The New York Times
July 05, 2008
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The captives emerged from a coca field looking confused, despondent even, as the rebels tied plastic handcuffs on their wrists before putting them on a helicopter in a video released here on Friday of the rescue this week of 15 hostages in the Colombian jungle.
The video shows an American hostage, Keith Stansell, a military contractor, as he boarded it.
Seeking to respond to some assertions about the rescue mission that have sprung up internationally since the hostages were freed, Colombian military officials also offered more details on the operation.
A report circulating on the Internet that apparently originated with a Swiss public radio report said Colombia paid $20 million in ransom before dressing up the operation as a ruse.
Colombia maintains that government agents tricked guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, into giving up their hostages.
At a news conference here with dozens of journalists, the government also defended the rescue as a Colombian effort after reports that American and Israeli advisers had taken part.
“Not a single foreigner participated,” Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said. But he acknowledged that the American military had provided a surveillance plane to monitor the operation, as well as tracking technology placed on the helicopter used to spirit the hostages away that could emit distress signals.
He also said Israel had helped Colombia reorganize its intelligence services in the past.
While Colombia receives more than $600 million a year in security and antinarcotics aid from the United States, any perception of a more in-depth American role in the rescue would be likely to inflame emotions in neighboring countries like Venezuela, where political supporters of President Hugo Chávez openly support the FARC.
Mr. Santos added that the Colombian intelligence agents sent into the jungle, who numbered more than a dozen and included at least one woman, fooled the guerrillas into believing that they were part of a polyglot humanitarian mission intended to transfer the captives elsewhere in the country at the request of a senior FARC commander.
The rescuers included an agent pretending to be Italian, another supposed to be from the Middle East and a third who performed his role as an Australian so convincingly, according to Mr. Santos, that he invoked the spirit of Crocodile Dundee.
Even the video itself was part of the ruse, shot by two agents pretending to be television journalists. The Colombians’ three-minute video captured some of the despair, trickery and euphoria involved in the operation.
In some images, for instance, Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician captured by the FARC in 2002, gazes despondently at the ground before being guided aboard the helicopter. Another portion shows Raimundo Malagón, a mustachioed soldier held for a decade by the FARC, pleading to tell his story to the journalists.
The journalists even tried to interview César, the guerrilla charged with guarding the captives, but he declined to talk. César smiled at the cameras, seemingly shy about appearing on film while more than a dozen comrades stood nearby grasping assault rifles.
Choppy and blurry in parts, the video also shows Keith Stansell, one of three American military contractors freed in the operation, while a rebel was handcuffing him. “I love my family,” Mr. Stansell said into the camera, smiling widely. “Pray a lot.”
The rough video lacks audio in parts and seems to have been edited, though Colombian officials attributed a gap to the camera operator lunging at the two guerrillas aboard the helicopter as agents subdued them.
The video ends with images of elation among the captives, who embrace one another aboard the helicopter.
Jenny Carolina González contributed reporting.