The triumph—just a week before yesterday's runoff presidential election—was fortuitous for U Party candidate Juan Manuel Santos, who is President Alvaro Uribe's former defense minister. During Mr. Santos's defense-ministry tenure from 2006-2009, the Colombian military scored several decisive victories against the FARC. Those events were crucial for a country that only a decade ago was considered nearly a failed state. And as expected, Mr. Santos defeated Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus in a landslide.
Yet the success of Operation Chameleon, as the army's rescue was dubbed, carries profound significance that goes well beyond election results. It inflicts major damage on the FARC's global propaganda campaign against the Colombian military and provides new revelations about the rebels' ruthlessness. What was learned in this spectacular liberation also reflects badly on leading Democrats in Washington who've been sympathetic to the FARC line.
When the freed men went before television cameras they were still wearing the shackles around their necks that the FARC had used to tie them to trees at night. Those chains are but a symbol of the cruelty the hostages experienced. Their treatment was despicable. Yet in 2008 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi welcomed the FARC's most notorious ally in Colombian politics, Senator Piedad Córdoba, to her congressional chambers in Washington. Aside from palling around with the terrorists' favorite politician, Mrs. Pelosi has displayed her animus toward the Colombian government by blocking approval of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
The FARC narrative is built on the claim that the civilian government, which commands the army, has a blatant disregard for human rights. Proof of this is supposed to be the many labor-union murders over the years. Never mind that the big public-sector unions in Colombia traditionally share a revolutionary ideology with the FARC, putting them on the left side of the country's political violence. On the other side, self-defense groups took up arms. Antigovernment voices like the FARC's sympathizers ignore the fact that as Mr. Uribe has strengthened and professionalized the military, with the help of the U.S., the number of union murders has come down sharply.
The rescue in the remote southeastern state of Guaviare is a good example of the competency of today's Colombian army. The camp where the four men were held had to be located, details of its daily operations had to be studied, and a plan ensuring the element of surprise had to be executed. In the end the elite commando unit used a combination of intelligence, military strategy and raw bravery to make their way through the jungle and strike at precisely the right moment. Witnesses say they engaged in a firefight that gave cover to the hostages who fled under the flying bullets. This was not the work of a bunch of rogue cowboys.
As in any military, there have been cases of abuse by individual soldiers in Colombia. A 2009 scandal involved several lower-ranking officers who lured young men into the jungle where they were murdered. Their bodies were then dressed as guerrillas and presented to commanding officers as successful "kills" in order to win credit for the unit.
Colombian officials have branded these deaths "false positives" and the media has sensationalized the story. Yet there is no evidence that it was orchestrated by army leadership or that it was institutionalized. Nor is it clear how many false positives there were. Colombia's practice of awarding families of victims of state abuse up to $400,000 each has generated a frenzy among ambulance-chasing lawyers from nongovernmental organizations. Since, in practice, there are no consequences for lying under oath, the truth about the false positives will be hard to uncover.
In 2005 I visited the army training camp of Tolemaida. The experience deepened my appreciation of military discipline and courage. My hosts persuaded me to rappel head-first off the 14-meter training tower they use to teach the special forces how to jump from a hovering helicopter into the jungle by means of a rope. I would not want to do that for a living.
I also toured the army's human-rights training course. Later I met an American who was training with the Colombians. He cited the stringent requirements the military has adopted to protect civilians in this conflict. "M'am," he said, "we Americans don't spend all night crawling on our bellies through the jungle so that when we are within reach of the enemy we can stand up and declare our presence. But that's what these guys have to do." Training in Colombia, he told me, had been "a real gut-check."
The operation last week required professionalism, guts and the highest regard for human life. It is another example of how wrong Democrats are in condemning Colombia and blocking the free trade agreement.