El PASO, Texas — To the prosecution, Luis Posada Carriles' trial is a simple case of lying. To the defense, it's a "political hot potato'' created by U.S. officials.
In between those two positions, there is an alleged Cuban spy paid more than $150,000 by the FBI, an exile who allegedly dated Fidel Castro's daughter and some Bill Clinton-styled legal parsing of words like "arrange'' -- as in a bombing.
As the prosecution and defense made opening statements to the jury Wednesday, it was clear that the trial of the 82-year old Posada, a longtime Fidel Castro foe and former CIA operative, will set off some fireworks.
Before a sparse audience of about 40 people, prosecutor Timothy J. Reardon III used only half his allotted 60 minutes to outline the charges against Posada and the evidence he will present.
Posada "can do anything he wants to the Cuban regime . . . but this is a case, at bottom, in its essence, about lying'' said Reardon, who works in the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department in Washington.
Posada faces 11 counts, all related to lying under oath: when he claimed to have entered the United States through the border with Mexico in 2005; when he denied any role in a string of Havana bombings that killed one Italian tourist; and when he denied having a fake Guatemalan passport. He faces five to eight years in prison if convicted.
Reardon said he would prove the charges by calling several witnesses, among them Gilberto Abascal, a Cuban exile who will testify that Posada was smuggled from Mexico's Caribbean coast to Miami aboard the converted shrimper Santrina.
The prosecution also has subpoenaed Ann Louise Bardach, a journalist who wrote in the New York Times that Posada had confessed to the Havana blasts in a 1998 interview.
The jury will hear not only the testimony of Bardach but selected portions of the tape recordings she made of the interviews, the prosecutor noted.
After making just a few references to the Cuba angles of the case, Reardon wound up his remarks by returning to his main argument: ``Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.''
Defense lawyer Arturo V. Hernandez, in a more animated and longer opening, repeatedly mentioned Cuba and described Posada as ``a lifetime ally of our country.''
He was a ``CIA covert agent during the Cold War'' and part of Col. Oliver North's illegal supply line for the anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas in Nicaragua, he noted.
Posada ``is innocent of every single count of this indictment,'' Hernandez told jurors, and was arrested after his illegal arrival in Miami in 2005 only because he held a news conference that embarrassed U.S. officials. ``He's a hot potato for the government,'' the Miami lawyer said.
As for his defense strategy, Hernandez indicated it would range from flat denials of some of the charges to legal rebuttals of others to attacks on the credibility of the prosecution's evidence.
Posada did not lie under oath to the U.S. immigration officials who interviewed him after his arrival in 2005, Hernandez said, ``because he told the truth. He substantially told the truth.''
The charges that he lied about ``soliciting'' and ``arranging'' the Havana bombings involve words he described as ``terms of art'' -- words with specific meanings in law.
Posada also did not take responsibility for the bombings in the taped interview with Bardach, Hernandez added, because they were the work of unidentified ``insiders.'' He granted her the interview ``because his role was to bring publicity'' to the attacks and scare foreign tourists away from Cuba.
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