MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Apparently setting the stage for a defense in court, the lawyer for an American accused of flying arms into Nicaragua said Tuesday that a confession attributed to his client by government prosecutors was given under coercion during a police interrogation.
"The interrogations are done in dark places, with psychological coercion, without the presence of proper legal authorities and without a lawyer," declared Enrique Sotelo Borgen, the lawyer representing Eugene Hasenfus, 45, of Marinette, Wis. "A confession made under such circumstances is provoked and has no validity."
Hasenfus was captured on Oct. 6, a day after parachuting from a C-123 transport plane shot down by Nicaraguan soldiers over southern Nicaragua. On Monday, the Sandinista Justice Ministry formally charged him with trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, along with joining criminal groups and participating in an act of terrorism.
Tried by Special Court
Hasenfus is standing trial before the Sandinistas' Popular Anti-Somocista Tribunal, a special court that handles political and subversion cases. The indictment read Monday before the tribunal included information supposedly given by Hasenfus himself.
The legal document detailed Hasenfus' involvement in a weapons supply ring which transported arms to U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras.
"Hasenfus told me that he was subjected to constant interrogation," said Sotelo Borgen.
He added that the interrogation was carried out by the feared Sandinista Directorate of State Security, Nicaragua's secret police.
Sotelo Borgen said he spoke to Hasenfus only briefly Monday night, after the charges were read. The characterization of dark places and psychological coercion came not from Hasenfus, but from Sotelo Borgen's memory; in 1984, the attorney was taken into custody by secret police on suspicion of fraternizing with U.S. diplomats here.
Longtime Sandinista Critic
Sotelo Borgen is a longtime critic of the Sandinistas. A veteran lawyer with the air of an absent-minded professor, he has defended about 100 cases before the tribunal. He has lost all but four or five of them, he said Tuesday. The tribunal's name is taken from that of Anastasio Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979.
Hasenfus' trial was scheduled to resume today with a response to the charges, but Sotelo Borgen plans to ask for a two-day postponement to have more time to confer with his client.
The lawyer complained that the Monday night meeting was the only one he has had with Hasenfus.
Sotelo Borgen declined on Tuesday to say whether Hasenfus will plead guilty or not guilty to the charges.
The Sandinistas' 19-page indictment included a three-page segment supposedly drawn from a written confession and statements made by Hasenfus to police.
According to the prosecution account, a man named Bill Cooper recruited Hasenfus in June for the job of transporting supplies to Nicaraguan rebels from air bases in Honduras and El Salvador. Hasenfus was trained as a cargo handler who knew how to shove supplies out of airplanes by parachute.
The Cooper referred to in the charges was presumably William J. Cooper of Reno, Nev., who piloted the C-123 that was brought down Oct. 5 and from which Hasenfus parachuted.
In July, Cooper and Hasenfus were in Miami, according to the indictments; there Cooper showed Hasenfus a C-123 that would be used in his work. The plane was supposedly parked at the offices of Southern Air Transport, a company once owned by the CIA.
Salary of $3,000 a Month
Hasenfus agreed to a salary of $3,000 a month, plus a $750 bonus for each time he flew into Nicaraguan airspace, the indictment added.
On July 10, Hasenfus flew via Taca Airlines to San Salvador where he met a man named John McRainey and other "U.S. personnel," the indictment says. The document identified other participants as: Buzz Sawyer, a crew member on the downed plane whose full name is Wallace Blaine Sawyer; and Dan Gamelin, Joe Messer, Jerry Stimuadel, John Piowaty, Moe Becker and some others listed as Dave, Frank and "Earny." These names were also listed on log books recovered from the wreckage of the downed C-123 and match the names of some employees of Southern Air Transport.
The prosecution document said that Hasenfus flew on four night supply runs from Aguacate, a U.S.-built airstrip in Honduras that has long been a contras supply base. The plane dropped supplies to the rebels in Matagalpa province in northern Nicaragua, the indictment said. Hasenfus also participated in six flights that took off from the Salvadoran air force base at Ilopango, near San Salvador, the document charges. The route of these supply runs took Hasenfus south, about 40 miles off the Nicaraguan coast, east into Costa Rica and then north into Nicaragua.
The fateful Oct. 5 flight began at Ilopango at 9:30 a.m. The cargo included 10,000 pounds of weapons, including AK-47 rifles, ammunition, grenades and boots. Along with Hasenfus, Cooper and Sawyer, there was a Nicaraguan radio operator on board. He was killed in the crash and his name has never been revealed.
All traveled armed, the indictment declared. Hasenfus carried a Soviet-made 7.82-millimeter pistol; Cooper, a Smith & Wesson .38 Special pistol; Sawyer, a Colt .45 and the Nicaraguan, an AK-47. Hasenfus' pistol was on loan from Ramon Medina, according to the indictment. In the document, Medina was identified along with Max Gomez as two Cuban-Americans in charge of a flight from Ilopango.