For five-and-a-half years, until this past July, I was held hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). During my captivity I suffered starvation, sickness, imposed isolation, and long, arduous, physically painful marches through the jungles of Colombia. I was chained to another hostage by the neck and threatened daily. One of the commanders of the group that held me was Alexander Farfan, a soft-spoken, thoughtful-looking man who was the only jungle-walking guerilla soldier I had ever seen who wore glasses. Together with my fellow hostages Keith Stansell and Tom Howes, we gave him the nickname "Gafas" or glasses. But in spite of our nickname or his intellectual mien, I saw in this man the worst of humanity.
It was his mission to prevent me from going home, his duty to massacre me in the event of a rescue attempt. Gafas was a terrorist as perverse as he was cruel. He took pleasure in mocking his captives, boasting how he would never be taken alive. "I will fight to the death! I will never surrender" was his constant refrain.
On July 2, 2008, fate would require him to prove those words when the Colombian Army performed one of the finest rescues in modern military history. The mission was code named operation "Check Mate," and it was carried out with a textbook precision that you would only expect in a Hollywood blockbuster. Fifteen hostages saved, two terrorists seized (both Gafas and his boss, alias Cesar), and not a shot fired. After realizing he was caught, Cesar desperately struggled against the Colombian soldiers until he was rendered unconscious. Meanwhile Gafas, the man who would fight to the death, uttered barely a whimper as the chains encircled his wrists.
Earlier this month, the Colombian Supreme Court denied a request by the United States to extradite Gafas for our kidnapping. The court issued a statement explaining they denied his extradition "because the crimes for which he is wanted were committed in national territory." Similarly, though the extradition request for Cesar was approved, it was approved for drug trafficking not for our abduction.
How is it that a terrorist who was caught red handed committing crimes against Americans is not going to be extradited to the US to face American justice?
Colombian President Uribe has extradited over 800 criminals to the US, more than any other president in the history of Colombia. In his time as president he has worked forcefully and skillfully with the United States to put criminals in their place and see that justice is served. But despite Uribe's diligent efforts, the situation with Gafas and Cesar demonstrates the fraught and difficult questions that need to be answered as America confronts terrorism in its own backyard. In Colombia and in other locations around the world, the War on Terror is unavoidably tied to the War on Drugs. Both are important and crucial to keeping America safe, but making drugs the only grounds for extradition sets a dangerous precedent and risks undermining our country's ability to combat terrorism.
Extradition is a deterrent and when used correctly it can be a powerful tool for preventing terrorism. Pablo Escobar, the legendary Colombian drug lord, put it best when he said he'd prefer a tomb in Colombia to a jail cell in the United States. Mono Jojoy, a key leader of the FARC, has publicly declared the same. I know that Gafas will be judged in Colombia for Colombian crimes, but that is just a piece of due process. He must be brought to the United States to account for his crimes against America as well. This is the only way that we can work to ensure that what happened to us will never happen again. As a Christian, I forgive Gafas; but as a citizen of the world, I want justice.