Haitian's deal with U.S. could let him avoid trial in atrocities Island authorities want Constant, but he is free to go elsewhere

July 26, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

When U.S. officials released Emanuel Constant from a Maryland jail last month, it was part of a secret deal that practically guarantees the former Haitian paramilitary leader will not be deported home to face charges for numerous political murders and tortures.

The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, provides an escape hatch for Constant, a former paid CIA informant, and allows the United States to renege on more than a year of promises to return him to Haiti for trial.

Constant's group, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), is accused of hundreds of atrocities and was instrumental in repression under the military junta that toppled democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.

Constant fled Haiti for the United States in late 1994, two months after an American-led force restored Aristide to power and shut down paramilitary groups such as FRAPH.

U.S. authorities arrested him five months later and jailed him as a threat to foreign policy.

The agreement to release him was drawn up by the State Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Justice Department and National Security Council.

The closed federal court document specifically states that Constant may work in the United States and that he may choose to "self-deport to a country other than Haiti."

In exchange, Constant dropped a lawsuit against Secretary of State Warren Christopher in which he claimed to have collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency to undermine Aristide's return to Haiti.

In his suit and in interviews, Constant has claimed that the CIA objected to Aristide's return to Haiti, even though the Clinton administration was committed to returning Aristide to power.

Constant said CIA agents collaborated with him to expose Aristide as a political extremist.

And he said the CIA knew in advance of FRAPH's plan to protest when the first support troops arrived on the USS Harlan County to make way for Aristide's return October 1993.

In a major embarrassment to the Clinton White House, that protest caused the ship to turn back, and Aristide's return was delayed for another year.

A State Department official yesterday said the CIA relationship was not a consideration in the deal to release Constant.

A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment.

But supporters of the Haitian government, which wants to put Constant on trial, and human rights advocates said that in the deal the United States compromised justice in Haiti to keep Constant's CIA activities from surfacing in court.

"From beginning to end, the U.S. handling of the Constant matter was solely and exclusively to protect the intelligence community and the U.S. in their complicity in the murder of thousands of people in Haiti," said Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based lawyer for the Haitian government.

Constant, 39 and a member of one of Haiti's most prominent families, has been living in New York City since he was released from the Wicomico County Jail in Salisbury on June 14.

That day, according to one witness, Constant retrieved his gold jewelry, his diamond ear stud and his European-tailored jacket and left the jail.

After hopping a commuter flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he bought a red and blue Maryland ball cap as a memento, shared burgers and beers with an INS official, then boarded an evening flight for New York.

Constant had been held in the Wicomico County Detention Center since his arrest in May 1995.

An INS judge in Baltimore last fall ordered his deportation to Haiti.

He was kept in Wicomico, which the INS uses as a regional detention center, until he could be deported.

Last month's decision to free Constant appears to contradict the position taken by Secretary of State Christopher a year earlier.

In a March 29, 1995, letter seeking Constant's arrest, Christopher wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno: "Nothing short of Mr. Constant's removal from the United States can protect our foreign policy interests in Haiti."

"I also request that you take all steps possible to effect his deportation to Haiti," the letter stated.

The agreement to release Constant was hammered out over two days beginning June 12, when he was summoned from his jail cell for a conference call with officials of the INS and the Justice Department, according to sources who were present.

Benedict Ferro, head of the INS Maryland district, told Constant that U.S. intelligence had learned of a plan to murder him during a staged prison riot if he were turned over to Haitian officials.

"You'd have a dead man," an NSC official, speaking condition of anonymity, said later.

"We are staunchly working against political terrorism of any stripe regardless of a person's background."

"So, what do we do now?" Constant asked at the time.

Two days later he was out of jail.

Jean Casimir, Haitian ambassador to the United States, said through a spokesman yesterday that he was unaware of the agreement.

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