Shouldn’t the shirts have tipped them off? Nothing says “decadent western capitalist stooge” quite like Che gear.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told reporters earlier in the day that the rescue mission had been made possible by “a special intelligence” operation that had penetrated the highest reaches of the FARC, including the group’s seven-man directorate and one of the rings of specialized rebel units entrusted with guarding hostages. Santos said that ring, commanded by a rebel known by the alias Cesar, was tricked into believing that the FARC’s leader had called for the hostages to be brought to him.

Yesterday, two white helicopters arrived in a jungle clearing where the hostages were being held. The men in the helicopters looked like guerrillas, Betancourt later said, describing details of the rescue at the military airport.

“Absolutely surreal,” she said, noting that some of the men who got off the helicopter wore T-shirts emblazoned with the iconic image of the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. “I thought this was the FARC,” she said.

Their hands bound, the hostages were forced aboard the helicopters, wondering where they would be taken next in their long ordeal. But once aboard, Betancourt said, Cesar and another guerrilla were overpowered and the crewmen announced that the passengers were now free. “The chief of the operation said: ‘We’re the national army. You’re free,’ ” she said. “The helicopter almost fell from the sky because we were jumping up and down, yelling, crying, hugging one another. We couldn’t believe it.”

American troops helped with planning and “troubleshooting,” according to the U.S. ambassador to Colombia. The only way the operation could have been any more gratifying? Chavez t-shirts.

Speaking of which, Geraghty seizes on Obama’s statement congratulating Colombia with this irresistible headline: “I Salute Uribe Freeing Hostages From Group Whose Sponsor I Will Meet.” On the other side of the coin, I agree that McCain showed commendable restraint in not trying to exploit the rescue by insinuating himself into the aftermath even though he was in the neighborhood. Whether that was an instinctive touch of class or just smart politics (or, most likely, both), it was well played.

Tags: Barack Obama