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Opinion and Analysis: International

Open Letter to INTERPOL Regarding Statements on Seized Laptop Documents

Ronald Noble
Secretary General
INTERPOL
200, quai Charles de Gaulle
69006 Lyon
France

SENT BY E-MAIL AND U.S. MAIL ON JUNE 18, 2008

Dear Mr. Noble,

We call on you to retract the following statement, made to the press on May 15, 2008:

“We are absolutely certain that the computer exhibits that our experts examined came from a FARC terrorist camp. No one can ever question whether or not the Colombian government tampered with the seized FARC computers.” (AP, May 15, 2008)

The first sentence appears to lie completely outside the scope of your investigation. In “Interpol’s Forensic Report on FARC Computers and Hardware Seized by Colombia,” there is no indication that Interpol did anything to verify Colombia’s claim regarding the origins of the computer equipment. On page 7, the official report reads, “The scope of INTERPOL’s computer forensic examination was limited to (a) determining the actual data contained in the eight seized FARC computer exhibits, (b) verifying whether the user files had been modified in any way on or after 1 March 2008, and (c) determining whether Colombian law enforcement authorities had handled and examined the eight seized FARC computer exhibits in conformity with internationally recognized principles for handling electronic evidence by law enforcement.”

Since INTERPOL did no investigation as to the origin of these computer exhibits, it would seem inappropriate and wrong for you to state that you are "absolutely certain" as to where they originated. This could give the misleading impression that INTERPOL's investigation had actually verified the Colombian government's claim – which is contested, for example, by the President of Ecuador.

The second sentence is within the scope of the investigation, but it is not clear that the report backs it up. For example, your report states that INTERPOL found "no evidence that user files were created, modified, or deleted on any of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits following their seizure on 1 March 2008 by Colombian authorities."

To find no evidence of something is not the same as saying that it absolutely did not happen, or that "no one can ever question" whether it happened.

In light of the importance of this matter to hemispheric relations, and the importance of INTERPOL maintaining its impartiality in forensic investigations, we ask you to retract the first sentence quoted above, and to clarify and/or retract the second sentence.

Sincerely,

Larry Birns, Council on Hemispheric Affairs - Director
Amy Chazkel, Queens College, City University of New York – Assistant Professor of History
James Early, TransAfrica Forum, and Institute for Policy Studies - Board Member
Sujatha Fernandes, Queens College, City University of New York - Assistant Professor of Sociology
Lesley Gill, American University - Associate Professor in Anthropology
Greg Grandin, New York University - Professor of History; Director of Graduate Studies
Daniel Hellinger, Webster University-Director & Professor, International Relations
Forrest Hylton, New York University - Department of History
Diana Paton, University of Newcastle, UK - Senior Lecturer in Caribbean History
Deborah Poole, Johns Hopkins University - Professor of Anthropology
Gerardo Renique, City College of the City University of New York - Associate Professor of History
Fred Rosen, North American Congress on Latin America - Senior Analyst
T.M Scruggs, University of Iowa - Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology
Sinclair Thomson, New York University- Associate Professor of History
Miguel Tinker Salas, Pomona College- Professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies
Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research - Co-Director
John Womack, Harvard University- Robert Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics