[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/17/art.redcross.jpg caption="A side by side comparison of the footage during the rescue and the official Red Cross logo show the similarities."]
We met our source thinking he was going to try and sell us some video filmed inside a Colombian guerrilla camp.
For a price, we thought we could get a scoop showing 15 hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American military contractors, in the week prior to their rescue.
A Colombian military intelligence team had plucked the captives from under FARC guerrilla noses in an ingenious operation on July 2. News of the rescue and the harrowing experiences of the hostages, some of whom had been held for more than 10 years, was still big international news.
But the material was not as advertised. Instead of documenting the final days of the hostages, it documented the final days of the military's preparation for the rescue mission.
But the video did turn out to be valuable - because it put an end questions over whether the Colombian military used the Red Cross symbol to fool the rebels.
The government and Colombia’s top generals had said all along that their ruse to deceive the guerrillas into handing over their hostages involved intelligence officers posing as bogus aid workers. But they categorically denied real humanitarian emblems had been used.
But in photos our source was now showing us, one of the intelligence officers had in fact used a bib bearing the Red Cross emblem and logo of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
So what you ask? Hadn’t the mission been a rip-roaring success? Weren’t 15 long-suffering hostages now back home with their loved ones?
Well according to international legal experts CNN consulted it was against the international rules of war – known as the Geneva Conventions – for a military operation to misuse the Red Cross emblem in this way. In fact, the head of the International Bar Association, suggested might be a war crime under the conventions.
You see all is not fair in war. There are rules and regulations about how you can and can’t kill and maim in combat. A lot of the rules are aimed at protecting lives, especially civilians.
In this particular case, the logic was that if warring sides disguise themselves as Red Cross workers then not only could bona fide Red Cross workers run the risk of being targeted by the combatants but they may also be unable to tend to the civilian victims of war.
Now to cut a long blog short – the Colombian media ran with the CNN story too and around midday Wednesday President Alvaro Uribe did an about face.
He stepped up to the plate and acknowledged one of the intelligence officers on the rescue raid had been wearing an ICRC bib – just as CNN had seen on the photos.
Damage limitation or a frank admission and apology? Well, maybe just another detail of a covert operation where we’ll likely never know the full story.
But it got me thinking on another track. As this was going on in Colombia two blood enemies in the Middle East were swapping prisoners and dead fighters.
That’s why Colombia’s guerrillas started taking hostages and prisoners in the first place - to try and force the government into an exchange deal. But in over a decade, the Colombian government has not been willing to engage in swaps like the one Israel and Hezbollah did Wednesday.
With 15 Colombian and American hostages now home free, some will say the ends justifies the means, no matter what the Geneva Conventions say.
But it seems obvious to me that you don’t need to worry about the rules if you're not engaged in the deadly game of war.
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