I must say that this book is an impressive account, Monaghan delivers a precise and well written book covering the full story of the groups travails in the Columbian prison system. His account is devoid of cliché and is very human in the way that he observes the behaviour of his captors, and fellow prisoners. He observes perhaps surprisingly that there were good and bad characters to be found amongst all the various prisoners they encountered, not all of their FARC/ELN comrades are portrayed as heroes nor are all the right-wing paramilitaries they had to share their imprisonment with cast, as villains. Though in reference to the latter it is made clear by Jim Monaghan, that given the right circumstances and direct orders, then these guys would have had very few qualms about cutting the three Irishmen's throats. It is evident too that it was in no small part their collective discipline and good humour that got the men through their ordeal, and of course in this context the support and contact they received from friends and comrades both abroad and in Columbia itself were crucial to maintaining their morale. There are lighter moments, too, in this fascinating account, as James Monaghan struggles with his lack of Spanish and tries to avoid the attentions of a homicidal fellow inmate, while Martin McCauley bargains all around him for cigarettes and matches. Although found not guilty on the charges of training FARC rebels, and released, an appeal by the prosecution saw them sentenced in December 2004 to 17 years in jail. Meanwhile, however, they had gone into hiding, and by August 2005 they had made their way back to Ireland.
Another impressive aspect of this book is the care which with the author takes in explaining the byzantine complexities of the Columbian political situation, its peace process and its progress or lack of progress, was clearly integral to their own fate. The deep understanding of the political situation in Columbia displayed by the author certainly added a depth to the account which was enlightening. The direct and blatant involvement of the USA in the political and judicial process in Columbia was even to this reader a total surprise. I had of course fully understood that the USA would be influential in the background, but the extent of its overt power in this and other central American states astonished me. This was perhaps most amply illustrated when, the initial forensic tests, which proved utterly flawed, were actually undertaken on the men and their possessions by an operative from the US embassy in Bogota. What other country in the world would have its embassy staff so directly involved in the investigative functions of another state?
The account is also greatly enhanced by Monaghan's own line drawings of various people and places they encountered throughout their time in Columbia. Its a good read and a story that needed telling, and I am delighted that Jim was in a position to create this account for posterity. It is clear that on a number of occasions these men could easily have been 'disappeared' as so many others have in the Columbian conflict. The high profile that their case attracted, and the subsequent attention of Irish people and other progressives throughout the world,was in all likelihood the crucial factor in ensuring that they lived to tell the tale.
Columbia Jail Journal is available in most good book shops, further details are to be found on the Brandon Books webpage http://www.brandonbooks.com/book_info.php/cPath//products_id/185/authors_id/134?PHPSESSID=9b91705a3d0cee3e7491ff8adfbb5a3f