The United States on Monday strongly protested Nicaragua's plans to try an American accused of ferrying arms to anti-government rebels in a revolutionary "people's tribunal."
In a protest note to the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, the United States said that Eugene Hasenfus, 45, of Marinette, Wis., captured after his plane was shot down eight days ago, could not be guaranteed a fair trial.
"The political nature of the tribunals makes them unfair," a U.S. Embassy official said.
He said that lawyers defending cases in the tribunals frequently are harassed by the government and added that trying Hasenfus in such a court violates international law stipulating the right to a fair and public hearing by an impartial court.
The tribunals, set up in 1983, have been criticized by human rights organizations who say prosecutors often are members of the Marxist-led governing Sandinista Party with few qualifications in the law.
Diplomats said in addition that the only evidence often permitted in the tribunals is that provided by state security investigators.
Hasenfus, parachuted to safety after his plane was hit by a Sandinista missile over southern Nicaragua on Oct. 5. He was the first American captured here since Washington began aiding operations of the contras, as the rebels are called, in 1981.
Two other Americans were killed in the crash of the plane, which Hasenfus said was delivering arms to the contras in an operation supervised by the CIA. Washington has denied any involvement.
Nicaragua was swift to condemn Monday's U.S. protest as "a new and infamous manipulation of information."
A commentator on the official Voice of Nicaragua radio said that Hasenfus was caught red-handed supplying arms used "to assassinate our people" and would be tried as the Nicaraguan government sees fit.
The commentator that said Washington was hypocritical for criticizing Nicaragua for violating international conventions in view of the U.S. refusal to recognize a ruling by the World Court, outlawing U.S. support for the contras.
Hasenfus could face a maximum 30-year jail sentence if found guilty. There is no death penalty in Nicaragua.