Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Case Closed. Now Call the Witnesses!

You really didn't think we were going to climb up out of the Rabbit Hole now that the Brazilian military has concluded that the American pilots could not have inadvertently knocked the Legacy transponder off-line with a wayward foot or a laptop edge?

That just about eliminates the case, such as it was, against the pilots for the accident, which every single aviation authority in the world, the world beyond the Rabbit Hole, says should never, ever have been criminalized.

Hoooo no.

The federal court in Sinop, the godforsaken outpost in the Amazon where the trial has been under way for months, has denied a habeas corpus petition by the pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino.

Wot? And let them see the particulars of this mysterious case against them?! What do they think they are, innocent?

A judge also ruled that Lepore and Paladino -- who were detained without charge in Brazil for over two months after the crash, until the police finally cobbled together a charge hours after a judge ordered their passports returned so they could leave the country -- must appear before the court in Sinop. This was a denial of a petition by the pilots' attorneys that they testify before a Brazilian judge who would come to the U.S. and be free to pursue any line of questioning deemed necessary.

The new ruling says that "it is not reasonable that the judge who is holding the criminal trial[has] to go to another country for the pilots to be heard ... ."

A Brazilian lawyer for the pilots, Theodomiro Dias Neto, said that under applicable agreements between the U.S. and Brazil, the pilots have the right to be heard in the U.S.

"Based on the interpretation of the Code of Criminal Process and the Legal Assistance Treaty between Brazil and the United States, the American defendants have the right to be interrogated in their country of residence," he said.

There is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Brazil that could force the pilots to go to Brazil, where they have been continually scapegoated since the collision. That's because the crime alleged (whatever it is, now that the inadvertent kicking of the transponder has disappeared) is defined as "unintentional."

And, I might add from my own personal experience and from that of the pilots' during their two months of being detained without charge, there is no reason to accept the good faith of the Brazilian government. In my opinion, the fix has been in on this case since Day One, and the evidence of that is overwhelming. It would be insanity for the pilots to place themselves in Brazilian custody again.

(And to any of my excitable Brazilian correspondents now rushing to protest once more that the pilots were not "detained" during October through early December of 2006 because they were holed up in a nice hotel in Rio: save it. The fact is, they were not free to leave Brazil, and the threat of an angry mob, easily summoned by a simple phone call from informants planted round the clock in the lobby, prevented them from leaving the hotel.)

Still, a guilty verdict even in absentia would mark the pilots as international fugitives in Brazil and in other countries that do have applicable treaties with Brazil.

Meanwhile, nothing, nothing, has been done to fix the fundamental Brazilian air-traffic safety problems that actually caused the Sept. 29, 2006, crash and a subsequent one that killed 199 in Sao Paulo last July.

Meanwhile, the authorities are still chasing after air traffic controllers -- not for malfeasance in the crash, but for protests that followed the crash. In the months afterward, controllers -- who are military personnel -- staged work stoppages and other protests that caused major chaos in the air traffic system. They were protesting poor working conditions and poor, unsafe equipment, but they were also sending a message that controllers were not about to accept any blame for the Amazon disaster. Some of the worst protests occurred last March. More are expected as the Christmas and wearm-weather holidays approach.

From Zero Hora, translation by Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo:

FAB suspends controllers for March mutiny

Seven sergeants from Cindacta-1, in Brasilia, and 11 from Cindacta-2, in Curitiba, were suspended and seek to reverse the decision in the Courts before Christmas.

Seven career sergeants at Cindacta-1 (Brasilia) were discharged and another 11 at Cindacta-2 (Curitiba) were suspended by the Air Force due to the indictment for mutiny by the category on March 30.

Besides trying to reverse the situation in the courts, the controllers are asking for a response by the government before Christmas - when the Ministry of Defense will implant a plan to avoid airport chaos. Despite this, there is no threat of new protests.

"It's an act which seeks to undermine and disorganize the controllers who are on the job. Another resurgence is happening", said lawyer Roberto Sobral, who represents the controllers' association. "We need to have a response before Christmas", he added.

Of those discharged, one is detained for indiscipline and another belongs to the group involved in the Flight 1907 accident, according to the controllers' lawyers. They affirm that 10 controllers are in this situation and that they will appeal. The FAB said that there are seven and that the procedure of evaluation for reenlistment is standard, done annually for military personnel with less that 10 years of service (without stability).

In Curitiba, the controllers were suspended. For Sobral, the government is being "omiss" and "complacent" with a potential danger situation, because the new sergeants who will substitute them do not have sufficient training and experience.

On March 30, close to 200 professionals crossed their arms and, supported by controllers from several States, practically paralyzed the country's air space, causing delays at airports.

According to the Military Criminal Code, mutiny is a meeting of members of the military with the intention of acting against superior orders. It is considered a crime against authority. It differs from revolt because it involves unarmed military personnel.

What set off the controllers' strike on March 30 was the decision to transfer one of the category's leaders, Edleuzo Cavalcante, from Cindacta-1, in Brasilia, to a detachment in Santa Maria. the Air Force Commandant, Juniti Saito, decided to arrest 18 mutineers. With president Lula overseas and in the midst of a command crisis, the airport had a day of unprecedented delays.


Roberto Sobral, a lawyer for the controllers union, sent controllers the following letter, addressing the controllers' current push to remove themselves from military control and other matters:

"Dear Friends,

I have reasons to alert you against a possible strategy that is being adopted by the Air Force Command to destabilize the imminent process of demilitarization.

They have decided to make the persecutions more severe until they bring the controllers' category to lose control, who knows, an attempt at paralyzation.

If this happens the population, the press, the government, will all turn against us and we'll we'll be back to zero, losing all the gains we've already produced: the favorable report in the CPI, the adhesion of important personalities of the government itself, etc.

Demilitarization is inevitable. They know it, but they want to delay it as long as they can and this is where the danger lies. Delaying they hope to bring us to mistakes that will allow them to change course.

They are already ready to intervene in any paralyzation movement by us, or a work-to-rule operation. For this they count on a press that is omiss and irresponsible, without mentioning those that sell themselves, the good journalists won't even have space to defend us, in a situation of commotion.

Because of this, it is fundamental that all the leaderships recommend prudence and patience and that they be there on the day set for our meeting, where together we will establish the paths for the victory that is due us. With us are reason and the right.

We will know what to do for rationality to prevail. We are closer than ever to what we intend. I reemphasize the honor I enjoy in working for these great Brazilians that are our ATCs."


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