Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rwandan rebels tortured in Portland tourist murder case

Associated Press Writer
Friday, 18 August 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three Rwandan rebels charged with murdering two Oregon tourists in Uganda were tortured and coerced into confessing, a federal judge ruled, barring U.S. prosecutors from using the confessions in court. Jean-Paul Bizimana, alias Xavier Van Dame, (front) leaves the High Court in Kampala after he was sentenced to fifteen years in jail for killing eight foreign tourists in Bwindi Forest in Western Uganda.

The ruling dealt federal authorities a major setback in a case stemming from the 1999 deaths of eight sightseers who had traveled to a remote rain forest hoping to see rare mountain gorillas. The victims were hacked and bludgeoned to death.

A Portland couple, Rob Haubner and Susan Miller, were among the victims.
The three rebels, who could face the death penalty if convicted, said Rwandan officials bound and beat them with rocks and sticks until they confessed to the U.S. investigators. Medical experts said scars supported those claims.

"The court is painfully aware that two innocent American tourists were brutally killed at Bwindi on March 1, 1999. But that sentiment may not, under the law, dictate the result here," U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle wrote. Haubner and Miller were killed along with tourists from Britain and New Zealand. Rebels later said they had targeted English-speaking tourists in a bid to weaken U.S. and British support for the Rwandan government.

A Ugandan judge sentenced one of the rebels, Jean-Paul Bizimana, to 15 years in prison in January for killing the tourists and their guide. Three other rebels -- Leonidas Bimenyimana, Francois Karake and Gregoire Nyaminani -- are being tried in a Washington federal court for the American deaths. In her 150-page ruling Wednesday, Huvelle said the men offered the FBI inconsistent confessions only after being subjected to torturous conditions. One of the men said he was subjected to "kwasa kwasa," in which he spent two weeks with one arm over his shoulder, the other behind his back and his wrists bound with rope.

They testified to being beaten with bricks and sticks, having their ears boxed and sitting naked in an empty concrete room flooded with water. Defense attorneys said the coerced confessions were the government's key evidence. Justice Department spokesman Brian Sierra said the agency was reviewing the decision and had not decided how to proceed. "We're all sitting around saying, 'If this was our call, it'd be all over here,"' said defense attorney Jeffrey O'Toole, who represents Bimenyimana. Huvelle said the Rwandan military captain responsible for the abuses believed his job was to elicit confessions to help solve the case for his superiors, who wanted to curry favor with U.S. officials. The abuses did not happen in front of U.S. authorities, and the judge did not say whether they should have known about them.

The defendants are former members of the Liberation Army of Rwanda, or ALIR. It was formed in 1996 in refugee camps in neighboring Zaire (now Congo) by members of the former Rwandan Armed Forces and civilian militia known as Interahamwe, which carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The Oregon Herald news publication.

Related links:
The Grinding Machine: Terror and Genocide in Rwanda

Rwandan rebels charged over massacre of tourists:

Suspects in Bwindi massacres seek U.S. asylum:


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