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Witness accused of torture in ex-CIA agent's trial

By Will Weissert
Associated Press / March 28, 2011

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EL PASO, Texas—A former Cuban intelligence officer testified Monday that he was arrested and tortured in 2005 by a Cuban investigator who is now a key prosecution witness in the perjury trial of an ex-CIA agent.

Roberto Hernandez Del Llano took the stand in a West Texas courtroom as a defense witness for Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-communist militant who was born in Cuba. The 83-year-old Posada is accused of lying during U.S. citizenship hearings in El Paso and of failing to disclose his alleged involvement in a series of 1997 bombings in Cuba.

Hernandez Del Llano told jurors he was trained by the KGB in Moscow and served as a major in Cuba's counter-intelligence agency, but quit in 1992 after becoming disillusioned by government corruption. He said he was approached about resuming his old duties in 2002, but he refused.

In retaliation, he said, Roberto Hernandez Caballero -- an investigator for Cuba's Interior Ministry -- ordered him arrested three years later and then tortured him in a Havana jail. He later fled to the U.S.

"While I was locked up, I was subjected to torture and personally beaten by this man," Hernandez Del Llano told jurors.

Hernandez Caballero testified earlier in the trial, after traveling from Cuba, about the wave of bombings at luxury hotels in Cuba and Havana's iconic La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant that killed an Italian tourist and injured about a dozen people.

Prosecutors will get their chance to cross-examine Hernandez Del Llano on Tuesday, though Hernandez Caballero will not be able to retake the stand to counter the torture allegations.

Posada spent decades working to destabilize communist governments throughout Latin America, often with Washington's backing, and is still considered a personal nemesis of Cuba's former president, Fidel Castro. He worked as a CIA agent in the 1960s and 1970s.

But he now faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud for allegedly lying to immigration officials, including about how he sneaked into the U.S. in 2005.

During his testimony in February, Hernandez Caballero said he headed a task force that investigated the 1997 bombings. He also said he reported to state security officials within Cuba's Interior Ministry, which keeps watch on the island's population and works to stop behavior considered subversive to the communist political system.

It was in that capacity, Hernandez Del Llano claimed, that Hernandez Caballero interrogated prisoners inside underground dungeons at Villa Marista, the Havana hub of Cuba's domestic spy operations.

"This is the principal headquarters of state security for the repression, harassment, torture, humiliation and violation of all human rights of Cubans," Hernandez Del Llano said.

Hernandez Del Llano defected to the U.S. in 2007, and has since become a fixture on Spanish-language television in Florida and a fierce critic of Cuba's government.

Also at issue Monday was the death of Fabio di Celmo, the 32-year-old Italian who was killed in one of the bombings when metal shards cut his throat.

Ronald Wright, a former medical examiner for Miami-Dade County, testified for the defense that di Celmo died because Cuban authorities failed to properly stop the bleeding. His testimony was intended to refute claims by a medical examiner from Cuba, Ileana Vizcaino Dime, who told jurors that di Celmo died due to loss of blood within in one minute of the explosion.

"I vehemently disagree with that," said Wright, who has performed 12,000 autopsies. He said Vizcaino Dime was "dead wrong."

Wright said the autopsy report showed signs the victim's body's reacted acutely to blood loss, indicating that he actually lived at least half an hour after sustaining the wound.

Someone could have used medical clamps or even their fingers to slow the bleeding, so di Celmo could have been taken for emergency surgery, Wright said.

On cross-examination, Wright said di Clemo "died mostly from not being treated."

"But you weren't at the scene to know that for sure, were you?" U.S. assistant attorney Timothy Reardon asked.

"He'd be alive if I was," Wright replied.

Posada was imprisoned in 2000 in Panama amid a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned in 2004 and turned up in the U.S. the following March -- eventually prompting the charges against him.

Posada was held in immigration detention centers for about two years but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami.

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