EL PASO, Texas (AP/The Blaze) – A New York Times reporter who interviewed an elderly ex-CIA agent about masterminding deadly bombings that rocked luxury hotels and other top tourist sites in Cuba in 1997 testified Wednesday that he sought out the newspaper to better explain the heroism of those attacks.
Ann Louise Bardach traveled to Aruba and spent 13 hours talking to anti-communist militant Luis Posada Carriles in 1998. She was compelled to testify at the 83-year-old Posada's trial in Texas after resisting U.S. government subpoenas for years on the premise that her participation would set a bad precedent and discourage sources from speaking to journalists.
Posada, who was born in Cuba, spent decades hatching schemes to topple communist governments in Latin America, primarily that of former President Fidel Castro in his native land. For much of that time, he had the backing of the U.S. government.
He sneaked into the U.S. in 2005 and underwent immigration hearings in El Paso, during which prosecutors allege he lied about how he made it into the country and about using a Guatemalan passport with a false name. They also say he failed to acknowledge planning the bombings in Cuba between April and September 1997 that tore through the lobbies and discos of hotels and a famous tourist restaurant in Havana, as well as a resort in the beach town of Varadero.
A 1976 Cubana flight which departed from Barbados to Cuba exploded in flight from two timebombs planted on the aircraft. The plot killed all 73 people on board, including all 24 members of the 1975 national Cuban Fencing team returning from the Central American and Caribbean Championship.
Posada denied any involvement in the bombing, claiming his "only objective was to fight for Cuba's freedom." But declassified FBI and CIA documents suggested he had played a role in engineering the airline bombing.
Waves of other explosions took place. An Italian tourist was killed and about a dozen others were injured.
Posada is not on trial for the bombings, only for lying about them, prompting charges he interfered with a U.S. terrorism investigation. He faces 11 counts of perjury, immigration fraud and obstruction of justice.
Bardach now works for the Daily Beast, but was a contract writer for the Times in 1998. She was hired for investigative projects, and conducted interviews in Cuba and with anti-Castro activists in Florida.
Posada made headlines in 2007 when he faced charges in the U.S. Cubans were outraged he would not be prosecuted for the bombings:
She put out the word she'd like to interview Posada, then recalled being at a gas station in June 1998, checking the messages on her home answering machine when she heard Posada.
"There was this incredibly unique, gravelly voice speaking in Spanish," Bardach said. She said Posada identified himself as Ramon Medina, one of his many aliases.
Posada speaks with a deep slur, after being shot in the head during an assassination attempt in Guatemala in 1990.
Bardach said Posada agreed to an interview because "he didn't feel he was getting his side of the story out" and wanted "to clarify, 'I did this, but I didn't do that.'"
He also was anxious to detail, "the heroic nature, in his view, of the campaign, the bombing campaign," Bardach said.
Her answers were long and unfocused, drawing steady objections for the defense. "Please listen to the question and just answer the question," U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone pleaded with Bardach several times.
"When we were doing these interviews, we never thought we'd end up in court like this," Bardach said. She also agreed with the prosecution's characterization that she's been "recalcitrant," only meeting with U.S. attorneys once before taking the stand.
"I'm not a witness for or against anybody," Bardach said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Reardon shot back, "that might be true to you ... but legally it's not."
Bardach said it took a while to decide where she would meet Posada. He suggested Guatemala or El Salvador, before settling on Aruba.
"He pointed out that he was a fugitive, so there were certain countries he couldn't go to," Bardach said. After the defense objected, Cardone struck that from the record.
Bardach said Posada met her at Aruba's airport, then drove her to a handsome home nearby and asked that she not identify the country where they spoke.
Bardach taped the interview, which stretched over parts of three days, but only got about half of what Posada actually told her since he would often wave his index finger back and forth to indicate he wanted her to turn her recorder off — or simply turn it off himself.
The white-haired Posada showed no emotion during Bardach's testimony, his only visible response coming as he put on reading glasses to scrutinize Bardach's resume when it was published into evidence and shown on an electronic screen.
Bardach co-wrote a series of 1998 stories for the Times with another reporter, Larry Rohter. In them, Posada is quoted as saying that the attacks were meant to hurt tourism in Cuba, but not kill anyone. He has since recanted that, however, saying the interviews were conducted in English, which he says he doesn't really understand.
A CIA agent until 1976, Posada trained for the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion but didn't reach Cuban beaches during the attack. 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, but escaped from prison while facing trial.
In 2000, he was imprisoned in Panama amid a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. Posada was pardoned in 2004 and turned up in the U.S. the following March. He was held in immigration detention for about two years, but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami.