Letting a Cuban Terrorist Go Free
The acquittal of right-wing Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles on charges of lying to immigration officials underscores the U.S. double standard on terrorists, applying delicate legal rules to “ours” and a rough-and-tumble approach to “theirs.”
In the Posada case, federal prosecutors sought to prove that Posada lied at an immigration hearing when he denied a role in a lethal bombing campaign inside Cuba in the 1990s. The perjury case rested heavily on taped admissions that Posada made in an interview with a New York Times reporter, although he later recanted those statements.
More notoriously, however, Posada was implicated in the mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airliner in 1976, killing 73 people onboard including the country’s youth fencing team. Though the evidence of Posada’s role in that attack is strong, U.S. authorities have ruled out turning him over to Venezuela or Cuba to face prosecution for mass murder.
As the acquittal on Friday shows, Posada continues to earn lots of sympathy because the former CIA operative is viewed by some as a Cold War hero who has battled Fidel Castro for many years. At Posada’s perjury trial in El Paso, Texas, his lawyers appealed to the jury to let him live out his life in Miami.
The jury apparently agreed, acquitting the 83-year-old after only three hours of deliberation.
In its totality -- from prosecutors to judges to juries -- the U.S. legal system appears to have adopted a de facto immunity for acts of terrorism by Posada and other right-wing Cubans. Yet, different standards of prosecutorial determination are demonstrated in Islamic terror cases.
While it doesn’t seem to matter how much evidence exists connecting Posada to the Cubana Airlines terror bombing, alleged Muslim “terrorists” have found themselves locked away on the flimsiest of suspicions. Some were “renditioned” to countries that are infamous for torture chambers and some were tortured by U.S. interrogators directly.
Some of these Muslim detainees turned out to be victims of mistaken identity. Others were eventually released without being charged with any crime. Some died in custody, including cases that were ruled homicides.
However, Posada and his cohorts have mostly enjoyed comfortable lives in Miami where the Cuban-American community harbors them. They have had a long history of protection, too, under the wing of the Bush Family and other powerful U.S. politicians.
Indeed, Posada came to personify the hypocrisy of George W. Bush’s famous declaration that harboring a terrorist was no better than being a terrorist.
On May 2, 2008, for example, Posada was feted at a gala fundraising dinner in Miami. Some 500 supporters chipped in to his legal defense fund and Posada arrived to thundering applause.
In a bristling speech against the Castro regime, Posada told his supporters, “We ask God to sharpen our machetes.”
Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez protested the Bush administration’s tolerance of the dinner. “This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about [more] violence,” Alvarez said.
Similarly, his alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana Airlines bombing, Orlando Bosch, showed no remorse for his violent past.
In a TV interview, reporter Manuel Cao on Miami's Channel 41 asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the Cubana plane crashed off the coast of Barbados.
Bosch responded, "In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”
“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked.
“Who was on board that plane?” Bosch responded. “Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese.” [Officials tallies actually put the Guyanese dead at 11.]
Bosch added, “Four members of the Communist Party, chico! Who was there? Our enemies…”
“And the fencers?” Cao asked about Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people onboard?”
Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. … She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.
“We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.”
[The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976 and which involved a CIA undercover asset.]
“If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn’t you think it difficult?” Cao asked.
“No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba,” Bosch answered.
Though Bosch and Posada have formally denied masterminding the Cubana Airlines bombing, Bosch’s incriminating statements and other evidence in U.S. government files make the case of his and Posada’s guilt overwhelming.
Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.
But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were well known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela’s intelligence agency, DISIP.
The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”
On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.
“Following the 6 October  Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”
In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.
A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.
Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.
After President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for fully unraveling the mysteries of anti-communist terrorist plots dissipated. Reagan’s ramped-up Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.
In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison where he was awaiting trial. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for the $25,000 that was used to bribe guards who allowed Posada to walk out of prison.
Another Cuban exile who aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to then-Vice President Bush. At the time, Rodriguez was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, a pet project of President Reagan.
After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run Contra-supply operation.
Jeb Bush Intervenes
By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.
But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb's dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.
In 1992, also during the Bush-41 presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush’s vice presidential office in the secret contra operation.
According to a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush’s national security adviser, former CIA officer Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez.
“Posada … recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg,” the FBI summary said. “Posada knows this because he’s the one who paid Rodriguez’ phone bill.” After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy unmolested. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]
In 2005, when Posada sneaked into Miami, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made little effort to capture him. Posada was detained only after he held a news conference.
Then, instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela to stand trial for a terrorist mass murder, George W. Bush’s administration engaged in a lackadaisical effort to have him deported somewhere else for lying on an immigration form.
During a 2007 court hearing in Texas, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela. The judge, therefore, barred Posada from being deported there.
After that ruling, Venezuelan Ambassador Alvarez accused the administration of “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”
The Obama administration’s Justice Department did prosecute Posada on perjury charges (the case that was lost on Friday) but has shown no interest in seeking justice for the Cubana Airlines victims. To do so would surely have political repercussions in the swing state of Florida in 2012.
The U.S. news media remains similarly blasé about Posada walking free in El Paso, in contrast to their dudgeon over Libya’s supposed role in the mid-air bombing of Pan Am 103, which killed 270 people in 1988. The widely presumed guilt of Muammar Gaddafi’s government is often cited as part of the justification for seeking violent “regime change” in Libya.
At leading news outlets, such as the New York Times, Libyan guilt for the Pan Am 103 bombing is stated as flat fact, even though the evidence is much weaker – indeed threadbare – compared to what exists against Posada and Bosch on the Cubana Airlines case. [For more on the Pan Am 103 case against Libya, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Through the US Media Lens Darkly.”]
Still, the Times and other top U.S. news organizations cite one act of terrorism (Pam Am 103) in demanding U.S. air attacks to slaughter Libyan army troops and pave the way for a rebel conquest of Tripoli. In the parallel (Cubana) case, the U.S. news media and government officials shrug as Luis Posada Carriles escapes accountability and retires in Miami.
[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.
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