Accused Terrorist May Yet Face Justice
by Ali Gharib
Nov. 17, 2007
Reprinted from InterPress Service
WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (IPS) - Since April, an accused terrorist mastermind has walked free in the streets of Miami, Florida while U.S. officials have refused to allow his extradition to Venezuela. That is, until the subject was finally broached this week on Capitol Hill.
Thursday's hearing on suspected terrorist Luis Posada Carriles -- an extremist anti-Casto Cuban exile -- marks the first congressional foray into a drama where the Justice Department has severely bungled attempts to hold and prosecute a man described by the committee chairman as having "a reputation as a notorious terrorist" with "a well-documented history of violence."
"What was significant about this hearing is that is signals the exercise of congressional oversight of the scandalous situation that the Bush administration has created with Luis Posada," Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive's Cuba programme, told IPS.
The hearing examined the story of a man with a 40-year record of violence across the Americas that sounds like it comes from the pages of a political spy thriller rather than photocopies of declassified Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency documents dug up by Kornbluh's organisation, which works to declassify such evidence and provide it to the public.
The most notorious crime for which Posada is believed responsible was the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed all 73 people aboard, most of them Caribbean nationals.
Posada was also implicated in a series of terrorist bombings in Cuba in 1997 in which one person was killed and 11 wounded, as well as an alleged assassination plot against Cuban President Fidel Castro, for which he was ultimately pardoned by Panama's U.S.-friendly President Mireya Moscoso, at the behest of Cuban-American members of Congress. Posada entered the U.S. illegally in 2004, and later applied for asylum here.
When his whereabouts became known, Posada was arrested by Homeland Security authorities and charged with immigration fraud. But these charges were dismissed in 2007 when the judge in the case cited misconduct in his naturalisation interview.
However, then attorney-general Alberto Gonzalez could have kept Posada indefinitely detained under the USA Patriot Act had he simply classified him as a terrorist.
"The U.S. government has three options to show it's serious about fighting terrorism," said Kornbluh.
One way is certification under the Patriot act. Another is "extradition to Venezuela -- a country which has filed a legitimate petition for him to be returned because he is a fugitive from justice there and a naturalised Venezuelan citizen and [an airliner bombing] was planned and organized in Venezuela. The third option they have is to indict him for terrorism crimes."
Venezuela has had an extradition treaty with the U.S. since 1922 that requires that fugitives are either returned or charged locally with the same crimes.
The slowly unfolding incident hints at a double standard in Washington's stance toward terrorism, a battle that often requires the assistance of foreign governments.
Suspects with alleged ties to Islamic extremists are often detained indefinitely and subject to harsh treatment such as in the cases of "rendition" to countries known to practice torture. Simultaneously, a man with a like-minded foreign policy goal as the administration -- namely regime change in Cuba -- and accused of masterminding numerous attacks on civilian targets roams within U.S. borders unimpeded by authorities.
"We must demonstrate that we apply our laws fully and equally without regard to political ideology if we want to ensure international cooperation on terrorism," said the chairman of the subcommittee, Representative Bill Delahunt, in his opening remarks. "This will be the first of a number of hearings to achieve that goal."
In hours of testimony well into the evening from journalists who had interviewed Posada, Kornbluh, Posada's defence attorney and a family member of a victim of one of the alleged attacks, the House oversight subcommittee focused on the bombing of the civilian Cubana Airlines flight 455 in 1976.
Though Posada has consistently denied charges of involvement in the first mid-air commercial bombing in the Western hemisphere, documents presented by Kornbluh, implicate Posada in the planning of act.
A cable from the FBI attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, said within a day of the bombing that a source had "all but admitted that Posada and Bosch had engineered the bombing of the airline."
Orlando Bosch is another extremist Cuban exile and longtime collaborator and associate of Posada who has lived freely in Florida since a 1990 administrative pardon from President George H.W. Bush after Bosch's detention as an "excludable alien."
It was under Bosch's leadership that the Coordination of the United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU) was formed in a 1976 summit in the mountains of the Dominican Republic by several extremist anti-Castro groups when they sensed that the U.S. government's efforts to overthrow Cuban President Fidel Castro were slowing down in the mid-1970's.
According to documents released by the NSA, CORU has been labeled as "an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organisation."
CORU launched what Kornbluh called "the summer of anti-Castro terrorist violence" in 1976. The six major operations culminated in the downing of Cubana flight 455 for which CORU took responsibility in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Asked by journalist Ann Louise Bardach in 2006 if he was responsible for the plane crash, Bosch replied coyly that, "I have to tell you no."
The story of Posada painted by the panels at the hearing was a broad picture of a man accused of -- and in a few instances convicted of -- everything from night-club and hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997, several plots to assassinate Castro, and involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair in the mid-1980s.
The attacks in 1997 targeting tourist destinations in Havana -- acts reminiscent of Palestinian suicide bombers who attempted to slow Israeli nightlife during the second Intifada -- are much easier to tie to Posada than the airplane bombing. Posada called a meeting with Bardach in 1998 to bring publicity to the incidents, which had been effectively swept under the rug by Cuba.
"He does not admit the bombs in the hotels but he does not deny either," read a note Posada gave Bardach on the last day of their interviews.
It is these terrorist acts that are the subject of a grand jury investigation where members of the Northern New Jersey Cuban exile community are being investigated for bankrolling the operations.
This could lead to an eventual indictment of Posada despite questionable destruction of some of the evidence by the FBI in 2003 in what was described as making space in the evidence room. It is here that Kornbluh's third option comes into play.
"An indictment in this case would totally change the landscape of the Bush administration's handling of the Posada case," said Kornbluh, "and the landscape of U.S. policy towards Cuba."
The hypocrisy of the U.S. government -- with Bush having declared that any country harbouring terrorists is "just as guilty as the terrorist" -- was not lost on any of the attendees at the hearing.
"The United States finds itself in the frankly inexplicable position of having not one, but both men who our own intelligence agencies identified as responsible for bringing down a civilian airliner living free and unfettered lives in Florida," said Kornbluh before the subcommittee. "In the midst of a war on terrorism, this has significant repercussion for the United States."