I was invited to a premiere of the movie The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford, and its subject matter resonated much with the policy of democratic security implemented by former President Uribe in Colombia.
(The Conspirator tells the story of Mary Surratt, whose son was involved with the famed actor John Wilkes Booth who assasinated President Abraham Lincoln in a box seat at Ford’s Theatre. Mary Surratt ran a boarding house where Booth and company met to plan the attack. The lengths to which the government went to ensure Mary’s conviction were shocking: patently partial judges at the military tribunal, flagrant jury tampering, and ultimately a presidential directive.)
The question the movie attempts to answer—can there be law in times of war?—is what Colombia appears to have been battling for much of its history. Before the 1991 Constitution, a person considered guilty by the authorities could be legally held for ten days and ten nights of questioning (which included much verbal and physical “intimidation,” or torture) before due process formally started, a judicial legacy from “the Law of the Horses” of 1899.
In more recent times, during President Uribe’s terms in office, the state intelligence agency, the DAS, spent months, or perhaps even years, spying on Supreme Court judges, prosecutors, human rights defenders, opposition politicians, and journalists. This included surveyance by DAS members in disguise, wiretaps, recorded phone conversations, documented personal finances, smear campaigns to tie one to narcoterrorist organizations with the intention of putting one on trial, and compiling files about day-to-day routines of wives and children, reported in such detail that it reminded one observer of files kept by hired killers.
President Uribe was applauded for the security results achieved during his presidency, but as history begins judging, the outcome may seem less important than the process or the legacy of that process. Without the rule of law, no one is safe. No one.
President Uribe’s Democratic Security Policy. Report by International Crisis Group