BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia's Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out the conviction of an outspoken army colonel who had been found guilty of forcibly "disappearing" several people taken alive during a 1985 army raid on the high court after it was seized by guerrillas.
On a 5-3 vote, justices ruled there wasn't sufficient evidence that now retired Col. Alfonso Plazas was responsible for the disappearance of two people — a rebel and a cafeteria worker — who were escorted alive from the building during the 48-hour standoff and never seen again.
President Juan Manuel Santos this year apologized for the deadly siege in compliance with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that condemned the government for the disappearance of 12 people. Authorities recently located in a government warehouse and a potter's cemetery in Bogota the remains of three people who were shown on video being escorted alive from the court building.
Plazas, who has been held the past eight years in a military barracks, has always maintained his innocence and stuck by his controversial declaration at the time of the assault that he was defending democracy.
"With this ruling, the Colombian justice system is redeeming itself," Plazas told Caracol TV upon learning of the decision. "I want my children to know that their father fought for Colombia."
Even in a country long accustomed to political violence, the attack on the court by the now-defunct M-19 rebel movement and the government's heavy-handed response stand out as one of the bloodiest and most tragic events.
Only one other military officer, the general who oversaw the operation, has been convicted in the case. As a result of the Inter-American Court's ruling, Colombia's chief prosecutor recently opened an investigation of 14 military officials who took part in the operation.