Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reporter seeks to unseal Drummond Coal documents

By Mike Linn
Montgomery Advertiser

An Alabama journalist wants a federal appeals panel to unseal documents in the case against a Birmingham coal company accused in the killings of union leaders at its operations in Colombia.

Stephen Flanagan Jackson, a professor of journalism at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, said he would ask the panel to unseal "mountains" of documents Thursday at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Montgomery.

"Just on the principals, we should be able to monitor this case -- as members of the press and the public," said Jackson, associate editor of

"What I'm trying to do is make all this behind the scenes maneuvering that reaches from Washington D.C. to Alabama to Colombia, available to the public and the media," he said. "It's an important case."

A March 2002 civil case filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham alleges that "agents or employees" of Drummond Company, a Birmingham coal company doing business in Colombia, killed three union representatives in 2001, allegations the company denies in court papers.

A woman who answered the phone at the Drummond Company's public relations department in Birmingham said the company had no comment.

Jackson said he appealed a federal judge's ruling to seal the documents.

Jackson said one of the documents, which he says he has, reveals sworn testimony of a Colombian who saw a former high-ranking Drummond official pay hitmen $200,000 "to kill trade union leaders" at Drummond's coal mines in La Loma, Colombia. The Miami Herald reported on the sworn affidavit in May before a judge ordered it sealed.

Drummond Company has mined coal since 1935, according to its Web site. Drummond produces coal from Shoal Creek in the Warrior Coal Basin, which stretches across Jefferson, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties in Alabama.

Drummond Ltd. produces steam coal in La Loma in northern Colombia, according to the Web site.

I am very happy to see this happening. Colombia has the highest rate of murdered union workers and labor organizers in the world. In 2003 I believe 97 were murdered inside Colombia. These include labor organizers and union workers trying to organize in Drummond Coal and Coca-Cola to name a few of the US companies, who at the very least are complicit in these murders and in the worst case scenario may have been actively involved by hiring para-military groups to carry out the murders.

I traveled to Colombia in the summer of 2004 to study the effects of aerial fumigation on peasant subsistence farmers and the environment. It was a life changing experience. If you have never read it you can do so HERE.

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