- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

Three Rwanda citizens who faced death sentences in the 1999 kidnapping and slaughter of two Americans in Uganda are seeking political asylum now that U.S. authorities have moved to drop the charges.

Francois Karake, Leonidas Bimenyimana and Gregoire Nyaminani, reputed members of the Liberation Army of Rwanda who have been detained in the D.C. Jail for nearly four years, were charged in the bludgeoning deaths of Robert Haubner and his wife, Susan Miller, of Portland, Ore.

The couple, on a safari vacation to see rare mountain gorillas, were killed with six other tourists from New Zealand and Britain when men with guns, axes and machetes raided their camp in a national park in Uganda on March 1, 1999. Authorities said the killings were meant to erode U.S. support for Rwanda’s government. The men were brought to the U.S. to face trial in 2003.

However, prosecutors earlier this month filed a motion to drop felony murder charges after a federal judge last year threw out the defendants’ confessions, citing evidence that the men were tortured while imprisoned by Rwandan officials.

With a dismissal pending, the defendants are seeking asylum in the U.S. because of “fear of persecution” if they go back to Rwanda, according to recently filed court records.

Defense attorneys disclosed the applications for asylum last week in a memo to U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle.

“This will assure that once charges are dismissed, the defendants will not be at risk for being taken from the country without the opportunity to address their fear of persecution, which would await them when they return,” the memo stated.

It is not clear whether the three men, whom authorities have called terrorists, could live in the United States. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said that once charges are dropped the men would be handled “as would any other person or persons who do not have legal immigration status to remain in the U.S.”

But efforts to deport them would be complicated if the men have completed applications seeking political asylum, said a specialist on the issue.

With a completed application, “no action can be taken to deport you” until authorities decide whether to grant asylum, said Christopher D. Candland, a political science professor at Wellesley College who has testified as an expert witness in political asylum cases.

However, Mr. Candland said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials almost certainly would detain the defendants after the criminal charges are dropped.

Defense attorneys, who have declined to comment on the case, stated in recent legal filings that they want Judge Huvelle to postpone deciding whether to dismiss charges until after Department of Homeland Security officials provide formal notice that they are reviewing the asylum applications.

Without such notice, the attorneys argue, the defendants risk being sent back to Rwanda as soon as the criminal charges are dropped.

Judge Huvelle’s opinion in August stated that the defendants’ confessions were “extracted only after countless hours of repetitive questioning over a period of many months, during which time they were subjected to periods of solitary confinement … torture and repeated physical abuse.”

Prosecutors said the men were among a band of about 100 that invaded the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, a remote rainforest in the southwestern region of Uganda known for the presence of rare mountain gorillas.

The group attacked the park’s guards and sentries, killing four, one of whom was burned alive. Three women were raped before being killed. And some of the victims, including Mr. Haubner, were beaten to death with axes.

Family members of Mr. Haubner and his wife could not be reached for comment yesterday. Last year, Mr. Haubner’s sister, Deanne Haubner, told the Oregonian newspaper that the confessions should have been admitted as evidence even if the defendants were tortured because “so were Rob and Susan and all the people they killed.”

“So I’m afraid I don’t feel sorry for them if they were tortured,” she said.

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