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

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News Update, 11-18-08:

Obama Taps Eric Holder as Attorney General

Read More at HuffPost's Big News Page on Obama's Cabinet

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Read Dan Kovalik's original post from 11/6/08, below:

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.

News Update, 11-18-08: Obama Taps Eric Holder as Attorney General