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Aristide Demands White House Coup Investigation

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From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 11, 2004
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Haitian President Aristide Demands U.S. Investigate White House Complicity in Coup

Interview with Ira Kurzban, lawyer representing Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/kurzban031904.ram

Speaking from exile in the Central African Republic, deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide charged that he was the victim of a political kidnapping carried out by members of the United States military in the early morning hours of Feb. 29. In a press conference held on March 8, Aristide urged his supporters to peacefully resist what he described as a coup d'etat driven by the Bush administration.

In Haiti's capital, Port-Au-Prince, both supporters and opponents of Aristide have held demonstrations. During a protest rally organized by opposition groups held on March 7, gunmen opened fire, killing six people and wounding 30. U.S. Marines who have been deployed throughout the country along with French and Canadian troops returned fire, killing one person. Amid the violence, an interim president, Boniface Alexandre was sworn into office, while a seven-member council is preparing to appoint a prime minister.

President Aristide, through his counsel, has invoked the international treaty against kidnapping and called upon U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate and prosecute government officials involved in the abduction of the Haitian president and his wife, a U.S. citizen. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Ira Kurzban, an attorney who has represented the government of Haiti and President Aristide since 1991. Kurzban discusses the circumstances under which Aristide was overthrown and his call for an international investigation and prosecution of those responsible.

Ira Kurzban: I think there's little question that what happened to the President (Aristide) amounted to a coup d'etat. Really, most of it is already out in the public. Even the U.S. Assistant Secretary (of State) for Inter-American Affairs (Roger Noriega) basically conceded at a hearing this past week that as a condition for flying the president out of the country they insisted on getting his letter of resignation.

And what happened basically was that the so-called armed group of thugs and criminals have ties that date back over a decade to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA. They were well-armed when they came across the Dominican Republic border. Many of their arms were M-16s, which were United States issued M-16s. They came to the doorstep of Port-au-Prince and said, we're going to stop and wait until the United States decides what they're going to do.

The next sequence of events was that the United States embassy basically placed the Steele Foundation, which was the company guarding the president -- an American company -- in the position of telling them they had to leave the country, and blocking efforts to bring additional security in that would have protected the president.

So we have the classic scenario of the wolf at the door. The U.S. blocking efforts to provide additional security. And then Mr. Moreno from the U.S. embassy appears and talks to the president in the early morning hours of February 29th and basically says to him, You will be killed, your family will be killed and many of your supporters will be killed. We'll let you leave on this plane because we're not going to protect you at all, even though you're the democratically-elected president of the country. We're not going to protect you and we will let you leave on this plane, but only if you give us a letter of resignation.

That certainly looks like, sounds like and smells like a coup d'etat -- assisted, and if you believe that these so-called rebels were organized, trained and directed by the Defense Intelligence Agency as I do, that it certainly looks like a coup d'etat organized and planned by the United States.

Between The Lines: Ira Kurzban, update us if you would on the status of President Aristide at this moment. There have been reports that he's been kept as a virtual prisoner in the Central African Republic. But there's been a press conference I believe. Have things loosened up for him and how is he doing?

Ira Kurzban: First of all, the president of course never asked or wanted to go to the Central African Republic. He was told after being kidnapped for about 15 hours, where he couldn't call the outside world, couldn't even get out of the plane when it landed in two different locations. The manifest on the plane said they were carrying no people, in effect carrying cargo.

And so when the president arrived in the Central African Republic, it was quite a surprise to him that he was there, and the reason for that is very simple. The president was democratically elected and overthrown by a military coup in 1991. The Central African Republic is a military dictatorship that overthrew a democratically-elected president last year. It is one of the few countries in the world that is probably more dangerous, more volatile, economically worse off than Haiti -- and, of course, has a military dictatorship. So it's an unlikely place where the president would go.

I think under the circumstances, the Central African Republic is really beholden to the French and the United States. So they are placing very close restrictions on the president.

Between The Lines: Attorney Kurzban, would you comment on calls for an investigation at the United Nations and in the U.S. Congress made by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and others? The CARICOM (Caribbean Community) nations are also calling for a parallel investigation.

Ira Kurzban: And the administration is fighting it tooth and nail. I mean, the simple answer here is, if Colin Powell has nothing to hide, if the Defense Intelligence Agency really was not involved with this group of thugs and criminals who came across the border, if the United States really didn't force a coup d'etat here, then there's nothing to hide; let's have an investigation. Let the Congress investigate this in a serious manner. Let the international community investigate it.

Certainly it looks, smells and seems like a coup d'etat not only to most Americans who follow Haiti, but to most people in the world who are interested in what happened here. If we want to have a clean record about it, then what we should do is agree to that investigation.

And basically it's an investigation as to what happened on February 28th and the early morning hours of February 29th and what happened before that? Are people like Jodel Chamblain, the leader of these thugs and criminals who came to the doorstep of Port-au-Prince and who, for ten years before that, was an asset of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was he working for the United States government when he did all these things in Haiti over the last month? That's something the American people have a right to know.

Between The Lines: As the representative of the government of Haiti and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide himself, what are you and the president advising be done now in terms of challenging the status quo in Haiti, and this track now being laid out for new elections? What are the alternatives, what can you and President Aristide and the Lavalas leaders who remain in Haiti -- what can they do to change the course here?

Ira Kurzban: Well, I think, first of all, if the U.S. is there as peacekeepers, then what they really need to do is keep the peace. They need to get the Guy Philippes and the other thugs and murderers and criminals to lay down their arms. They need to arrest them, they need to have an environment where Lavalas supporters can feel secure and can come out on the street and exercise the equivalent of their first amendment rights to speak freely and demonstrate freely and demand their president be brought back. If those conditions obtain, I am certain that there will be millions of people eventually in the streets, demanding that Aristide be returned. And I think the international community will have no choice but to return a president who was subjected to a coup d'etat.

For more information, contact the Center for Constitutional Rights at (212) 614-6464 or visit their website at http://www.ccr-ny.org

Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl031904.html#1hed

Haiti Progres, Haitian newspaper, in English, French and Creole http://www.haitiprogres.com

"Letter from Ira J. Kurzban, Esq., to Ms. Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times," March 7, 2004

"Haiti Coverage: Mainstream Media Fails Itself"

"Was Aristide Forced Out?"

"Haitian President Charges U.S. Military Kidnapped Him in Support of White House-Backed Coup"

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Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending March 19, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email betweenthelines@snet.net.

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"Between the Lines," a nationally syndicated weekly radio news magazine can be heard on 35 radio stations across the U.S. and on our website in MP3 or RealAudio at http://www.btlonline.org


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