Tuesday, July 17, 2007

No Defense for Terror (Part 13)

Of course, it would never dawn on Humberto Fontova to re-examine the "overwhelming, authoritative, and conclusive" findings of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) done 30 years ago. How can the "most authoritative source on earth for investigations of this kind" be wrong?

What Fontova's blind faith fails to consider is that RARDE at the time had a history of "lies and deceit" documented well in high profile cases that occurred in the 70's, and that the forensic tests used at the time have been found to provide incomplete and inaccurate results.

In a 1993 conference paper [PDF] provided to the
Australian Institute of Criminology ("Australia's pre-eminent national crime and criminal justice research agency"), Beverley Schurr summarized these "miscarriages of justice" by RARDE scientists.

She documents four high profile cases (The Birmingham 6, Guildford 4, Maguire 7, and Judith Ward) from 1973 to 1974, of which all guilty verdicts were eventually annulled by 1992 due to revelations "that the forensic scientists had failed to disclose relevant material favourable to the defence, that they gave evidence which was contradicted by some of their own test results and that their partiality affected all of the evidence that they gave."

Schurr focuses on two of the cases (The Maguire 7 and Judith Ward) that involved RARDE scientists (Mr. Elliott and Mr. Higgs) and how it was "found that they lied and suppressed evidence at the trials" and failed to disclose additional results of their forensic tests looking for traces of nitroglycerine.

Fontova writes that RARDE had "found traces of nitroglycerine, a component of commercial dynamite" in their forensic investigation of the 1976 Cubana flight bombing.

But, Schurr documents how in 1974 it was discovered that "the RARDE test was not exclusive for nitroglycerine" and that negative results were also withheld by the RARDE scientists and possibilities of contamination dismissed. And, this was only for one case.

In another (Judith Ward case), the RARDE scientists "suppressed evidence, wrote a misleading report, told deliberate falsehoods... overstated some test results, lied to a defence expert witness about the test results, went outside test guidelines to record a 'positive' test result" and committed other deceptions.

In the 1981 interview [PDF] with RESUMEN, Carlos Fabbri states that the flotsam examined by RARDE in 1976 was underwater for at least 16 hours and tests showed "strong" indications for nitroglycerine. Its important to note that Fabbri himself did not conduct the chemical tests for nitroglycerine. And, RARDE was found in 1974 of overstating and lying about their nitroglycerine results. But, more importantly to us, the RARDE scientists lied "that there was no other substance which could mimic nitroglycerine results" when in fact they knew that "dyes in shoe polishes and other commodities could produce a positive [Thin Layer Chromatography] test result."

Just like Fabbri, a RARDE scientist (in the Maguire 7 case) boasted of "
a reasonably high level" of nitroglycerine results, when in fact an independent inquiry later found that his confirmatory tests were negative.

In fact, the recovery process for nitroglycerine was still being perfected in the 80's, even by RARDE scientists.

The acquittals and annulments of these high profile cases renewed investigations into the effectiveness of Thin Layer Chromatography in the 70's. It also further deteriorated the public's faith in the criminal justice system, the majority of whom believed the future was still grim.

It serves Humberto Fontova's defense to present RARDE as "
the most authoritative source on earth" in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, and leave readers ignorant of the realities about forensic science and RARDE's questionable history. In my opinion, Fontova is another propagandist, like Enrique Encinosa, at the service of Luis Posada Carriles.

I ask myself why. My best guess is that Luis Posada Carriles still represents the archetypal hero to some Cuban exiles, and thus his noble identity becomes an essential and necessary ingredient to the personal collective identity one wants to present: made of honor and sacrifice. And, thus must be defended at all costs, even at the expense of the facts.

Sure, we all need heroes to look up to and memorialize, to strengthen our cultural values with, but we also need to re-examine where our cultural values stand in this world.

Otherwise, how will we know when new heroes stand up to the world.

[Part 1]

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