Defense, reporter keep sparring in ex-agent's case

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 5:01 PM
Defense, reporter keep sparring in ex-agent's case

The perjury trial of an elderly ex-CIA agent devolved into a tense, at times surreal, sparring session Tuesday between defense attorneys and a former New York Times reporter who interviewed their client about planning a wave of 1997 Cuban bombings.

Ann Louise Bardach now works for The Daily Beast and Newsweek but was a contract writer for the Times in 1998, when she interviewed anti-communist militant Luis Posada Carriles in Aruba, where he was hiding. She then co-wrote a series of stories reporting that Posada was behind the bombings in Cuba the previous year.

Posada, 83, is Public Enemy No. 1 in his native Cuba and spent a lifetime working to destabilize communist governments throughout Latin America. He was sometimes supported by Washington.

But Posada now faces 11 counts of perjury, immigration fraud and obstruction of justice after he sneaked into the U.S. in 2005 and underwent citizenship hearings in El Paso.

Prosecutors say he lied about how he made it into the country, and about having a false Guatemalan passport. They also accuse him of failing to acknowledge masterminding blasts at Cuban hotels and Havana's famous Bodeguita del Medio tourist restaurant between April and September 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and wounded about a dozen other people.

Bardach said Posada agreed to the interview because he wanted to clarify that the attacks were meant to scare tourists but not kill anyone, and because he was frustrated they hadn't gotten enough attention in the U.S. press.

She taped about six of the 13 hours she spent with Posada, but admitted during her fifth day of testimony that that she never got his permission to record what was being said. Instead, Bardach simply placed the recorder where he could see it, and allowed Posada to turn it off to elaborate on sensitive matters.

Bardach also said that she and at least seven other reporters, editors and transcribers had handled the tapes since they were recorded, and that multiple copies were made since she reluctantly turned them over to court officials in 2007.

The original tapes have been edited to two hours and 40 minutes that focus on the bombings. Posada attorney Arturo Hernandez seized on a static-filled, four-minute, 20-second gap in the recording, raising the possibility that something was deliberately erased. Bardach responded: "Please sir, that's really absurd."

"We collect information, we don't get rid of information," she said.

Bardach said she might have accidentally hit the wrong button during the interview, or that someone transcribing what was said might have erased something by mistake later.

The tape cuts out as Posada is describing a co-conspirator from El Salvador, Raul Cruz Leon, who traveled to Cuba, planted some of the explosives, and was arrested before he could leave the island.

Bardach noted that whenever the tape was turned off, she took hand notes on what was said _ and that her notes during the gap don't include major revelations.

Posada is not on trial for the bombings, only for lying about them during the El Paso hearings, prompting charges he interfered with a separate U.S. anti-terrorism investigation trying to determine whether Cuban-Americans in the U.S. helped finance the 1997 Cuban bombings.

Posada has recanted what he said in the Times interview, which quoted him as saying: "In the bombings, we tried, we put small explosives . . . because we don't want to hurt anybody. Just to make a big scandal."

Hernandez raised the possibility that the gap contained Posada actually explaining that he didn't plan the bombings and that they were carried out by anti-government forces within Cuba.

The scene was reminiscent of the infamous 18-minute gap on the Nixon Watergate tapes, and things only got stranger when Hernandez asked Bardach to sketch the size of the Radio Shack recorder she used to tape Posada.

He and prosecutors then used a tape-measure to determine that her drawing was 6 inches by 4 inches, and entered it into evidence.

"Oh my God, my artwork!" exclaimed Bardach, drawing smiles from the jury.

How large the tape recorder was is an issue since the defense maintains Bardach hid it from Posada and taped parts of the interview he didn't want recorded _ an assertion Bardach called ridiculous.

A CIA agent until 1976, Posada participated indirectly in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. He later served as head of the Venezuelan government's intelligence service and was arrested for planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. He escaped from a Venezuelan prison while still facing trial, however.

In the 1980s, he helped the U.S. support the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and in 2000, Posada was imprisoned in Panama in connection with a plot to kill then-Cuban President Fidel Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned in 2004 and turned up in the U.S. the following March.

Posada spent about two years in immigration detention centers, but was freed in 2007 and has been living in Miami.