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The Sound and Fury of Otto Reich

The defendant’s name was barely mentioned in court in today. Instead, Judge Kathleen Cardone allowed the defense attorney to put the New York Times, its journalist Ann Louise Bardach and the Republic of Cuba on trial.

Last week, after 11 grueling weeks and 23 witnesses, the Government rested. The prosecution’s final witness was Ann Louise Bardach. Now it is the defense’s turn to present its case-in-chief.

A brief biography of the witness

Luis Posada Carriles’ first witness was Otto Reich. He came to court dressed like a banker, wearing a tailored dark blue suit with a light blue tie that stood out from his starched white shirt.

Reich told the jurors that he was born in Havana in 1945 and immigrated to the United States in 1960. “I was 14 years old. My father decided to make our home in North Carolina, because he couldn’t find work in New York,” he said.

“Did you perform military service for our country?” asked defense attorney Arturo Hernández.

“Yes. From July of 1966 to November of 1969,” answered Reich. He did not say and was not asked if he’d served in Vietnam during that period. With evident pride in his voice, Reich told the jurors that he’d worked for President Ronald Reagan and also for both Presidents Bush.

Some pearls of wisdom from Otto

After Reich testified that his duties under Reagan included matters relating to Cuba, Judge Cardone ruled that he could testify as an expert witness. As such, he need not limit his testimony to facts he has witnessed. He may testify about what he thinks, rather than only what he knows.

As an “expert on Cuba,” Reich offered these pearls of wisdom to the jury:

• There are 50,000 soldiers being held prisoner in Cuba and not for insubordination.

• The rafter crisis of 1994 occurred because burly construction workers on Havana’s seaside Malecón hit people over the head during an uprising.

• Our FBI and CIA agents are decent people who obey the laws and rules of humane conduct, whereas their counterparts in Cuba’s intelligence service do not and even kidnap people and kill them.

Since he had been declared an expert, there was no need to establish a foundation for his opinions. Reich’s putative gnosis carries a weight all its own.

His expert opinions, however, fly in the face of well-established wisdom.

According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London—hardly a lefty think tank—Cuba’s troop strength is believed to be somewhere between 50,000 to 60,000. To posit that 50,000 of those troops are in prison, as Reich maintains, means that hardly anyone in the Cuban armed forces has escaped incarceration to defend the country from invasion. Moreover, neither the CIA, the State Department or human rights groups remotely suggest a thing. Only Otto Reich is out on a limb on this issue.

According to Amnesty International, the 1994 rafter crisis was caused by a combination of events—notably the downturn in the island’s economic conditions due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations, Cuba’s long-time trading partners. The U.S. embargo, coupled with laws that virtually guaranteed the legalization of Cubans who took to the seas to illegally immigrate to the United States also fueled the exodus, said Amnesty International. To allege that “burly construction workers” precipitated a mass exodus because they allegedly hit some people over the head at a demonstration is naïve—at best—and irresponsible.

Hasty generalizations are never recommended and ought to be avoided by expert witnesses. Otto Reich’s expert opinion that U.S. intelligence officers “are people who obey the law and the rules of human behavior . . . whereas Cuban intelligence officers do not” also flies in the face of established fact. According to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, army soldiers as well as American intelligence officers and contractors were responsible for physical, psychological and sexual abuse of prisoners, including torture, rape and sodomy.

Prosecutor Reardon objected vigorously, throughout Reich’s direct examination. “Objection, relevance!” he said repeatedly. Curiously, the prosecutor did not object that the statements were wrong, naïve and without any foundation—nor did he point out that any one of Aesop’s Fables contains more truth than all of Otto Reich’s testimony today.

Judge Cardone overruled virtually all of Reardon’s objections, because she found Reich’s statements relevant for the purpose of impeaching previous witnesses.

It is curious, however, that to impeach the testimony of the two Cuban witnesses, Reich directed his testimony against the country of Cuba. He has no personal knowledge of either the Cuban investigator or the Cuban forensics specialist who testified previously, so he could make no reference to them. But Judge Cardone, by allowing Reich to attack Cuba, allowed him to attack them vicariously.

The Office of Disinformation and Propaganda

Among the posts that Reich held under President Ronald Reagan was Director of the so-called Office of Public Diplomacy, from 1983 to 1986. “It was the first time that the State Department created an office to get ahead of the critics of our foreign policy,” said Reich.

An investigation by the U.S. Comptroller General found that at the end of the 1980s, the office headed by Reich had tried to influence public opinion in favor of the Nicaraguan Contras using “prohibited, covert propaganda.”

Here in El Paso, the Government passed on the opportunity to ask him about a report, dated September 7, 1988, from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which evaluated the work of the office directed by Reich and concluded:

“…[S]enior CIA officials with backgrounds in covert operations, as well as military intelligence and psychological operations specialists from the Department of Defense, were deeply involved in establishing and participating in a domestic political and propaganda operation run through an obscure bureau in the Department of State which reported directly to the National Security Council rather than through the normal State Department channels.”

The report added that “…the Department of State was used, and perhaps compromised, by the CIA and the NSC to establish, sustain and manage a domestic covert operation designed to lobby the Congress, manipulate the media and influence domestic public opinion.”

“My office was investigated and they didn’t find anything,” Reich stated today. However, in his first speech as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs at the State Department, Reich joked about the controversy and greeted his “former colleagues” and “unindicted co-conspirators.”

