Colombia: US troops accused in sexual assault of girl, 12

Local Colombian officials have accused two US soldiers, Michael J. Cohen and César Ruiz, of sexually assaulting a 12 year-old girl on Aug. 25. The soldiers are stationed at the Tolemaida Airbase near Melgar, Tolima, as part of Plan Colombia. According to witness statements collected by local authorities and published in El Tiempo [Oct. 8], at 4 AM, the soldiers entered the base with a young girl they had met at the “Ibiza” nightclub in Melgar earlier that evening. The girl claims that Ruiz assaulted her in the car on the way to the base and later lent his apartment to Cohen, who reportedly raped her. The pair later left the girl in the central park in Melgar in front of several witnesses.

The case was reported to the authorities on 8 September 2007. According to Paula Rueda, a psychologist from the Comisaría de Familia in Melgar, “there was, without a doubt, sexual intercourse.”

Although the investigation is still underway, Cohen, using the diplomatic immunity granted him under Plan Colombia, has fled the country. The Colombia Support Network, an US-based Colombia solidarity organization, claims that Cohen’s flight was facilitated by the US government, an action which “appears to put US military personnel above the law [and] must be rescinded.”

While sexual assault of someone under the age of 14 carries a jail sentence of up to 30 years in prison, Colombian authorities are hesitant to seek Cohen’s extradition due to the special provisions provided US personnel under Plan Colombia and a 1974 bi-lateral agreement. Ruiz, however, remains stationed in Colombia.

This is not the first instance of US Plan Colombia personnel behaving badly in Colombia: In May 2005, 5 US soldiers were arrested for attempting to send 16 kilograms of cocaine in a military plane to the United States from the Apiay base in Villavicencio. [BBC, April 7, 2005] That same month, a US sergeant and military technician were captured in the outskirts of Melgar with 32,900 rounds of ammunition, apparently bound for illegal armed groups. In 2004, pornography appeared on the black market in Melgar featuring local youths and US military personnel from the Tolemaida base. [BBC, May 5, 2005]

Micheál Ó Tuathail for Upside Down World, Oct. 9

See our last posts on Colombia, and the scandals of Tolemaida.

  1. what you KNOW about Colombia
    So, without any verification of any facts, you repeat what others have reported. Great investigative journalism on your part. Ohh, and it fits with your mindset. Military = bad. Did you report on the COMFORT visit? Do you even know what it was?? probably not.

    1. Go argue with Amnesty International, willya?
      OK, here’s your Comfort visit—an obvious play to win “hearts and minds” for a genocidal counter-insurgency war. Um, excuse me, but does this ring any bells? From the Southern Command, Aug. 22:

      Comfort arrives in Colombia, continues Mission

      By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelly E. Barnes, USNS Comfort Public Affairs

      BAHIA MALAGA, Colombia (NNS) — After seeing thousands of patients in seven of 12 countries, hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived in Colombia, Aug. 22, to continue its four-month humanitarian assistance deployment.

      While in Colombia, U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, U.S. Public Health Service, Canadian Forces and the non-governmental organizations Project Hope and Operation Smile will work in coordination with national and local Colombian officials to provide health care services at various locations, including Buenaventura Hospital, Bahia de Malaga, Comunidad La Sierpe and Buenaventura Coliseum.

      “We’re eager to work with the Colombian doctors and medical staff,” said Capt. Bruce Boynton, commanding officer of Comfort’s medical treatment facility. “We expect to learn a lot from each other.”

      Comfort will remain in Colombia for nearly a week conducting services including adult and pediatric primary care, dental care, optometry and other services.

      In addition to medical services the Comfort team will offer, the embarked Naval Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202’s community projects in Colombia will include replacing hospital operating rooms and pediatric ward tiles, repairing steam lines, replacing toilets, repairing and replacing lighting fixtures and switches, and developing maintenance programs for pumps and boiler systems. The Seabees will also build a medical clinic at Le Sierpe.

      “We’re really looking forward to working with the proud people of Colombia,” said Capt. Bob Kapcio, Comfort’s mission commander. “Improving the health and living conditions of as many people as we can see during our time here is good for Colombia, is good for Latin America and is good for all Americans. That is what the Partnership for the Americas is all about.”

      Comfort is on a 120-day humanitarian assistance deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean providing medical assistance to patients in more than a dozen countries.