Prosecution set back in Posada trial

EL PASO, Texas - Federal prosecutors' efforts to link accused murder Luis Posada Carriles to several 1997 terrorist bombings in Havana, Cuba, suffered a setback here this week when Federal Judge Kathleen Cardone ruled that a fax allegedly sent by Posada is inadmissible as evidence.

According to federal prosecutors, Posada sent the fax message, signed "Solo" (one of the code-names allegedly used by Posada during a decades-long terrorist campaign against Cuba) to his wealthy financiers in New Jersey. In the document, "Solo" discusses payment for the bombings and the urgent need for more publicity in the American news media. In the fax, "Solo" declares, "if there is no publicity, the work is not useful." However, Judge Cardone ruled that there was insufficient proof linking the faxed document to the defendant. Lawyers for both sides have contended that the fax is essential evidence to establish a clear money trail between Posada's rich New Jersey backers, the terrorist himself, and the fatal Havana hotel bombings.

Earlier this week, Judge Cardone handed prosecutors a partial victory when she reluctantly admitted into evidence a fake Guatemalan passport allegedly belonging to Posada Carriles. According to the Spanish news agency EFE, the passport, bearing Posada Carriles' photograph and the name of Manuel Enrique Castillo Lopez, is linked to three of the eleven charges against Posada, specifically those involving immigration fraud. In February, Judge Cardone had previously refused to admit the passport as evidence. However, this week Federal prosecutors went as far as to present the head of Guatemala's national Immigration Department, Degenhart Asturias, in person as a witness in El Paso. After Asturias was sworn in, he was asked to examine the document, and declared it a genuine Guatemalan passport. Judge Cardone then reversed her earlier ruling and admitted the passport as evidence for the prosecution.

However, defense lawyers indicated that they would still challenge the link between the passport and Posada Carrilles himself, after Asturias admitted that his office does not positively verify the identity of passport applicants to the degree that may be customary in the United States. In a U.S. immigration hearing in 2006, Posada Carriles had sworn under oath that he had never held a Guatemalan passport or used the identity indicated on this particular passport. Defense attorneys for Posada Carriles plan to argue that an unknown third party supporter without Posada's knowledge or permission fraudulently obtained the passport. An FBI agent who was called as a witness has testified that Posada Carriles' fingerprints could not be found on the passport, and that the Guatemalan document was, in fact, handled carelessly by Federal agents after being seized in a 2005 raid on the office of one of Posada's Miami supporters.

Federal custody of evidence in the Posada Carriles case has been a serious ongoing problem. According to noted American journalist and researcher Ann Louise Bardach's 2003 book, Cuba Confidential (Vintage Books), in that year the FBI's Miami office deliberately shredded all their files and evidence relating to Posada Carriles, perhaps in a bid to quash future investigations of Posada's terrorist career and alleged U.S. Government collusion in his crimes.

Activists who are following the Posada trial have repeatedly warned that the government's real game-plan may be to "run out the clock" with delays, appeals, challenges and red tape, until Posada Carriles is finally able to die in peace, of natural causes. They caution that even if Posada Carriles is eventually found guilty of one or more of the charges he is facing, he is very unlikely to ever face any punishment. Judge Cardone has previously ruled that Posada, who turned 83 in February, is "fragile" and should be accorded special considerations due to his old age, an age that, thanks to him, none of the innocent victims of the Cubana airlines and Havana hotel terror bombings will ever have a chance to enjoy.

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