Sunday, April 11, 2010

A little biographical note about Eric Holder

Eric Holder...honest now, did you ever hear of him before he was nominated to be Attorney General of the United States? I knew nothing of him whatsoever.

For your consideration: two articles via Cryptogon—

First, a story from this week:

Courthouse News:
Hostages Say Chiquita Funded Death Squads
(CN) - Three U.S. citizens were held hostage by a Colombian death squad for 5 years, and one was murdered, while Chiquita Brands International gave the terrorists weapons and millions of dollars in "protection payments," the former hostages and their families claim in Tampa Federal Court.
Former hostages of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) say Chiquita owes them treble damages under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, because the New Jersey-based company paid FARC up to $200,000 a year for 10 years.
In a March 2007 plea agreement, Chiquita admitted it had paid $25 million and funded the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) - a right-wing, anti-labor death squad - and other terrorist groups, according to the eight plaintiffs' 82-page complaint.
The FARC and the AUC fought for control of land and lucrative cocaine crops for years, through open war, death squads and terror.
A February 2009 report from the Special Litigation Committee of the Chiquita board of directors found that the company began paying FARC "protection money" in the late 1980s.
In 2003 the FARC shot down a plane carrying Keith Stansell, Marc Gosalves, Thomas Howes and Thomas Janis, who were conducting a civilian counternarcotics surveillance mission for their employer, Northrup Grumman.
The plane's five passengers all survived the crash, but FARC members shot to death the U.S. citizen pilot, Janis, and the Colombian host-nation rider, Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz, within minutes of taking the group hostage, according to the complaint.
Stansell, Gosalves, Howes and Janis' wife and four children demand damages from Chiquita for its giving money, arms and ammunition to FARC - "a foreign terrorist organization that has killed, maimed, injured, kidnapped and held hostage thousands of civilians, including many U.S. citizens," according to the complaint.
The three hostages say they were held captive for 1,967 days, until they were rescued on July 2, 2008.
The FARC publicly took credit for the kidnapping and promised to release the Americans and 250 high-level Colombian citizens in exchange for certain political concessions, territory in a demilitarized zone for FARC's base of operations, and the release of hundreds of FARC combatants apprehended by the Colombian authorities, according to the complaint.
"FARC supports its operations through kidnappings, extortion, drug trafficking and 'war taxes' it collects from residents, businesses and landowners," according to the complaint.
Chiquita made its first "guerrilla payment" of $10,000 to Chiquita in 1989 - when the banana giant opened its Banadex export subsidiary in Colombia - and ultimately paid $100,000 to $200,000 a year through 1999, according to the complaint.
"Over time, the payments were fixed to a percentage of Banadex's gross revenues, with as much as 10 percent being diverted to FARC," the complaint states.
The former hostages say Chiquita knew about FARC's practice of murdering and kidnapping Americans. At least 23 Americans were taken hostage between 1993 and 1997. But Chiquita benefited from its relationship with terrorists and spent years covering it up, according to the complaint.
"During the period relevant to this action, FARC held significant influence over, controlled, or was fighting other terrorist organizations for control of labor unions in Colombia's banana-growing regions," the complaint states.
The former hostages say Chiquita worked with FARC-controlled labor unions, such as Sintrabanano, and helped FARC subvert many local labor unions.
By helping FARC wrest control of local labor unions, Chiquita carved out "a competitive advantage over other banana growers facing less accommodating unions," according to the complaint. Chiquita also allegedly benefited from FARC's harassment of competitors in the region.
"Defendants knew that FARC engaged in acts of terrorism against U.S. interests in Colombia and knew the danger that providing material support to FARC would pose to the safety of other individuals and entities working within Colombia, but defendant ignored these risks in order to further their own narrow business interests in growing and exporting bananas in Colombia," according to the complaint.
The former hostages and Janis' family seek treble damages from Chiquita. They are represented by Newton Porter with Porter & Korvick of Miami.
Now, one from a year and a half ago:

Huffington Post:

Lawyer for Chiquita in Colombia Death Squad Case May be Next U.S. Attorney General

In its recent report entitled, "Breaking the Grip? Obstacles to Justice for Paramilitary Mafias in Colombia," Human Rights Watch (HRW) had specific recommendations for the U.S. Department of Justice. Specifically, HRW recommended that, in order to assist with the process of ending the ties between the Colombian government and paramilitary death squads, the U.S. Department of Justice should, among other things, "[c]reate meaningful legal incentives for paramilitary leaders [a number of whom have already been extradited to the U.S.] to fully disclose information about atrocities and name all Colombian or foreign officials, business or individuals who may have facilitated their criminal activities," and "[c]ollaborate actively with the efforts of Colombian justice officials who are investigating paramilitary networks in Colombia by sharing relevant information possible and granting them access to paramilitary leaders in U.S. custody."

Do not expect these recommendations to be carried forward if Eric Holder decides to forgo his lucrative corporate law practice at Covington & Burling and accept the U.S. Attorney General position for which many believe he is the top contendor. Eric Holder would have a troubling conflict of interest in carrying out this work in light of his current work as defense lawyer for Chiquita Brands international in a case in which Colombian plaintiffs seek damages for the murders carried out by the AUC paramilitaries - a designated terrorist organization. Chiquita has already admitted in a criminal case that it paid the AUC around $1.7 million in a 7-year period and that it further provided the AUC with a cache of machine guns as well.

Indeed, Holder himself, using his influence as former deputy attorney general under the Clinton Administration, helped to negotiate Chiquita's sweeheart deal with the Justice Department in the criminal case against Chiquita. Under this deal, no Chiquita official received any jail time. Indeed, the identity of the key officials involved in the assistance to the paramilitaries were kept under seal and confidential. In the end, Chiquita was fined a mere $25 million which it has been allowed to pay over a 5-year period. This is incredible given the havoc wreaked by Chiquita's aid to these Colombian death squards.

According to Mario Iguaran, the Attorney General of Colombia, Chiquita's payments to the AUC paramilitaries led to the murder of 4000 civilians in the banana region of Colombia and furthered the growth of the paramilitaries throughout Colombia and their violent takeover of numerous Colombian regions. Iguaran, in response to the claims of both Chiquita and Eric Holder himself that Chiquita was somehow forced to pay "protection" to the paramilitaries (see, Washington Post and Conde Nast Portfolio), stated unequivocally that "[t]his was not payment of extortion money. It was support for an illegal armed group whose methods included murder." See, Christian Science Monitor, "Chiquita Case Puts Big Firms on Notice."

One former paramilitary leader who is in federal custody in the U.S., Salvatore Mancuso, has stated that he has more knowledge about Chiquita's relationship with the paramilitary death squads in Colombia. Mancuso further claims that Dole and Del Monte also made payments to the paramilitaries, just as Chiquita did. Yet, Dole and Del Monte remain un-indicted. Query whether, as Human Rights Watch recommends, a Justice Department under Holder would be interested in pursuing this and other similar leads. This is a serious matter given the fact that the Justice Department has already come under great scrutiny for turning a blind eye to what appears to be rampant corporate support for terrorist groups in Colombia. See, L.A. Times, "U.S. accused of bending rules on Colombian Terror."

While Eric Holder is also known to be actively involved in laudable charitable activities, it should be of grave concern to those, like myself, who hope for change from the new Obama Administration, that the new Attorney General would be involved in not only defending corporations against serious corruption and human rights charges, but also publicly apologizing for such abuses. That is not the type of Attorney General we need in the wake of the recent economic collapse created by the unfettered greed of such corporate firms.

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