By José Pertierra
January 14, 2011
The first of the 18 witnesses in the case against Luis Posada Carriles that the prosecution announced that it wishes to present in the coming three weeks testified today: Gina Garrett-Jackson. She is the person who was charged with litigating Posada´s deportation case for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2005. Visibly nervous and with a tendency to respond to questions with long and tedious monologues, Ms. Garrett-Jackson remained on the platform the entire day.
She testified that she was assigned the Posada Carriles asylum case starting in May of 2005. Garrett-Jackson worked in the Miami office of the Department of Homeland Security. She testified that Posada Carriles filed for asylum on April 20, 2000, but rather than going to the appointment that had been set up for him on May 17th, he instead called a press conference to make statements to the media.
By all accounts, the press conference to which Ms. Garrett-Jackson refers was bizarre. Mr. Posada Carriles ostensibly called it to tell the world that he had been living in Miami without the US government knowing his whereabouts and that he would henceforth flee the country. Embarrassed by Posada´s antics, the Department of Homeland Security arrested him the next day, although they made sure to treat him gently and escorted him to custody in a golf cart.
Garrett-Jackson testified that Posada Carriles withdrew his application for asylum on the eve of the press conference but, the following month, presented it again.
The prosecutor who questioned Garrett-Jackson was Jerome Teresinski, the number two attorney on the U.S. government legal team in charge of the Posada case here in El Paso. Things started badly for Teresinski. He first wanted to establish that Posada Carriles had testified under oath, during prior immigration proceedings. After getting Garrett-Jackson to state that she was present at Immigration Court on June 13, 2005, regarding the Posada case, before Immigration Judge William Abbott, Teresinski asked if Posada had taken the oath before testifying: “I don’t specifically recall if he was sworn in,” Garrett-Jackson responded. Ufff.
Trying to recover quickly from that disaster, Teresinski asked about the other two times that Posada had been before an immigration judge-on August 29 and 30, 2005. “Yes, those days yes, I’m sure that he was sworn in, but I’m not sure about June 13th,” said Garrett-Jackson.
Teresinski and surrealism
Teresinski then began to question Garrett-Jackson about the contents of the asylum application Posada had brought before an immigration judge in August of 2005. He established that on the form known as I-589, Posada answered that the question about aliases did not apply to him, that he said he’d entered the United States on March 26, 2005 by illegally crossing the Mexican border without passing through an immigration post, that the questions about whether he had a passport and which country had issued it to him did not apply to him either, that he didn’t speak English, that he’d lived previously in Panama, El Salvador and Honduras but he couldn’t remember where and that he never incited, aided or participated in the persecution of other people.
This last is a surreal statement coming from the likes of Posada, who was convicted in Panama for attempting in the year 2000 to detonate 200 pounds of C-4 explosive in an auditorium filled with students.
One of Posada’s defense attorneys, Felipe Millán, tired of listening to Garrett-Jackson’s fastidious reading and narration of transcriptions of previous immigration hearings. He objected and asked that the Teresinski play for us the recordings themselves, since they are the best evidence available.
Tortuous minutes went by while the sophisticated recording machinery of the court failed to work and the jury members, the attorneys and the judge looked at one another with perplexed expressions. Everyone had headphones on, but nobody could tell whether heard silence as well. Finally, the technicians managed to make functional that modern apparatus that apparently nobody knew how to operate properly, and we could all hear the halting voice of Luis Posada Carriles, reproduced from the recordings of the court hearings in 2005. A voice that reverberated through the walls of the huge courtroom as though echoing from a tomb.
It’s difficult to understand Posada Carriles. He is tongue-tied due to an acquired speech impediment from a shooting in Guatemala. Each jury member listened to the recordings with a small digital screen in front of their seats, through which the words being heard could also be read. While listening to his voice, I watched Posada Carriles. Motionless in his seat, he was dressed today in a brown suit, with a light blue shirt and a blue tie with dark blue stripes.
Looking at Posada, I realized something very curious. The section for the audience is located in the back of the courtroom, behind the desks and seats where the trial lawyers are seated. Observing from the back, Posada and his three attorneys are on the left-hand side, while the attorneys for the prosecution and the FBI agents supporting them are seated on the right.
The back of the courtroom where the audience sits has three rows on each side. The section behind Posada was empty except for one seat that was occupied by a solitary woman, while the three rows behind the prosecutors were filled to capacity. It was as though no one wanted to approach the man the world recognizes as a terrorist, while the United States accuses him of only of lying.
Tereskinski continued to perform direct examination of Garrett-Jackson concerning the 2005 immigration hearing in El Paso. We thus heard Posada Carriles’ testimony, but from five and a half years ago. Today in the Texas courtroom, he remained silent and limited himself to lending his ear to the voice from the past along with the rest of us.
The tape recordings
This is the first time that the public heard the testimony Posada gave in 2005. Trying to follow the line of questioning was frustrating, because the prosecutor kept turning the tape recorder on and off to help Garrett-Jackson identify the voices, despite the fact that they were easily identifiable in the transcription that the jury had at its disposal.
