed they were ELN guerrillas killed in combat. The reports say the demobilized guerrillas had been kidnapped by a paramilitary group in front of dozen witnesses in the hamlet of Montebello, Antioquia.
Colombian Army has been embarrassed by ‘false positives’ scandals. The Colombian government has announced that the perpetrators will be punished.
Dozens of army commanders are facing charges of extra-judicial execution with the intention to improve their standing in the ranks.