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Thursday, June 07, 2007
Key days loom for three American hostages

Simon Trinidad, aka Ricardo Palmera, is on trial this week in Washington, D.C., for kidnapping.

When I first heard this story I was simply blown away by one fact: Three government contractors, employees of Northrop Grumman, have been held for years in narco-terrorist guerilla camps somewhere in Colombia and America isn't up in arms and screaming about it.

It isn't on the evening news every night. There aren't yellow ribbons on every street corner. These guys are pretty much rotting away somewhere out there and they are not household names. For the record, their names are Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves.

It just seemed to me that if these guys had gone down in a plane in Iraq near an insurgent training base, or whatever, and got kidnapped you would never hear the end of it. Our producer Steve Turnham thought this was a very important story. He spearheaded our coverage and he came back with some extremely strong elements.

The private contractors were in Colombia as part of the U.S. government's drug eradication program. In 2003, they were flying low over rebel-held territory on an anti-drug surveillance mission when their plane crashed. The first thing they knew, they were surrounded by gunmen. And not just any gunmen. They were in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), basically the largest armed rebel force in the Western Hemisphere, according to the US

The last four years have been frustrating for the families of the hostages and the company they work for, because the U.S. government prohibits negotiating with terrorists. Since FARC has been designated a terrorist group, there is little room for the U.S. government to get involved in active attempts to negotiate a release.

As it turns out, this is a story whose time may have come. A top FARC leader, Simon Trinidad, whose real name is Ricardo Palmera, is on trial this week in Washington, D.C., charged with kidnapping the Americans for his role in trying to bargain them away. Also, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has just released a bunch of FARC prisoners in hopes of securing the Americans' release. And Uribe just happens to be making the rounds in Washington today to meet with top leaders of the U.S. government.

The families are more hopeful than they've been in years. At the same time, they are trying not to get their hopes too high, given how long FARC has held Howes, Stansell and Gonsalves.

-- By Joe Johns, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 5:52 PM ET
  9 Comments
Let's hope the families get some results. Perhaps our media and ourselves are to blame for stories being brushed under the rug so often.
Let's face it, we've become desensitized to violence on some level. That's something that should never have happened. But it did. What does it take to shock us anymore, make us really care about another human being? I wonder. Perhaps, if the media resisted Paris, not the city, updates there would be more air time to wake us up and make us look into our mirrors and see if could do more..much more. Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 6:32 PM ET
I can't even begin to imagine the nightmare of fear and frustration the families of these men must be going through. I hope their nightmare soon comes to a peaceful end.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 7:13 PM ET
Joe/AC360:
Private contractors as part of US government drug eradication program? It doesn't sound like these American hostages were businessmen on a friendly tour in South America when captured. Certainly these men knew the risks facing them in the job they were doing for our government.

Nevertheless, it is a shame that the families of these individuals have to go through a frustrating four years while facing a US bureaucracy under the statement of "we don't negotiate with terrorists."