The alleged biases of the New York Times and Ann Louise Bardach

Perhaps because of Reich’s extensive knowledge about how to misinform and manipulate the media, the defense attorney wanted to bring him to El Paso. Attorney Hernández asked him to give the ladies and gentlemen of the jury his evaluation of the pre-eminent newspaper in the United States, the New York Times.

“The New York Times is biased against Cuban Americans in general and against anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in particular,” the expert testified. He also offered an opinion about Ann Louise Bardach, the journalist who wrote for the New York Times and to whom Posada Carriles had confessed to being the mastermind behind the 1997 bombings in Havana.

Using the phrase made famous by Fox News, the rightwing news channel, Attorney Hernández asked, “In your opinion, is Ms. Bardach fair and balanced?”

“She is anything but fair and balanced,” answered Reich.

Hernández then read aloud—in a mocking tone—various phrases from one of Bardach’s books, where the author mentions Reich. Without asking for explanations, he asked Reich if Bardach’s information was correct. “No, it isn’t,” Reich answered tersely.

None of the cited passages had to do with the indictment against Luis Posada Carriles. The essential point of Reich’s testimony consisted of character assassinations of the New York Times and Bardach. “She manipulates information and falsifies things,” stated Reich with the same self-assured tone he used earlier to opine about Cuba.

Eileen Murphy, the vice president of corporate communications for the New York Times, responded this afternoon to the witness’s opinions: “Otto Reich has not demonstrated any factual errors in the [Bardach] stories, nor has anyone else in the 13 years since their publication,” she said.

From Santa Barbara, California, Bardach also responded to Reich’s statements. “Reporters with bias against exiles are not granted interviews with Orlando Bosch, Antonio Veciana, Salvador Lew, Juanita Castro, Angel Alfonso, Raúl Masvidal—and literally scores of Cuban-Americans in Miami I have been granted. The well-deserved criticism of Otto Reich—known for his vendettas with journalists and his perceived critics—by myself and many other reporters is not a reflection on any other Cuban-American,” she said.

It is noteworthy that Judge Cardone would not allow Otto Reich to share his opinion about Luis Posada Carriles with the jurors, yet she permitted him to render vacuous opinions about Cuba, Venezuela, Latin America, the New York Times and Ann Louise Bardach.

No mention of the Venezuelan coup d’état or of Orlando Bosch

In El Paso, no one touched on Otto Reich’s role in the coup d’état in Venezuela in 2002, his criticism of the Venezuelan democratic process and his immediate support for the coup plotters when he was working in the State Department of George W. Bush.

In April of 2002 The Guardian revealed that sources in the Organization of American States (OAS) confirmed that during the months immediately preceding the coup, Reich had a series of meetings with the principal organizers of the coup, where details of the coup were discussed, including its timing and chances for success, which they believed to be excellent.

The day of the coup, according to the Guardian, “Reich summoned ambassadors from Latin America and the Caribbean to his office. He said the removal of Chávez was not a rupture of democratic rule, as he had resigned and was ‘responsible for his fate.’ He said the U.S. would support the Carmona government.”

Prosecutor Reardon also did not ask the witness about the cables from the State Department in 1986 and 1987, which confirm that Reich, then the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, asked Washington repeatedly for information about the possibility that Orlando Bosch might enter the United States, despite his long history of terrorism and his having been a co-conspirator with Posada Carriles in blowing up a passenger airliner.

Cuban culture

Reardon did ask the witness about the bombings in Havana in 1997. Despite considering himself an expert on Cuba, Otto Reich admitted that the only thing he knew about that terrorist campaign is what he had read in the papers. “I haven’t studied the incident of the bombs,” he said.

“Do you believe that the bombs in Havana in 1997 affected tourism on the island?” Reardon asked the expert. “Mr. Reardon,” explained Reich, as though he was teaching a course on international relations to high school sophomores, “violence is part of Cuban culture.”

Macbeth

What did the jurors think of Otto Reich’s testimony in El Paso? It’s impossible to tell, although he did communicate an allegiance to the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. It was also evident that Reich doesn’t care for communists or for the New York Times. And it was obvious that he personally detests Ann Louise Bardach.

Yet it was also plain that Reich had absolutely nothing to say about the bombings in Havana in 1997 or about Posada Carriles’ voyage on the Santrina in March of 2005. He was not in Havana in 1997 nor in Isla Mujeres in 2005. He said that he met Posada Carriles for the first time last night in El Paso.

Reich’s testimony in El Paso recalls Macbeth’s speech at Dunsinane Castle:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player?
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage?
And then is heard no more: it is a tale?
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,?
Signifying nothing.”

Sidebar

I first met Otto Reich in December of 1999, when we both appeared on PBS’s NewsHour, in one of the first televised debates about the Elián González case.

During our several debates over the course of the next several months, Reich defended the proposition that the child should remain in Miami with distant relatives, and I argued that it was up to the father to decide where his son should live. “Elián is not your son, Otto,” I told him many times. I was part of the legal team that represented Elián’s father. I’ve not seen Reich since we won Elián’s case. The little boy returned to Cuba to live with his father 11 years ago. When we saw each other last night at the hotel, Reich mentioned our debates, “Pertierra, I haven’t seen you since the Elián case.”

“Otto, that case we won,” I reminded him.

José Pertierra practices law in Washington, DC.  He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.

Translated by Machetera and Manuel Talens.  They are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity.

Spanish language version: http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2011/03/26/diario-de-el-paso-el-cuento-de-otto-reich

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.

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