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Just after dawn on March 1, 1999, Susan Miller and Robert Haubner awoke in their tent in the Bwindi National Forest prepared for a day of trekking through the lush Ugandan jungle. It wasn’t the married pair’s first trip to the African nation. In fact, they had taken a similar expedition on their honeymoon, just three years earlier, and had been eager to return. But as the couple waited for the other members of their hiking party to awaken, the early-morning silence was broken by a sharp crack. At first they thought it might be a tree falling in the nearby forest. But then it came again. And again. With horror, the two Americans realized the sound they heard wasn’t a falling tree; it was a machine gun. Moments later, a band of men armed with machetes, guns, and axes moved into the camp and began rounding up the 30 or so groggy tourists. The men, it turned out, were Rwandan rebels with a political score to settle with Westerners. By the end of the day nine of the tourists were dead, including Miller and Haubner. In the wake of the killings, U.S. officials vowed to hunt down those responsible. After three years of combing the jungles in Uganda and refugee camps in Rwanda, their big break came when three Rwandan men confessed: one to bludgeoning Haubner with an ax; another to raping Miller, then ordering her murder; the third to overseeing the slaughter as group commander. But now those confessions — the centerpiece of the government’s capital case — are under scrutiny because of claims that the defendants were tortured. Francois Karake, Gregoire Nyaminani, and Leonidas Bimenyimana have all asked a federal judge to suppress their confessions, claiming they endured beatings, starvation, and sensory deprivation while in the custody of Rwanda’s military, which assisted the FBI in its investigation of the murders. News that the criminal case against the Rwandans might be in jeopardy came as a shock to the victims’ families, who say convictions in a U.S. court would bring a sense of closure to a horrific tragedy. “This has been going on for over six years now and it’s been real tough on all of us,” says Janice Dye, Haubner’s sister. “It’s time for us to be able to move on and not have to worry about the possibility of them getting off.” Next month, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle will hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion. The hearing, scheduled for May 9 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is expected to last more than a month. It’s a hearing the defense has characterized as “tantamount to a trial” because of its potential to cripple the government’s case and, possibly, save their clients’ lives. Without the confessions, defense lawyers say, the government has no case, pointing out that there are no fingerprints or DNA evidence linking their clients to the murders. “The government has placed a strong significance on the statements of the defendants, such that if the court suppresses them it will seriously affect their proof at trial,” says Jeffrey O’Toole, a court-appointed attorney for Bimenyimana and a partner at O’Toole, Rothwell, Nassau & Steinbach. Channing Phillips, principal assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, would not comment on the case because it is ongoing. Prosecutors, however, have suggested in court that throwing out the confessions would seriously jeopardize their efforts to convict the men they say are responsible for the brutal murders of Miller and Haubner. THE MASSACRE When Miller and Haubner embarked on their return safari in the lush rain forest of southwest Uganda, they were hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit the region. It was the third trip to Africa overall for Haubner, 48, and his 42-year-old wife, both of whom were senior executives with Intel Corp., a computer-chip maker based in Portland, Ore. Though the couple had traveled in the area before, they had little reason to suspect the kind of trouble that awaited. But Bwindi Park where they were camping is known locally as the “impenetrable forest” and is not under the full control of the Ugandan government. Its thick vegetation and mountainous terrain make it a perfect haven for bandits and rebels. The band that attacked Miller and Haubner’s camp consisted of between 100 and 150 men. They identified themselves as members of the Liberation Army of Rwanda, a coalition of Hutus who fled their country after the 1994 genocide. Rwanda’s Hutu majority carried out the mass murders of as many as 1 million Tutsis, the country’s ethnic minority. When the genocide ended, however, the Tutsis regained power, prompting large numbers of Hutus to flee to surrounding countries, such as Uganda and Congo. After infiltrating Bwindi Park, the Hutu band killed the park’s ranger by burning him alive. Then they singled out English-speaking tourists and ordered them to march toward the forest. Throughout the day the group of 17 was split up several times. Eight were murdered, while the others were released and instructed to convey a message warning their countries not to support Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government. In addition to Haubner and Miller, six other tourists from Britain and New Zealand were murdered. “They