tampabay.com

Judge cites deceit, tosses Posada case

By DAVID ADAMS
Published May 9, 2007


In a stunning legal defeat for the Justice Department, a Texas judge threw out an indictment Tuesday against Luis Posada Carriles, an accused Cuban exile terrorist who faced immigration fraud charges.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone turned the tables in the case, accusing the government of engaging in tactics of "fraud, deceit and trickery" in its handling of Posada.

The legal decision caught federal authorities off guard, as well as Posada's own attorneys.

"We're all shocked by it. Yes, he's a free man on his way back home," Felipe Millan, a lawyer for Posada, told the El Paso Times.

Posada, 79, a former CIA operative and fierce opponent of Fidel Castro, was scheduled to stand trial next week in El Paso. He had been charged with lying in his naturalization interview.

In her ruling, Cardone said authorities tricked Posada into giving evidence during a two-day interview, even though he was not eligible for citizenship because of a previous conviction in Panama.

She also criticized the government for poor translation and unintelligible audio, which made Posada's statement legally worthless.

The government's handling of the case was "so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice, " she wrote in a 38-page ruling.

A government spokeswoman said officials are "evaluating the matter." Posada faces no other charges.

Keystone Cops

"This is simply amateur hour at the Justice Department," said Peter Kornbluh, a Cuba expert at the National Security Archives, a research institute in Washington that publishes declassified government documents. "In the number-one case that the Justice Department needed to handle properly, they have handled it in a Keystone Cops fashion that is so unprofessional as to almost raise suspicion that they intended to undermine their own case."

The dismissal comes almost three weeks after the El Paso court released Posada from custody on $350,000 bail. He spent two years in U.S. detention after allegedly entering the United States illegally through Mexico in May 2005.

Posada, who was in El Paso when the decision was announced, said he would return soon to Miami.

Posada was jailed in Venezuela in 1976 for allegedly masterminding the downing of a Cuban jet off Barbados. He escaped in 1985. He was later sentenced to eight years in jail in Panama for a 2000 bomb plot to assassinate Castro.

U.S. authorities are investigating whether Posada, a Venezuelan national, was involved in a series of 1997 Havana hotel bombings that killed an Italian tourist. Cuba and Venezuela have both demanded Posada's extradition.

The head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, Dagoberto Rodriguez, issued a statement late Tuesday accusing the White House of seeking to have the charges dropped "to protect the Bin Laden of this hemisphere out of fear that he could talk and tell the whole story of the ties between the United States government and his terrorist activities." 

Cardone said the case before her was a purely immigration matter and she had not been asked to consider the allegation of terrorism.

"Terrorism, and the determination of whether or not to classify an individual as a terrorist, lies within the sound discretion of the executive branch. It does not lie with this court," the judge said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.