This is a perjury case, the prosecutor announced during his opening remarks on the first day of trial. His strategy is to first show the jury the lies the Luis Posada Carriles told to Immigration authorities, and then, perhaps early next week, tell the jury the truth.
Today we heard statements, many of them false, that Posada Carriles made in April of 2006, during his naturalization interviews with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Posada applied for United States citizenship under a little-known provision of the law that qualifies an applicant for citizenship anyone who has performed military service for the U.S. during a time of military conflict, provided that the applicant is also a person of good moral character. Posada served in the U.S. Army for approximately two years, during 1961 and 1962. At the time, the U.S. was engaged in military conflict in Vietnam, although Posada never served there.
This morning at 8:30 a.m., the prosecutor, Jerome Teresinski, renewed his direct examination of Officer Susana Bolaños. She works out of the Miami office of DHS, but she was specially assigned to the Posada case in El Paso. Bolaños’ testimony is important, because she was present during the interviews that Homeland Security conducted with Posada Carriles. In fact, she posed most of the interview questions. This allows her to now easily identify the voices on the recording and declare that the audio the jury will hear and the transcription they will read are a faithful representation of Posada’s statements.
There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but the method Teresinski used was to select a list of “greatest hits” from Posada’s recorded statements. He separated them one by one and had the jury listen to them, focusing mainly on the lies that the Cuban-Venezuelan told Immigration during the interviews in April 2006.
The Greatest Hits
1. Posada swore under oath that he illegally entered the United States in March of 2005 in a land vehicle through Matamoros. The prosecution has evidence that he entered the country on that date, but on a boat called the Santrina that dropped him off in Miami.
2. That Matamoros is in Mexico. The prosecution wants the jury to realize that if he had truly entered through Matamoros, he would have known that this Mexican city is south of the Rio Grande, in the northern part of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, and not in the United States. Across the river (on the U.S. side) is the town of Brownsville, Texas.
3. That a coyote, with whom he barely spoke, sneaked him illegally into the United States. Probably next week, the prosecution will call on Gilberto Abascal to testify that Posada Carriles arrived in the United States on the boat called the Santrina with four of his close friends and allies.
4. That he paid the coyote $6,000 to help him cross the border between Mexico and the United States. The prosecution expects Abascal to refute this falsehood.
5. That the coyote brought him in a blue Ford pickup truck, with U.S. plates, from Honduras to Houston, Texas. That they passed through Guatemala and Mexico before arriving in Houston, and that the trip only lasted two or three days, because he slept in the truck and not in hotels. The distance between Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and Houston, Texas, is 1,197 miles. It may be possible to travel this distance in three days, especially if the driver doesn’t stop to rest or go to the bathroom on the way. The jury will make this same calculation before deciding the case.
6. That he did not pass through Belize during his journey in the blue pickup from Honduras. Previously, during the asylum proceedings in 2005, Posada said that he’d passed through Belize.
7. That during his trip through Mexico, he didn’t pass through Cancún or Isla Mujeres. The prosecution has promised evidence that Posada was in Cancún and Isla Mujeres, and even offered a photo of Posada taken in March of 2005 in an Isla Mujeres barbershop. Gilberto Abascal is expected to testify that he remembers picking up Posada in Isla Mujeres and going with him to Miami in a boat called El Santrina.
8. That he is a little bit fearful in Mexico, because “Castro has many agents there.” It’s true that Raúl and Fidel Castro both have a lot of support in Mexico, but Cuban leaders don’t assassinate their enemies: not even when they’re terrorists. They try them, and if they’re guilty, they go to prison.
9. That he did not come to the United States in March of 2005 in a boat called the Santrina, although he had heard Fidel Castro say this: “He came in the Santrina, he came in the Santrina,” Posada exclaimed mockingly, raising his voice and laughing. This is the last straw. Posada not only creates a false story about the way he entered the United States, he lies with sarcasm. The prosecution will present a witness, Gilberto Abascal, to prove that Posada arrived in Miami on the Santrina.
10. That he never saw Santiago Alvarez, Gilberto Abascal, Ruben López Castro or Osvaldo Mitat in Mexico in March of 2005. The prosecution has proof that they met Posada Carriles In Isla Mujeres, México and accompanied him to Miami on the Santrina in March of 2005.
11. That he took a Greyhound bus from Houston to Miami, and that when he arrived at the bus station in Miami, he phoned his friend Ruben López Castro, who told him to take a taxi. “I appeared; they weren’t waiting for me,” said Posada. The prosecutors have evidence that López Castro accompanied Posada to the United States on the Santrina.
