Cuban Official Describes Bombings At US Trial

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - A politically charged perjury case against an ex-CIA agent and anti-communist militant ground to a halt Thursday, after the defense accused a key witness from Cuba of being an undercover counter-intelligence agent and said prosecutors have been deliberately slow to turn over documents that could exonerate its client.

Arturo Hernandez, lead attorney for defendant Luis Posada Carriles, demanded a mistrial, his fifth such request in as many weeks, and U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone adjourned the case until Tuesday while she reads his motions.

Without the jury present, Hernandez said that if the entire case is not dismissed, the U.S. government should at least drop three of the 11 indictments against Posada. Those rely partially on the testimony of Lt. Col. Roberto Hernandez Caballero, an investigator from the Cuban Interior Ministry. The defense says prosecutors knew Hernandez Caballero was a covert agent prepared to lie for the Cuban government but delayed providing documents saying so in order to put him on the stand.

"The government is aware of fabrication of evidence," the lawyer said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Reardon said Hernandez was trying to stall the trial, calling his request "an extraordinary and ridiculous motion," based on a "blizzard of new accusations" and a "breathless, even desperate oral presentation" that was "a performance worthy of an Oscar."

Reardon said Hernandez wants to put the credibility of Cuba's government on trial so as to deflect responsibility from his client, saying "this goes to counsel's wish that one could impeach a country as much as one could impeach a witness."

It was the latest in a series of delays and tense arguments since the trial began Jan. 10, and when it was over, a visibly exasperated Cardone suspended the proceedings.

"No one wants to get through this more than I do. I've got a million things to do, but I need to decide on these motions," she said, adding, "I don't want a mistrial. I don't want to have to do all of this again."

Posada, who turns 83 next week, faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.

Prosecutors allege that he lied while seeking U.S. citizenship and submitting to immigration hearings in El Paso, making false statements about how he sneaked into the U.S. in March 2005, and failing to acknowledge planning a series of bombings of hotels in Havana and the Cuban beach resort of Varadero in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and wounded about a dozen others.

Posada is not on trial for the bombings, only for allegedly lying about them during his immigration hearings. Still, the West Texas jury heard testimony Wednesday from Hernandez Caballero, who identified himself as the Cuban equivalent of an FBI agent and detailed the blasts that rocked many of his country's most luxurious hotels.

In response, defense attorney Hernandez filed his motions, which refer to previous testimony Hernandez Caballero gave during a separate hijacking case in Florida in 1997. While testifying in that case, Hernandez Caballero admitted to being a major in the Direccion General de Contra Intelegencia, Cuba's counter-intelligence agency.

Hernandez said the defense only discovered the information this week because prosecutors were late in turning over a transcript of Hernandez Caballero's previous testimony. He alleged they were deliberately slow because they didn't want him to be able to impeach the witness.

Hernandez also said that, instead of the real investigators who handled the bombing cases, the Cuban government sent Hernandez Caballero to provide the jury misinformation that could hurt his client.

"This citizen comes to our courts as a face of the government of Cuba," he said. "Who knows what Cuba wants to do, or have its officials do for it."

The defense motion also referred to two previously classified FBI reports. The first asserted that the 1997 bombings were the work of the Cuban government so as to blame them on the United States, or that they were carried out by dissenting officers within the country's own armed forces or Interior Ministry. The second document warned that Posada could be the target of a 2004 assassination attempt by the Cuban government.

Hernandez claimed the U.S. government had delayed giving him that information too, only this time that it did so because the reports could help Posada's case.

A paid CIA agent from 1964 until 1976, Posada participated indirectly in the Bay of Pigs invasion and later moved to Venezuela, where he served as head of that country's intelligence service. He was arrested for planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. A Venezuelan military court dismissed the charges, but Posada escaped from prison before a civilian trial against him was completed.

In the 1980s, he helped Washington provide aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama in connection with a plot to kill then-President Fidel Castro there. He was pardoned in 2004 and turned up in the U.S. the following year, eventually undergoing the hearings that prompted the current charges against him.

Posada was held in an immigration detention center in El Paso for about two years but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami. Cuba and Venezuela would like to try him for the 1976 airliner bombing and the 1997 hotel attacks, but a U.S. immigration judge has previously ruled Posada can't be sent to either country for fear he could be tortured.