Department of Justice Seal

Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
AUC Indictment Press Conference
September 24, 2002

Good afternoon.

   Today the Department of Justice is unsealing an indictment charging leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, with trafficking over 17 tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe since 1997. The AUC is a Colombian paramilitary group listed on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization List.

   The indictment charges AUC leader Carlos Castaño-Gil and two other AUC members with five counts of drug trafficking. Also named in the indictment are AUC military commander Salvatore Mancuso and AUC member Juan Carlos Sierra-Ramirez. The United States has requested the extradition of all three of these defendants from the Republic of Colombia, one of our closest international law enforcement partners. They face sentences up to life imprisonment if convicted of all charges.

   On September 16, the Washington Post reported Carlos Castaño as saying he would, quote, "go and face the U.S. justice system" if he were indicted by the United States. Today, we call upon Carlos Castaño to stand by his statement and surrender to United States authorities.

   The indictment of these high-ranking AUC members marks, once again, the convergence of two of the top priorities of the Department of Justice: the prevention of terrorism, and the reduction of illegal drug use.

   These charges follow the indictment in March of several members of the FARC, a Colombian guerilla group also listed on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization List. Today's indictment charges AUC leaders, not as the anti-FARC freedom fighters they claim to be, but as criminals - violent drug traffickers who poison our citizens and threaten our national security.

   According to the indictment, Carlos Castaño directed cocaine production and distribution activities in AUC-controlled regions of Colombia, including protecting coca processing laboratories, setting quality and price controls for cocaine, and arranging for and protecting cocaine shipments both within and outside of Colombia. Castaño and his co-defendants used violence, force and intimidation to maintain this authority over cocaine trafficking activities. For example, the indictment alleges that Castaño resorted to kidnaping and threats, and that Salvatore Mancuso caused the brutal murder of another Colombian drug trafficker as retribution for failing to pay a drug debt.

   I want to thank DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, Michael Chertoff, head of the criminal division of the Justice Department, and John Varrone, Assistant Commissioner for Investigations with the U.S. Customs Service. All of them are here with me today, and I thank them for their outstanding leadership. Today's indictment is the culmination of a 2-year-long investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, working in cooperation with the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department of Justice.

   I want to acknowledge the United States Customs Service and the United States Coast Guard for their collaboration.

   I also want to thank our many foreign law enforcement partners, including the Carabiñeros de Chile, the Guardia Civil in Spain, the Judicial Police of Portugal, the Netherlands Coast Guard and other agencies in Martinique.

   The cooperation of Colombian authorities, in particular, has been invaluable in our efforts to bring drug traffickers to justice. Since 1997, there have been more than 50 extraditions of Colombian nationals to the United States. I would especially like to thank the officers of the Colombian National Police for their tireless efforts in this investigation. The CNP's daily support to our agents and prosecutors was critical to our success in this case and others that target the drug traffickers who menace our hemisphere. Let me also take a moment to recognize the leadership and commitment of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to proceed vigorously against drug traffickers and terrorists wherever they are found.

   The men named in the indictment are accused of selling one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs: cocaine. Cocaine, including its derivative form crack, remains the most frequently mentioned drug in 14 of the 20 cities in the Drug Abuse Warning Network. In addition, cocaine accounted for 50 percent of all drug-related episodes in emergency rooms between 1999 and 2000.

   Today, we see more clearly than ever the interdependence between the terrorists that threaten American lives and the illegal drugs that threaten American potential. As today's indictment reminds us, the lawlessness that breeds terrorism is also a fertile ground for the drug trafficking that supports terrorism. To surrender to either of these threats is to surrender to both.

   The Department of Justice is committed to victory over drug abuse and terrorism, and the protection of the freedom and human dignity that both drug abuse and terrorism seek to destroy.

   Thank you.