How many other "contractors" are in the hands of terrorists? How many other covert operations are disguised under the name of American businesses?
Posted By Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 7:46 PM ET
I had never heard this story before. Its unbelievable that this situation has gone on so long and received so little attention. I feel for their families and hope for a safe and happy outcome for these men and their families and that it is soon. Thank you for covering it.
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 10:11 PM ET
This really makes me question our government. I understand that our policy is to not negotiate with terrorist but we have to have to show loyalty to these men who essentially put their lives in harms way for a U.S. government funded program. As you mentioned, Mr. Johns, if these men had gone down in Iraq we would do everything in the power of the U.S. military to get our troops back, but we do nothing to help Howes, Stansell, and Gonsalves or their families. These men have sacrificed four years of their lives for this drug eradication program; four years is to long for anyone to not see their loved one! We have to ensure that this story is not forgot and our government has to do whatever possible to ensure the safe return of these three men.
Posted By Jessica, Bourbonnais Illinois : 10:32 PM ET
I find it interesting that you are suprised about this terrible tragedy not playing out on the news every night. You work for CNN, which I have designated Celebrity "News" Network because you people are too busy covering nonsense to devote any time to real news. Perhaps if your network, and others like it, were doing its job, then this situation would have been put to rest years ago. Instead, it has been relegated to non-issue status, being covered in one-hour news magazines when their ratings need a boost.
Maybe CNN can make up for all this Paris coverage by bringing some much needed attention to the desperate plight of these men and their families, and not letting go until something is done.
CNN has a responsibility to its audience, and needs to realize that we care more about stories like these than we do about celebrities. I feel sometimes like I am watching Entertainment Tonight rather than a real news network.
Posted By Anne Gray, Charlotte NC : 3:43 PM ET
I feel so sad for those who have lost their life over the war in Iraq and other places. Not knowing where the soldier are after they got kidnapped and trying to spreading our troops for more risk (the risk of find kidnapped troops is just like finding a needle in the ocean) why don't we have a better oftion to protect our troops? for example a "Tracking Device" or also called "Chips" to be install in our troops incase of emergency.
Posted By Long, Powell, Ohio : 8:53 PM ET
I agree with everything Anne Gray
had to say. If you CNN think your audience wants to hear about this celebrity and that celebrity over and over and over, think again. Take a vote, start a CNN 24/7 only on celebrities news channel for the
smaller percentage of your audience
that want it. I'm sure it will take
off like a missile made by a U.S.
government contractor, you'll have
flocks of new viewers who want the fantasy news.
AS for us, the majority of your loyal audience, we want real news,
we want coverage of importance, we
want updates, we want to be in and kept in the know. LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, WE WANT INFO ON 3 AMERICAN,
PRIVATE CONTRACTORS WORKING FOR THE U.S. GOVERNMENT, EMPLOYEES OF NORTHROP GRUMMAN [a private defense contracting company], THOMAS HOWES,
KIETH STANSELL AND MARC GONSALVES WHO WERE KIDNAPPED IN COLUMBIA
[AS WELL AS ALL AMERICANS AND OTHER
VICTIMS OF KIDNAPPINGS AROUND THE WORLD] TO BE ON/IN THE NEWS MORE FREQUENTLY, A LOT MORE FREQUENTLY.
THESE MEN [SOMEONES HUSBAND,FATHER,
SON,BROTHER,UNCLE,LOVE,WHATEVER] WERE KIDNAPPED APPROXIMATELY 4 YEARS AGO,4 YEARS AND YOU CNN TELL
US ABOUT IT 3 EVENINGS AGO! SURELY
YOU HAD TO HEAR SOMETHING ABOUT IT
AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, YET YOU CHOSE TO EXCLUDE IT! WHY? AT TIMES
THE MEDIA WOULD PUT SOMEONE OR SOMETHING IN JEOPARDY JUST TO GET THE STORY OUT FIRST, THE LIVES OF THESE MEN ARE IN JEOPARDY AND YET
NOTHING IS MENTIONED OVER A 4 YEAR
PERIOD. YOU RECENTLY TOLD US - ONLY BECAUSE OF THE RELATED ISSUES THAT WERE GOING ON IN D.C. LATE LAST WEEK. I'M NOT SURPRISED AT ALL
ABOUT THE FACT OUR GOVERNMENT HAS
DONE NOTHING ABOUT THIS SITUATION,
[MAYBE THEY MADE A FEW PHONE CALLS]
THEY HAVE BEEN DOING NOTHING ABOUT
A LOT OF SITUATIONS FOR DECADES,BUT
I'M SOMEWHAT SURPRISED THAT CNN HAD
DONE NOTHING UNTIL NOW. SHAME ON
OUR GOVERNMENT AND CNN. DON'T LET ANYONE KID YOU THOUGH CNN VIEWERS, THERE ARE NUMEROUS THINGS GOING ON THAT OUR GOVERNMENT DOESN'T WANT US TO KNOW.
ANDERSON, YOUR ALWAYS ON TOP OF
THINGS. ALWAYS HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE, WE LIKE IT. WHERE WERE YOU 4 YEARS AGO? DON'T LET ANYTHING GET BY YOU.
THERE ARE A FEW MORE IMPORTANT NEWS WORTHY INFO WE WOULD LIKE TO HEAR ABOUT MORE OFTEN, LIKE THE GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN IRAQ AND
AFGHANISTAN AS WELL AS OTHER PLACES. OUR TROOPS DOING THINGS THAT BOOST THEIR MORALE. SMILES ON THE LITTLE FACES OF CHILDREN. WHAT
PROGRESS IS BEING MADE,DONE AND WHATS NEXT? WHAT AND HOW MUCH IS BEING DONE FOR OUR RETURNING TROOPS,THE INJURED & THE DISABLED?
WHAT GOOD IS BEING DONE HERE IN OUR OWN COUNTRY? ARE OUR CITIZENS,
OUR HUNGRY, OUR DISASTER VICTIMS,
OUR HOMELESS, OUR UNINSURED, OUR
ELDERLY, ARE THEY BEING TAKEN CARE OF ANY BETTER THEN IN THE PAST?
MY HEART AND PRAYERS GO OUT TO ALL THE KIDNAPPED VICTIMS, OUR TROOPS,
ALL THE OTHER TROOPS HELPING AND TO
THE ENTIRE FAMILIES OF EACH AND EVERYONE OF THESE HUMAN BEINGS. MAY THEY ALL BE SAFE AND ALL COME HOME SOON.
IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO KEEP
MY COMMENTS FROM BRANCHING OUT.
Posted By Nonnie, Clemmons, N.C orginally from N.J : 1:17 AM ET
In a previous ministry position, I was privileged to meet periodically with the grandmother of the ex-wife of one of the three American hostages. She would always pray for him, for her granddaughter and their children, as well as the other two men and their families. And always there was no more news to tell, no new ray of hope, and, she understood, no chance of intervention or negotiation. What her ex-grandson-in-law and the two others doing in Columbia was not at issue for her; he was a good man whose children were at home living in the abyss of unknowing. It is good, at last, to see his name in print. It is the beginning of an answer to the prayers of at least one faithful old woman.
Posted By Brian Grantz, Slidell LA : 9:27 AM ET
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