Does the U.S. government want to convict Posada?

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El Paso Federal Court House

If you are inclined to conspiracy theories, you might conclude—based on the evidence of the first few days of testimony in the immigration fraud trial of alleged terrorist Luis Posada Carriles—that the U.S. government is doing its damnedest to lose the case.

While the notion that prosecutors don’t want to win is almost certainly unfair, the reality is that prosecutor Jerome J. Teresinski’s performance with his first witness this week was—to be charitable—stunningly inept.

And his first witness, Gina Garrett-Jackson—the Miami-based Homeland Security lawyer who handled Posada’s 2005 asylum application—didn’t help the cause.

Teresinski, who one reporter described as looking like a young Robert Duvall, began by introducing one version of Posada’s asylum application without explaining there were, in fact, two identical but different-dated applications.

Which gave the defence a chance to muddify the legal waters almost before the first question had been asked.

Once that was cleared up and the exhibit properly introduced, Teresinski asked Garrett-Jackson a series of open-ended questions that allowed her, perhaps encouraged her, to ramble and answer questions he hadn’t asked. Justice Kathleen Cardone admonished both the lawyer and the witness to stick to the standard legal process of specific question-answer, question-answer.

That ate up his first afternoon. Thursday morning he tried another tack, asking Garrett-Jackson to read sections of the transcripts of Posada’s various hearings to herself—while the jury stared at the ceiling—and then proceeded to ask her confirmatory questions about what she’d just read.

After the defence objected, he switched course and asked the witness to read chunks of the transcript directly into the record. But he went back to the beginning and asked her about all the same passages he’d quizzed her on earlier.

When the defence objected again—this time to the witness’s intonations when she read—Teresinski switched gears one final time and played audio-taped excerpts—of the same material the jury had already heard twice in other forms—for the jury members who followed along on headphones.

By the time Teresinski finally managed to finish his direct examination of the witness—a witness whose job was simply to set the stage for the battle to come—there was less than an hour left in the day for the defence to begin its cross-examination.

Since the court won’t be sitting Friday and Monday is the Martin Luther King holiday in the U.S., the trial won’t resume until Tuesday. At this pace, joked judge Kathleen Cardone at one point, proceedings could drag on for two years. While that’s unlikely, the predictions of a four-to-six week trial are beginning to seem optimistic.

Court observers seemed perplexed by the government’s stumbling start.

The reality is that the three front-and-centre lawyers on the government side—Teresinski, lead prosecutor Timothy J. Reardon III and Bridget Behling—are all ostensibly high-powered trial attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Counterterrorism Section, National Security Division, in Washington, and were parachuted into El Paso specifically to handle this case.

None of which is to suggest the war is lost. Trials have their own ebb and flow, and the government can certainly recover its momentum and equilibrium. But the reality is that they are not off to an auspicious start.

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