Attorneys for an elderly ex-CIA agent accused of lying to U.S. immigration authorities about his alleged role in deadly 1997 bombings in Cuba rested their case Friday without calling their client as a witness.
Luis Posada Carriles' attorneys called just eight witnesses in eight days _ barely a third of the 23 people federal prosecutors summoned to the stand during the first 11 weeks of the oft-delayed trial. Prosecutors plan to call at least one rebuttal witness Monday, with closing arguments to follow.
Posada's face is plastered on propaganda billboards throughout his native Cuba, where he is considered former President Fidel Castro's longtime nemesis for the decades he spent trying to destabilize Castro's regime and other communist governments in Latin America. For much of that time, he had Washington's support.
Posada sneaked into the U.S. in 2005 and sought political asylum, and then U.S. citizenship.
Prosecutors charged Posada with 11 counts of immigration fraud, obstruction and perjury, because they say he lied during citizenship hearings in El Paso about how he made it into the country and about having a Guatemalan passport with a false name. They also say Posada failed to acknowledge planning a wave of 1997 bombings at Cuban luxury hotels and a top tourist restaurant in Havana between April and September 1997 that killed an Italian visitor and injured about a dozen other people.
In 1998 interviews with The New York Times, Posada said he masterminded the blasts, explaining that they were meant to hurt tourism in Cuba but not kill anybody. He also said he was angry the attacks had not received enough media attention in the U.S. He has since denied making those comments.
The defense focused on attempting to discredit key prosecution witnesses, rather than telling Posada's versions of events. Its final witness was Carlos Spector, an El Paso attorney who has handled about 500 immigration cases, including some high-profile ones involving Mexicans who have fled to the U.S. amid their country's bloody drug war.
Spector suggested U.S. authorities entrapped Posada simply by allowing him to go through immigration hearings.
Posada was arrested in Panama in 2000 and imprisoned over a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned by the Panamanian president in 2004, and turned up in the U.S. the following March.
Spector testified that Posada was barred by federal statute from receiving U.S. political asylum or citizenship because his previous conviction in Panama meant he couldn't demonstrate good moral character. All the other questions he was asked during the El Paso hearings, Spector said, including how he slipped into the country, what was his role in the 1997 Cuba bombings, and why he had a Guatemalan passport, were irrelevant.
"I don't know why they got that far," Spector said, "his case was dead on arrival."
The defense has long claimed the U.S. government knew Posada wouldn't qualify for citizenship but went ahead with the interview anyway just to charge him with lying.
It's an argument that worked before. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone threw out original perjury and immigration fraud charges against Posada in 2007, chastising the government for using the immigration hearings to build a criminal case against him.
That decision was overturned by an appeals court, however, and the case returned to Cardone in El Paso, where prosecutors added new charges of obstruction.
Posada was denied political asylum and citizenship during the El Paso proceedings, but wasn't forced to leave the country under the convention to prevent torture. A U.S. immigration judge ruled he couldn't be sent to Venezuela or Cuba because he could be tortured, and no other nation would take him.
Under cross-examination Friday, lead prosecutor Timothy Reardon stressed that Posada requested the citizenship interviews and, though he ultimately withdrew his application for asylum because of his Panamanian conviction, he didn't do so until after answering more than two days of questions voluntarily.
The defense also showed a photograph of Posada in front of a Greyhound bus station, but provided no further information or details.
Posada says he paid a people smuggler to drive him from Honduras through Mexico and over the Texas border to Houston in 2005, where he took a bus to Miami. Prosecutors say he actually sailed on a friend's yacht from the Mexican resort of Isla Mujeres directly to Miami, where he slipped ashore without contacting immigration authorities.
A CIA operative 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. funnel support to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Since arriving in the six years ago, Posada spent about two years in immigration detention centers in and near El Paso _ but was released when Cardone threw out the first case against him in 2007. He has been living in Miami since then.