Moral Low Ground


Report: US Troops, Contractors Sexually Abused Dozens of Colombian Girls

Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates takes a tour of Tolemaida Air Base during a trip to Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 3, 2007. (Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison)

Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates takes a tour of Tolemaida Air Base during a trip to Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 3, 2007. (Defense Dept. photo by USAF Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison)

A recently-released report states US troops and private contractors sexually abused dozens of Colombian children with impunity between 2003 and 2007.

The 800-page independent report was commissioned by the Colombian government, a staunch US ally, and the FARC rebel group which it has been battling for half a century. The two sides are currently negotiating an end to hostilities, which have claimed more than 200,000 lives.

The United States has long backed the Colombian government in its fight against FARC and other leftist rebels, as well as in the ‘war on drugs.’ Under ‘Plan Colombia,’ Washington has provided billions of dollars in aid to Colombia’s armed forces since 1998, despite grievous human rights abuses committed by recipients in the nation’s armed forces and allied paramilitaries.

American troops and contractors stationed and working in Colombia have also been accused of committing serious human rights violations, including sex crimes against minors.

“There exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials,” the report states, accusing the US of “sexual imperialism.” It mentions the sexual abuse of 53 underage girls by American contractors in Melgar “who moreover filmed [the abuse] and sold the films as pornographic material” at locations including the US air base at Tolemaida. It also confirmed a 2007 El Tiempo report of a 12-year-old girl who was allegedly drugged and raped by US Army Sgt. Michael J. Coen and Cesar Ruiz, a former US military officer working as a private contractor in Melgar.

Local prosecutors established that the child had been drugged and raped inside Tolemaida by the two Americans, but could not arrest the men because of a status of forces agreement (SOFA) granting US personnel immunity from prosecution. Both suspects were allowed to leave Colombia.

Also fleeing were many of the victims of American sexual abuse, whose families had received death threats. The mother of the 12-year-old rape victim was attacked after she reported the crime. The victim is now a 20-year-old woman who is afraid to go outside and who has attempted to kill herself three times.

“Sometimes it’s better to die than to live fleeing,” the victim’s mother, Olga Lucia Castillo, told El Tiempo. “But I can not die until I find justice for my daughter.”

El Tiempo reports 23 complaints filed against US officials in 2006, and another 13 in 2007, all of which were dismissed, leaving local prosecutors powerless to go after the alleged perpetrators of child rape and other sex crimes in which Americans were accused of abusing Colombian minors.

In 2009, the US Embassy in Bogotá hinted at the possibility of reopening an apparently closed criminal case against Coen and Ruiz, but no US court has indicted the men since then.

H/T Colombia Reports

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  1. LTMarch 29, 2015 at 8:39 amReply

    According to a comment on purporting to be the author, she wishes people will investigate the incident. It might be helpful to find the original report.

    The statement in the review on the Melgar girls is on page 49. Its citation is in bold italic brackets Documento 16, or [DOC. 16], but there is no legend for this. It seems there should be 21 documents attached in an appendix. Can anyone find the reference?

    • Brett WilkinsMarch 29, 2015 at 12:00 pmReplyAuthor

      I am writing to the study’s authors seeking clarification on [DOC. 16]. There was a documentary about US troops and contractors sexually abusing children and selling footage at Tolemaida. It was called “Porno Mariners,” narrated by Adriana Villamarín and broadcast on Univisión’s “Primer Impacto” in October 2004. I am trying to find a link to that as well.

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