By William Camacaro
This article was first published by Orinoco Tribune. William Camacaro is a Venezuelan-American, National Co-Coordinator in the Alliance for Global Justice and was a co-founder of the Bolivarian Circle of New York “Alberto Lovera” and Senior Analyst for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA).
After more than two years questioning Venezuelan Alex Saab’s diplomatic status, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has now conceded that he is a special envoy. The dramatic U-turn was made in a filing before Judge Robert Scola on Tuesday, Sept. 13, in a hearing that was held regarding Saab’s motion to compel the DOJ to hand over certain documents, which his defense believes would be beneficial to his claim of diplomatic immunity.
Alex Saab’s defense has been pushing the DOJ for some months now to make what are called “Brady disclosures.” These require that information and evidence that is material to the guilt or innocence of a defendant must be disclosed by the prosecutor to the defense team. The term comes from the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case (Brady v. Maryland), in which the Supreme Court ruled that suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to a defendant who has requested it violates due process.
The Department of Justice has steadfastly dragged its heels in producing the requested documents, leaving Saab’s defense no choice but to file a motion to compel the hastening of the process.
Saab’s defense team is adamant that, given the importance of the case, other branches of the U.S. government — such as the Department of State, DOJ’s Office of International Affairs, Department of Defense and the Washington Interpol liaison office — all hold information that supports the notion that Alex Saab is a Venezuelan special envoy entitled to diplomatic immunity and inviolability.
Alex Saab was detained June 12, 2020, on the Cape Verdean Island of Sal, on instructions from the United States to the tiny West African archipelago. At the time, which coincided with the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alex Saab was undertaking a humanitarian special mission to Iran to procure medicines, medical equipment and equipment for the oil sector in Venezuela.
His detention was declared illegal twice by the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, in March and June of 2021, a claim that was further supported by rulings from the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Similarly, Saab’s detention was condemned by several other U.N. bodies. Cape Verde bowed to political pressure from the United States and agreed to extradite Alex Saab. Even though the domestic judicial process was not completed, Alex Saab was forcibly removed to Miami on Oct. 16, 2021.
Throughout Tuesday’s hearing, the DOJ appeared off-balance, and Justice Scola’s comments on the performance were on several occasions bathed in scorn, if not outright sarcasm. Central to the discussion was whether or not the DOJ intended to use any classified materials to support its position. After some prevarication, it admitted that it was still “reviewing the matter” and that “technology issues” were making the review more difficult than usual. Justice Scola asked Alex Saab’s defense team if they objected to granting the DOJ more time, to which they agreed.
The date for the hearing on Alex Saab’s status as a diplomat entitled to immunity has now been pushed back to Dec. 12. Following the DOJ’s acceptance of the fact that Alex Saab is a special envoy, the court will effectively be left with only the issue of Saab’s entitlement to immunity to address.
The film “Alex Saab: a kidnapped diplomat” premiered in Caracas and was then shown in 10 U.S. cities on the same day. This film really exposes the starvation in Venezuela caused by U.S. sanctions. The role of Alex Saab in organizing the supplies of basic foods and essential supplies to every family in Venezuela through the CLAP food distribution program is highlighted.
The 48-minute film is available on Youtube. We encourage people to download it and organize screenings of this film. (youtu.be/bhO3k-sazdM)