EL PASO, Texas – A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the perjury trial of an elderly ex-CIA agent can continue although defense claims that prosecutors let a covert Cuban counter-intelligence agent testify while delaying divulging his true identity were valid.
The case against Luis Posada Carriles, 83, has been suspended since Feb. 10, when the defense moved for a mistrial — its fifth such request in five weeks. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone delayed the proceedings for 11 days, saying she needed time to weigh her options.
The Cuba-born Posada spent decades crisscrossing Latin America as a Washington-backed Cold Warrior and is considered the nemesis of former Cuban President Fidel Castro. Posada faces charges of perjury, obstruction of justice in a terrorism investigation, and immigration fraud.
Prosecutors claim Posada lied while seeking American citizenship during immigration hearings in El Paso, making false statements about how he sneaked into the U.S. in March 2005 and about having a Guatemalan passport under a false name. They also allege he failed to acknowledge planning a series of 1997 hotel bombings in Cuba that killed an Italian tourist.
Posada has been living in Miami since being released from an immigration lockup in 2007.
The defense took issue with the testimony of Cuban Interior Ministry official Roberto Hernandez Caballero, claiming prosecutors knew Hernandez Caballero was an undercover agent prepared to lie for the Castro government but delayed providing documents showing that so he could take the stand without objection. The judge ruled the defense was correct but it wasn't enough to declare a mistrial.
But Cardone warned prosecutors, "No further violations will be tolerated."
Hernandez Caballero testified two weeks ago that he was merely a veteran criminal investigator assigned to the 1997 bombings of some of Cuba's most-luxurious hotels. However, Posada's attorneys contend Hernandez Caballero testified in a separate federal hijacking trial in Florida in 1997 that he worked for Cuban counter-intelligence. They said prosecutors were slow to provide a transcript of that earlier testimony.
They also say prosecutors delayed turning over two previously classified FBI documents that could help Posada's case.
The prosecution had claimed it only received the transcript of Hernandez Caballero's 1997 testimony two weeks ago and turned it over to the defense immediately and that the FBI reports aren't reliable.
Aside from seeking that the whole case be dismissed, the defense also asked Cardone to consider throwing out the first three indictments against Posada, which relate to his lying about planning the Cuban hotel bombings. Those three indictments allege obstruction of a U.S. counter-terrorism investigation, and without them Posada faced a much lighter sentence. Cardone refused.
Posada worked for the CIA in the 1960s and 70s. He later moved to Venezuela and became head of that country's intelligence service. He was acquitted by a Venezuelan military tribunal in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger airliner, but escaped from prison before a civilian retrial was completed.
In the 1980s, he helped support U.S.-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Posada also was arrested in Panama amid a plot to kill Castro during a visit there in 2000. He eventually received a presidential pardon.