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2004-03-09

Aristide Lawyers Demand U.S. Prosecute "Kidnappers" Of Aristide and His Haitian-American Wife

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We speak with Ira Kurzban, lawyer for the Haitian government. Today, he is invoking the Multilateral Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons against the US government. He serves Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell with papers asking that the U.S. prosecute the people involved in what they call the kidnapping of President Aristide and his wife Mildred, who is a U.S. citizen. [includes transcript]

Lawyers representing Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide today are serving Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell with papers asking that the US prosecute the people involved in what they call the kidnapping of Aristide and his wife Mildred, who is a US citizen. The lawyers are invoking the Multilateral Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons.

The request that the United States fulfill its obligations under the Convention stems from what Aristide’s lawyers call the intentional commission of internationally recognized crimes that were "part of a coup d’etat organized and implemented by officials of the Government of the United States of America to remove and replace the democratically-elected President of Haiti..." The demand specifically references the kidnapping of the Aristide while on board an aircraft belonging in whole or in part to the United States.

In a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Aristide’s lawyers said, "These criminal acts appear to have been carried out by U.S. government personnel acting under the orders of high-ranking United States government officials, including the United States Depute Charge de Mission in Haiti, Luis Moreno, and possibly Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega (Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs), Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."

Aristide’s lawyers are also calling on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to initiate a fact finding mission to Haiti to investigate what they say are summary executions and continued violence against Lavalas supporters.

  • Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based lawyer. Since 1991, he has served as General Counsel for the government of Haiti.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Ira Kurzban, who is a Miami-based lawyer. Since 1991 he served as the general counsel for the government of Haiti. Welcome to Democracy Now! Ira Kurzban.

IRA KURZBAN: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It is good to have you with us. Can you explain what this lawsuit is all about?

IRA KURZBAN: Well, there’s actually three separate actions, Amy. The first, as you pointed out, was a request–which is part of the multilateral Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, in this case, President Aristide and his wife, who is the first lady–to initiate a process that would ultimately go before the International Court of Justice. In other words to initiate that process, you must serve the state parties, in this case, of course, the United States–and that’s why it is going to Colin Powell–to give the United States an opportunity to initiate domestically those prosecutions of persons before we go to the International Court of Justice. The United States has a certain period of time in which to address these wrongs and to respond. And if they fail to do so within a certain period of time, then we can go to the International Court of Justice. And that’s what we intend to do.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you intend to serve General Colin Powell papers?

IRA KURZBAN: We serve him today by mail. And I’m sure they will have received it at the State Department this morning. And the second thing that we requested was a direct request to the Attorney General of the United States to initiate prosecution under various federal statutes because kidnapping, as you know, of course, is a federal crime and, in the implementation of this multilateral convention, a number of our own domestic statutes were changed to make it a federal crime to kidnap an internationally-protected person. And, of course, here we have the added dimension that Mrs. Aristide is a United States citizen. So, what we have is a kidnapping of a United States citizen by United States Government officials. That’s a serious crime. Obviously not only international law, but under our own domestic law and, therefore, we are calling upon the Attorney General to conduct an investigation and to prosecute those individuals; and if that involves the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and involves the Secretary of State Powell, then I think that is his obligation to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s play a clip of what General Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, had to say when confronted with the allegations of kidnapping by the US, and this being a coup d’etat that has removed President Aristide and the first lady, Mildred Aristide.

COLIN POWELL: He was not kidnapped. We did not force him on to the airplane. He went on to the airplane willingly. And that’s the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response.

IRA KURZBAN: Well if that’s the truth, then certainly Secretary Powell and the President of the United States should be willing to have an investigation of this. They have nothing to hide. You know, it is the classic situation where if you really have nothing to hide, and, you know, you believe that everything was done properly, let the Congress of the United States investigate this, let the CARICOM countries, through the Organization of American States, as they have requested, investigate this, and let the whole world know exactly what we did. You know, the Secretary getting up and giving kind of a bald-faced denial, I hope, doesn’t satisfy the American people. I hope we’ve learned from the Weapons of Mass Destruction claim and other things that this administration and particularly Secretary Powell have claimed, needs to be looked at further. So, in this case, I suppose the Secretary can say what he wants. But if we’re serious about it, we should have an investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: And right now, who is calling for that investigation in Congress?

IRA KURZBAN: Various members have called for it. A number of members of the Black Caucus, Congressman Rangle, Congresswoman Waters, Congresswoman Lee, and others have said we need to have a full-scale investigation of what happened here. And the problem is, of course, you know, the Republicans control both houses of Congress and probably don’t want the truth to come out. But my hope is that there will be enough concern about this issue and enough public outcry that we investigate whether or not our administration was involved in a coup d’etat against a democratically-elected president in this hemisphere. That is a very serious allegation and I haven’t made that allegation lightly. And I think we have enough facts to establish that. But I think the Congress needs to swear these people under oath, take their testimony, and investigate it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the status of Boniface Alexandre, who has been sworn in as the interim president, as well as the Council of Sages, now choosing a replacement for the prime minister, Yvonne Neptune?

IRA KURZBAN: The president of the Republic of Haiti yesterday spoke. Jean-Bertrand Aristide said that he is still the president, that there was a coup d’etat, that whatever process is going on in Port-au-Prince–which, by the way, actually is the process that the opposition asked for during that week of negotiations prior to the actual coup. The process that is being implemented now is actually the opposition’s proposal. It is not the CARICOM proposal, as the United States has said. So, what we have is the opposition in Haiti, determining a series of events that are ongoing and that are excluding, of course, the major political party in the country, which is Lavalas.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll end today with the words of President Aristide in Democracy Now’s interview with the Haitian president yesterday in the Central African Republic, just after he had held a news conference that has gotten very little coverage. This is Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: First of all, I didn’t leave Haiti because I wanted to leave Haiti. They forced me to leave Haiti. It was a kidnapping, which they call coup d’etat or [inaudible] ...forced resignation for me. It wasn’t a resignation. It was a kidnapping, and under the cover of coup d’etat.

AMY GOODMAN: He said this is a kidnapping under the cover of a coup d’etat. And this is Democracy Now! If you want to read the transcript of that half-hour interview or listen to it online, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. This is the "War and Peace Report." I’m Amy Goodman.

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