Last Word: Paul Hill

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
February / March 2003

Paul Hill, who spent 15 years in jail having been falsely convicted of an IRA bombing, is concerned about the fate of three Irishmen arrested in Colombia for allegedly assisting FARC rebels in a guerrilla campaign against the state government . He spoke to Patricia Harty from Colombia in December.

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What are the chances of the three getting a fair trial?

None. As far as I’m concerned, the case is contaminated beyond repair because Pastrana, the former president, said in a statement printed in the Washington Post that he knew that these three Irishmen were training the FARC.

What are conditions in the prison like?

Things are really bad. You should see the place they are in — it’s a hellhole, the most depressing place. I have been in lots of prisons but never one as bad as this. You can just feel the danger. At least 50 prisoners have disappeared and the authorities have no explanation!

How are the men holding up?

Monaghan is not so good. He’s older than the other two and he suffers from asthma. Connolly is probably doing the best. He speaks Spanish so he has been put forward as the communicator.

Why are they in the FARC wing?

They had to put them in with the FARC if they want to keep them alive before the trial. They are surrounded by two thousand right-wing paramilitary prisoners.

Is Amnesty International involved?

Amnesty has condemned the prison and the judicial system — yet they sent not one observer.

Why not?

Because after September 11 and the war against terrorism, everyone is keeping their heads down. Don’t go on the computer because you find yourself on a watch list. Remember McCarthyism?

What’s Bogota like?

Even the very rich drive around in beat-up old cars because of kidnapping. Yet at night you can look outside and see heavy Ford cruisers driving around, and people say, “Don’t talk about that. It’s the death squads.”

What about the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights?

I talked to the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, who appears not to be able to do anything. Ironically, right next door Colin Powell was sitting with right-wing death squads talking about giving them one billion dollars to fight terrorism. How many FARC people are flying cocaine into L.A.? No FARC have been convicted of bringing drugs into America or anywhere else.

What about the fact that the three were traveling on false passports?

They were traveling on false documents because of their previous involvement with Irish republicanism. They make no apology for the fact that they were observing the peace process. Mo Mowlam and Queen Noor from Jordan visited the FARC area, as did numerous groups from Denmark and other places, and they were all interested in conflict resolution. But you can’t just have people observing conflict who have never been in conflict. It’s no use sending someone from Georgetown University whose reading of conflict is as an abstract form. These three people know about conflict in a tangible form — they lived it.

Why do you care?

This is about getting a fair trial. I’m not going to fight for anyone I think carried out an act of violence, because I went to prison for an act of violence, because my wife’s father [Bobby Kennedy] died because of an act of violence.

What do you want for Colombia?

I want for the Colombian people to run their own country, not the military dictatorship that is running it now. There never was an American policy on Colombia. Now we are starting a war on Iraq to oppose what we have been supporting in Latin America for the last 30 years.

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