Garrett-Jackson mentioned that the interview that Posada gave the New York Times in 1998 was in English. The taped voice, however, said: “I don’t understand much English.”
“I don’t remember having told [the New York Times] that I used the name Solo,” said the voice. “I don’t recall having received a fax in Guatemala.” “I didn’t help anyone bring explosives to Cuba.” “I don’t know anyone named Cruz Léon,” in reference to the Salvadoran who planted the bomb that killed Fabio Di Celmo at the Hotel Copacabana in 1997. “I don’t know Otto Rodríguez Llerena,” referring to the Salvadoran who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in Cuba for terrorism and who previously identified Luis Posada Carriles as the person who recruited him to take explosives to Cuba.
To the question about whether he ever had a passport issued in his own name (given that he seems to have so many in other names and surnames), Posada answered that he had one from the United States and another from Venezuela. “No other,” he told the immigration judge five years ago.
He recalled shortly thereafter that he had, after all, received a passport from El Salvador with the name Ramón Medina Rodríguez. He said the “government” of El Salvador had given it to him. “Cuban intelligence tried to kill me in Guatemala in 1990,” said the voice from the recorder. “They shot me a number of times. That’s why I speak the way I do.”
Responding to questions from Prosecutor Teresinski, Garrett-Jackson explained that during the immigration hearing in 2005, she conceded (before receiving evidence or hearing testimony) that Posada Carriles would be tortured if deported to Cuba and agreed that he would not be deported there. After hearing the testimony of Posada Carriles and his lone witness, Joaquín Chaffardet, the immigration judge decided not to deport him to Venezuela for the same reason.
With this explanation from Garrett-Jackson, the prosecutor finished his direct examination of the witness at 3:33 PM.
Felipe Millán, the attorney who is part of Posada Carriles’ legal team, then began cross-examination.
The Defense’s risky theory
Part of Posada Carriles’ attorneys’ strategy is to show that Posada’s lies “don’t matter,” because they didn’t affect his immigration status. It is a novel theory and a risky one.
Following that line of reasoning, Millán wanted immediately to establish that Garrett-Jackson knew from the start that Posada Carriles did not qualify for asylum because he had committed an aggravated felony in Panama: that is, a violent crime for which he had been sentenced to prison for more than a year. He was convicted and sentenced in Panama for endangering public safety, when he conspired to set off explosives in a university auditorium where the Cuban president, Fidel Castro was to speak to students at the University of Panama in the year 2000. Millán reasoned that if he could manage to establish that Posada didn’t qualify for asylum anyway, due to the felony committed in Panama, then any falsehood he might have uttered during the asylum proceedings “didn’t matter” since he was disqualified for asylum in the first place.
I have the impression that despite being an attorney, Garrett-Jackson did not understand where the ambush planned by Millán was headed. With a disoriented gaze, she tripped on the questions that Posada’s attorney directed at her. “Before hearing the witnesses or receiving any kind of evidence, you already knew that Luis Posada Carriles didn’t qualify for asylum,” said Millán. “Of course,” Garrett-Jackson confirmed.
With the answer that he’d sought now in hand, Millán ended today’s cross-examination. He said that he would continue with a new line of questioning at the beginning of the next court session. The judge told all of us that tomorrow she has other commitments and that Monday is a U.S. holiday (the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday). “We’ll see you on Tuesday,” she told the jury.
Before dismissing the attorneys, she asked if they had anything to say outside the presence of the jury. “Art” Hernández, Posada’s attorney, said yes. He said he wanted the prosecutor to say how much money the witness Gilberto Abascal, an undercover FBI agent, had been paid in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Yesterday, during opening statement Hernández affirmed that Abascal received a total of $150,000 from the federal government since he began collaborating with the FBI.
Prosecutor Teresinski looked toward the FBI agent, seated in the row behind them. The agent whispered: “$15.27 for lunch.” Teresinski repeated the statement. Hernández looked at him incredulously. If what Hernández said yesterday was true and Abascal received $150,000 from the federal government, he received it prior to 2008. We shall see when and how much Abascal was paid, when he testifies.
For my part, I felt frustrated today. Posada Carriles has 73 murder charges pending in Caracas for blowing up a passenger airliner. Venezuela asked for his extradition on June 15, 2005. The evidence that he is the mastermind of the plane’s destruction is overwhelming. The law is clear. There is an extradition treaty between Venezuela and the United States that goes back to 1922. Instead of presenting an extradition case to Judge Cardone, the United States Government limited itself to prosecuting him for lying.
During today’s testimony, the United States Government showed that it knows that Posada Carriles is responsible for the bombings in Havana in 1997 and the murder of Fabio Di Celmo. But for the U.S. Government, the people Posada killed in Cuba don´t matter. Only the lies he made in the United States matter.
José Pertierra practices law in Washington DC. He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.
Translated by Manuel Talens and Machetera
Manuel Talens and Machetera are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity (http://www.tlaxcala-int.org).