12. That he doesn’t recall telling Ann Louise Bardach, of the New York Times, during his interview with her in June of 1998 that he would send inspiration and explosives to the Cuban people. The New York Times reporter will provide testimony in court to contradict these falsehoods, and the prosecution will also present a recording of the interview during which Posada stated exactly that.
13. That Bardach “supports Castro six-fold, because she interviewed him six times.” Here Posada repeats Miami’s refrain: Fidel Castro is guilty of everything, and anyone that thinks differently is either a communist or a friend of Castro.
14. That he didn’t tell Bardach that he orchestrated the bombing attacks in Cuba in 1997. “She says that. I don’t say that.” We’ll listen to the recordings to see who’s right.
15. That he doesn’t recall signing any document with the name Solo, although he added that it “could be.” The prosecution has a witness, Tony Alvarez, who will state that this is not true.
16. That while living in El Salvador between 1985 and 2000, he “often went to Guatemala to hunt.” He did not specify if he hunted people or animals.
Officer Bolaños verified that the person who made these statements is Luis Posada Carriles, that he made them after having taken an oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, and who put his initials next to 85 corrections or additions on the N-400 form (the citizenship application).
She concluded her testimony stating that Posada Carriles does not qualify for citizenship for five reasons: 1) He lied under oath, 2) he committed an aggravated felony in Panama, 3) the pardon he was granted in Panama by the former president, Mireya Moscos, has no validity under U.S. immigration law, 4) he lied about the bombs in Havana, and 5) he used false passports.
The Curtain Rises
Arturo Hernández opened his cross-examination with a “Good afternoon, Mrs. Bolaños. I am ‘Art Hernández.’ I represent Luis Posada.”
To convict a defendant in a U.S. court, all twelve members of the jury must agree unanimously on the question of guilt. A single juror with reasonable doubt and the prosecutor’s case falls apart. For that reason, some defense lawyers do as much acting as possible in court. For them, litigation is just theater.
They do their best to obfuscate and confuse. This afternoon, Hernández asked several questions about the meetings that Bolaños had with the district attorneys before testifying. “Did you meet previously with the district attorneys? Did they show you the tape recordings or any other evidence? Did you rehearse the answers that you gave here this morning?” These are some of questions that Hernández asked, feigning outrage, but always looking at the jury.
Teresinski protested and said that “there is nothing wrong with a witness meeting with the district attorneys to prepare her testimony.” “Mr. Hernández is trying to give the jury the mistaken impression that this is not allowed,” he concluded, clearly upset. However, Judge Cardone allowed the jury to listen to Hernández’s questions.
On two separate occasions, Hernández referred to Posada Carriles as “Mr. P,” alluding to a well-known cartoon character who teaches math to children.
Hernández is trying to transform his sinister client into a cute and cuddly old man. The prosecutor didn’t protest, the judge allowed it and we have no idea what the jury thought about it.
A Trap or an Innocent Error?
Hernández’s theory is that the government ambushed Posada. They wanted to prosecute him for perjury, but first they needed to get Posada to lie. Hernández, or as likes to call himself “Art”, was trying to put forward this theory when he said something shocking. We don’t know if he did it on purpose or if it was simply an innocent mistake.
Hernandez placed a page on the Elmo Projector that is beside the podium from which he spoke. He wanted the jury to read a selection of the transcription on their monitors. Suddenly Prosecutor Timothy Reardon looked infuriated and alerted Teresinski to something surprising: on a yellow post-it note in Hernández’s own handwriting the word “SCAM” was written beside the transcribed questions of the Immigration officials. I am sure that virtually all of the jurors saw the evidence tainted with a can´t miss “SCAM” sign.
Teresinski turned red with rage and asked for an “important” conference between the lawyers and the judge. We don’t know what they discussed, but they appeared very perturbed, especially Reardon and Teresinski.
It may have been an innocent oversight, or perhaps the tactics of a veteran litigator to influence the jury, as when a boxer headbutts his competitor without the referee being able to discern if it was intentional or not.
Hernández finished his cross-examination of Susana Bolaños with this question, “Are you sure that the translation of the following words is correct? ‘The United States is my second home. I love this country, and I have never done anything against this country.'”
The message Hernández wanted to communicate to the jury is that his client is an alleged patriot of the United States. He wanted to wrap him in the American flag. Did he succeed? The jury will tell us.
At that point, Judge Cardone adjourned until tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. El Paso time.
José Pertierra practices law in Washington, DC. He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.
Translated by Machetera
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity (http://www.tlaxcala-int.org).