by Allan Nairn

from The Nation magazine, October 9, 1995

A notorious gunman charged in the 1993 murder of Haiti's justice minister has been sprung from jail there-with help from U.S. officials. the current justice minister charges-after telling investigators that at the time of the assassination, he was secretly on the payroll of the U.S. Embassy. Much of his story has been confirmed by U.S. officials who worked in Haiti, who say that the gunman, Marcel Morissaint, worked with U.S. intelligence while serving as an attache for national police chief and 1991 coup leader Lieut. Col. Michel Francois.

Morissaint's release, which has stunned and angered President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, came days before he was due to give new evidence to a presidential investigation team probing the assassination of Justice Minister Guy Malary as well as the slayings of pro-Aristide businessman Antoine Izmery in 1993 and out- spoken priest and peasant leader Father Jean-Marie Vincent in 1994.

The current Haitian Justice Minister, Jean-Joseph Exume, reached in his office on September 18, said that Morissaint has been "under the protection" of U.S. agencies; Exume complained bitterly that "they don't have the right to interfere like this in our process."

The revelations come a year after U.S. troops arrived in Haiti-restoring Aristide on the heels of a TV speech in which President Clinton said that Haitians should not have to "accept the violence and repression as their fate."

Morissaint worked in Francois's "Anti-Gang" unit, which, according to human rights groups, routinely tortured prisoners to death. Morissaint told investigators that he began working for the U.S. Embassy in 1991, the year of the coup that toppled Aristide. Though the United States claimed after the coup that it had severed ties with Haiti's killer forces, it is now known that the Defense Intelligence Agency then encouraged Emmanuel Constant to form what became the terrorist hit squad FRAPH, and that while running FRAPH, Constant was being paid by the C.I.A.

Morissaint said that at the embassy he reported to various officials, among them Ben Butcher and Leduc Obas of the Drug Enforcement Administration and another man for whom he gave a first name and a specific description. He said he received cash payments of roughly $300 to $500 per meeting. Butcher-now out of Haiti-confirmed that Morissaint worked with the D.E.A. and said that agents met him roughly "every other week" (at least into 1995) and that he might have been paid "expenses" (though he said Morissaint's drug information was vague and never produced any cases). Obas, reached at the embassy, declined to discuss Morissaint and quickly switched the call to Chuck Gardner, the D.E.A. chief for Haiti, who said that he was "not authorized" to comment on Morissaint.

The third man Morissaint cited as being among his recent embassy liaisons does not seem to match the profile of any of the D.E.A. men there at the time. There was, however, a C.l.A. man who could not be reached for comment who fits Morissaint's description and made frequent visits to Haiti during those years. Operating out of Jamaica (and occasion ally presenting himself as a U.S. drug investigator), he worked closely with Haitian officers in the circle around Colonel Francois. Earlier this year, a senior Francois confidant showed me the agent's business card and displayed a gift he said the C.I.A. man had given him to celebrate the birth of his son.

Morissaint had been jailed on common crime charges of conspiracy, car theft and murder when he was further accused in a March 3 court warrant of having "participated in the assassination of [Justice] Minister Malary." (Morissaint has denied the charges.) In July, he began talking to investigators from an international legal team convened by Aristide to investigate Haiti's highest-profile assassinations. But on September 4-unbeknownst to the investigators and apparently the justice minister-he was released from the Petionville jail after having been summarily acquitted of the common crimes (in the five-hour non jury trial, no outside witnesses were heard; Morissaint's lawyer said the case was "easy-the prosecution offered no evidence").

The presidential investigators learned that Morissaint was gone only when they arrived to question him, and were astonished to hear from the jailers that the accused assassin had been freed. They had seen him as a pivotal witness who could lead them "to the top" not just in the Malary killing but also those of Izmery and Vincent, cases in which other witnesses had already implicated Morissaint. Prosecutor Jean Auguste Brutus, who signed Morissaint out of jail, now says it was all a mistake and that at the time he didn't realize that Morissaint had been charged with killing the justice minister. (Brutus is ostensibly in charge of the Justice Ministry's Malary investigation; Aristide's special legal team is working on another track.)

Justice Minister Exume-who is supposed to oversee the work of prosecutors-said that Morissaint's release was "wrong" and that Haitian authorities are now trying to recapture him. He said that he had been told that the United States paid Morissaint's legal expenses, that it "provided backup" (in ways he declined to specify) to arrange the gunman's release, that after his release they gave him "total protection" (at one point bringing him, under guard, to a hotel) and that the United States also "made arrangements to have [Morissaint] leave the country," although it was not clear whether he has done so. Exume said that when he called the embassy to complain on behalf of the Haitian government, he was told by Robert Felder, the charge d'affaires, that the United States was also now looking for Morissaint. Reached for comment, Felder said he was "not aware of any
[U.S.] assistance" to Morissaint, that he did not know if the embassy had been in touch with him since his release, that last year Morissaint was given a United States visa (now expired), that he was also unaware that Morissaint had been charged in Malary's death, and that he "certainly can't answer" as to whether Morissaint has been paid by the D.E.A. or the C.I.A.

Exume said that Morissaint was "obviously someone they [the United States] were taking care of." (He added, "This has happened before," citing the case of Herve Victor, an interim policeman charged with car theft who-for reasons never explained-was supposedly taken up by the embassy and "sent to the United States.") Morissaint, of course. is just another functionary among the murderous United States-sponsored paramilitaries in Haiti. His boss, Colonel Francois, NBC reported last fall, was paid by the C.I.A. A U.S. intelligence official who recently served in Haiti in a senior position argued to me this week that although Francois dealt drugs, had people "eliminate" and "was a tyrant," "he was only able to function because . . . [the Haitiansl knew that that was the best thing for them at that time. He was able to control the country."

Allan Nairn, who broke the story of US. ties to FRAPH, has covered US. operations in Latin America and Asia since 1980.

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