Catriona Ruane, born and raised in Mayo, has coordinated what has become known as the Bring Them Home Campaign along with her sister Therese, shortly after Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley were arrested in Colombia.
Such as it exists in Colombia, the campaign is a well-oiled machine.
For example, at the recent hearings at the Special Criminal Court in Bogota, all four of the defense’s witnesses spoke English and not Spanish. As if by magic, biographies of the witnesses started to appear in the hands of journalists, in Spanish on one side for the local journalists, and in English on the other for British and Irish journalists, supplied by the Bring Them Home Campaign.
Local journalists commented on the efficiency of the campaign.
“These guys shame the prosecution,” said one reporter, laugheing, and then added the seemingly stock explanation for the apparent vexations and vagaries Of Colombia. “This,” he said, “is Colombia.”
At the Hotel Intercontinental Tequendama, where the delegation of Irish, American and Australian legal observers stayed with Ruane and other members of the Bring Them Home Campaign, Ruane’s room resembled a political campaign office — computer equipment, printers, telephones, cell phones, allowing Ruane and her colleagues the ability to provide a deft running commentary against the trial, almost a simultaneous translation.
The bare facts of this case are well-known: Connolly, Monaghan and McCauley were arrested on Aug. 11, 2001, allegedly using faked British travel documents to leave Colombia from Bogota International Airport. They were arrested for this and also charged with assisting FARC terrorists.
Whatever connections the three men may or may not have had to the IRA, or what they were doing in the narco-terrorists FARC-held territory (it is clear at least by Gerry Adams’s admission that Niall Connelly was Sinn Fein’s representative to Cuba) have now been well and truly muddied.
Certainly little convincing evidence has appeared at the trial. Prosecution statements placing the three men in FARC territory.
British Intelligence certainly makes a strong circumstantial case for a sudden increase in the FARC’s arsenal, some months before the Irish three were arrested.
But, say members of Sinn Fein and the Bring Them Home Campaign, who would believe them given their track record in Northern Ireland?
Thus the Bring Them Home Campaign centers itself on an unassailable principle: that it is a fundamental right to be granted a fair trial under the assumption of innocent until proven guilty.
Under the Colombian system of justice, there is no jury in court. The judge assumes the rule of juror as well, and weighs evidence in his or her own mind.
Prosecution witnesses testified with seriously contradictory evidence, which was all accepted blithely into the court record by Prosecutor Carlos Sanchez.
These flaws coupled with a series of sweeping prejudicial statements by senior politicians has laid a clear foundation on which the Bring Them Home Campaign has made their case: regardless of the three’s culpability or otherwise, the trial is such a disgrace that it cannot achieve justice. The three should be released and sent home.
Political pressures on the judge, the prosecution and the defense make the trial difficult to predict, however. It is possible that the three may be acquitted, having served roughly the balance of the term for their fake document violations and quietly kicked out of the country. Or they may be convicted on the flimsiest of evidence and given severe sentences of as much as 20 years.
It is clear that in spite of organizing well, the Bring Them Home Campaign is far from bringing the three home.