In an ongoing trial against Santiago Uribe, a suspected commander of the Colombian death squad known as the “12 Apostles” his defense lawyer is seeking to discredit a key witness on the grounds that he suffers from schizophrenia.
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The witness, Eunicio Alfonso Pineda Lujan, was a laborer at El Buen Suceso farm, on the cattle ranch “La Carolina,” where he allegedly worked directly with Santiago Uribe and witnessed atrocities firsthand.
Since 2013, the defense has sought to discredit Pineda Lujan over claims that his mental health conditions disconnect him from reality.
However, expert witnesses with Colombian National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences referred to in short as Legal Medicine Institute, had delivered testimonies in 2015 asserting that their examination had concluded that although Eunicio Pineda Luján showed a state of critical mental health, his ability to testify was "preserved."
The argument pivots on whether Pineda Lujan’s symptoms, which include hallucinations, depression, suicidal ideations, and unmotivated crying are connected to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or schizophrenia.
"It is evident that the experts commit a serious error when inventing a diagnostic category not contemplated in the DSM 5 or the ICD 10, such as: 'post-traumatic stress disorder with psychotic symptoms,'" Uribe’s defense lawyer, Jaime Granados said in the objection.
The condition, PTSD, is in fact in the ICD 10, and the DSM 5 manuals, which are used to diagnose mental illnesses and conditions and are both internationally recognized.
The ICD 10 is the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a medical classification list by the World Health Organization. The DSM 5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.
"The definition of post-traumatic stress is that you witness or experience a hair-raising situation, that is, you witnessed a violent crime, a massacre or the object of a rape. In these cases, people may have psychotic symptoms such as thoughts of persecution and hallucinations. They are not exclusive of schizophrenia," president of the Colombian Association of Psychiatry, Henry Garcia told El Espectador.
The defense for Uribe called in Dr. Mora Izquierdo, former Director of Legal Medicine, to provide his analysis. Mora said there wasn’t enough scientific basis to support the PTSD claim despite evidence, including an MRI which showed brain lesions.
Brain lesions can have multiple causes and the most likely in this case is traumatic brain injury suffered from torture.
The lesions can cause hallucinations and other symptoms that the witness has been suffering for years. Colombia’s Legal Medicine says these symptoms are the product of torture perpetrated by the paramilitary leader who removed Pineda Lujan’s teeth with pliers and attempted to assassinate him by shooting him in the back.
The ‘12 Apostles’ have been charged with threatening and harassing civilians, mass murder, and cooperation with the state’s armed forces. Human rights groups recorded at least 500 victims related to the groups’ “social cleansing” campaigns, in which they executed anyone they believed were criminals or guerrilla sympathizers.
Santiago, the brother of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, has been under investigations for at least 20 years.