were the best people in the world. I know everyone who’s lost a loved one says that, but it’s true,” Dye, of Junction City, Ore., says of her brother and sister-in-law. Dye says she admired the couple’s sense of adventure. She recalls asking her brother once if he was ever scared to visit such remote places, to which he replied, “You can’t live your life being afraid of death.” THE HUNT Within 24 hours of the murders, FBI agents were dispatched to Uganda to assist in the investigation, and from the start the U.S. government expressed determination to track down the perpetrators. “We’re not going to rest until that happens,” James Foley, a State Department official, said two days after the attack. “It may not be easy, it may take some time; but it will have the highest priority of the United States.” Military forces from Uganda and Rwanda joined in the manhunt, and over time the FBI developed a list of individuals believed to have been involved in the attack. But it would be more than two years before any suspects were identified and detained in connection with the murders. In the spring of 2001, Nyaminani and Bimenyimana were captured by the Rwandan military and sent to a “repatriation camp.” Such camps were used to hold Hutus who were attempting to re-enter Rwandan society. Later that year, Karake was arrested after returning to his family’s home in Rwanda. All three defendants were eventually transferred to a Rwandan military camp, where they were held for several months and questioned about the Bwindi killings. It was during this time that defense lawyers allege their clients were tortured until they confessed. The lawyers say the Rwandan military officials, who first questioned the defendants outside the presence of the FBI, told the three suspects what to say — namely, that they were to blame for the Americans’ deaths. The defense claims the men were beaten with hunks of firewood, lashed with barbed wire, hit in the legs with bricks, and chained in dank cells for weeks at a time. By the time the FBI arrived, they were too scared to change their story, the lawyers allege. Prosecutors dispute those claims, arguing the defendants never mentioned any mistreatment until they were extradited and met with counsel in America. “The evidence will show that the defendants confessed freely and may have done so for a variety of reasons — perhaps because they knew the truth would eventually be revealed through investigation, or perhaps because they wanted or needed to assuage their own feelings of guilt,” prosecutors wrote in court papers. Roscoe Howard Jr., who was serving as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia when the charges were brought, says he was comfortable with the evidence presented, including the confessions. “At the time I didn’t detect any confessional issues,” says Howard, now a partner at Troutman Sanders in Washington. But Howard acknowledges that in a tricky case like this one, there are always potential problems: “When you are relying on foreign governments for a lot of the initial investigation and evidence, there are going to be certain difficulties.” That may be particularly true of Rwanda, according to Mark Drumbl, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who volunteered as a defense lawyer during Rwanda’s genocide trials. In recent years there have been widespread reports of abuse in the country’s repatriation camps, where the defendants in this case initially were held. Those familiar with this case also say it’s unique because of challenges faced in the investigation. During an April 2003 hearing, Huvelle questioned how out of nearly 150 rebels, the U.S. government ended up with these three. In response, prosecutors said the defendants were identified by fellow Hutus interviewed at the repatriation camps and they subsequently confessed voluntarily. Compounding the lack of physical evidence, prosecutors have no witnesses who saw what happened to Haubner and Miller. When asked by the judge if anyone gave descriptions of those responsible for the murders, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Wysong indicated that wasn’t possible. “The hostages that survived this didn’t witness the murders,” she said. “Everybody who was a hostage who would have witnessed the murders is now dead.” At a November 2005 hearing the judge voiced skepticism about the case, citing the exorbitant costs associated with the prosecution as well as the challenges she faced in trying to ensure a fair trial for three defendants who don’t understand English. “I believe sincerely that all parties ought to explore disposition here,” she said, adding, “I think you are well aware . . . the complications in a case like this are just unbelievable.” If the case does go to trial — currently set for February 2007 — Dye says she probably would not attend because it would be too difficult. She adds that “probably to the chagrin of the rest of my family,” she would rather see the defendants spend the rest of their lives in prison, than be put to death. “These men were raised in a much different way, in a much different culture,” Dye says. “Although what they did is appalling, I’m not sure they should die for that.”
Sarah Kelley can be contacted at [email protected].

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