President George W. Bush has emphasized that if one of the myriad of U.S. police agencies even suspect someone of planning, abetting or carrying out a terrorist act, he will, at a minimum, get tossed into a dark hole. Indeed, Bush has thrown the Magna Carta into the garbage heap when it comes to Muslims suspected of pernicious thoughts toward the United States.
But if suspected terrorists turn their rage toward the detested Fidel Castro, these rules don’t apply.
Indeed, those who try to bomb Cuban targets, or those related to Cuba, receive special treatment. This double-standard casts a shadow over the president’s commitment to fight terrorism.
For example, TV footage showed Homeland Security cops arresting Posada in mid May. But the arresting officers didn’t even handcuff the Western Hemisphere’s most notorious terrorist. (Remember how Bush’s pal Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay ENRON’s CEO got handcuffed?) Justice Department spokespeople said they plan to charge the foremost terrorist in the western hemisphere with “illegal entry into the United States.”
The FBI has reams of files on Posada, affectionately called “Bambi” by his terrorist friends. Former FBI Special Agent Carter Cornick told New York Times reporter Tim Weiner that Posada was “up to his eyeballs” in the October 1976 destruction of a Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados. All 73 passengers and crew members died. Recently published FBI and CIA documents not only confirm Cornick’s statement, but also reveal that U.S. agencies had knowledge of the plot and did not inform Cuban authorities or try to stop the bombing.
Posada denied involvement at the time, but police nabbed two of the plotters who had disembarked in Barbados. They fingered Posada as the man who hired them to place the bomb on the plane. His name became ubiquitous in the files of agencies that monitored terrorists. Nevertheless, several weeks after Posada announced his presence on U.S. soil, Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, still claimed he had no information that Posada had even entered the country.
Posada himself promoted his high international profile. So that the world knew of his exploits, he boasted to New York Times reporters Anne Bardach and Larry Rohter in 1998 that he had organized a sabotage campaign of Cuban tourist spots. In 1997, one of Posada’s agents in Cuba detonated a bomb at a Cuban hotel that killed an Italian tourist. Posada replied that “it was a freak accident, but I sleep like a baby.” A hardened terrorist can’t afford to be sentimental!
In 1999, Panamanian police discovered that the 71-year-old Posada, between visits to his proctologist, conspired with three other anti-Castro geezers to assassinate Cuba’s leader in Panama. Castro was to give a public speech there.
This quartet of seniors, Guillermo Novo, Pedro Remon, Gaspar Jimenez and
Posada, planned to blow up the platform from which Castro would speak. After Panamanian police arrested them, they denied any involvement. “What proof do they have?” sneered Posada et. al. a mere set of their fingerprints on the explosives found in their rented car.
This March, Posada entered the U.S. surreptitiously. He left Panama less than a year after out-going Panamanian President Mireyea Moscoso pardoned him and his accomplices.
Moscoso also apparently contravened Panamanian law by issuing the pardons before the appeals process had ended. The Panamanian press mused about the “coincidence” between the issuing of pardons and the simultaneous $4 million deposited in her Swiss bank account.
After pardoning the geezers, Moscoso phoned U.S. Ambassador Simon Ferro, saying she had complied with Washington’s request to release the men.
On May 20, 2004, the four caught a waiting airplane that took them to Honduras. There, Posada, the veritable padrino of Latin American terrorism, disembarked while the other three continued to Miami so their arrival could coincide with President Bush’s campaign stop. They entered the United States without problems, despite their terrorist rap sheets.
Did Homeland Security personnel read Bush’s November 26, 2001 declaration? “If anybody harbors a terrorist, they’re a terrorist.” Did Bush send a note to anti-terrorist agencies explaining that they should make exceptions for “zealous patriots” who wanted to assassinate Castro and anyone else who happened to be near him when the bomb went off?
Indeed, all four pardoned Castro-haters had for decades tried to assassinate and commit sabotage against Cuban and other officials and properties in New York, Mexico and the Caribbean.
A Washington D.C. jury had convicted Guillermo Novo first of conspiring to assassinate former Chilean Chancellor Orlando Letelier. When an appeals court reversed that conviction on procedural grounds, a second jury in 1982 found Novo guilty of perjury for lying to a grand jury about his knowledge of the assassination plot. In September 1976, five Cubans working with Chilean secret police agents on orders from Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet had car-bombed Letelier on Washington’s Embassy Row.
Ronni Moffitt, Letelier’s young colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies, also died in the bombing. The FBI also knew that Posada had knowledge of the plot to kill Letelier.
Born Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles in Cienfuegos, Cuba in 1928, this Cuban expatriate served on dictator Fulgencio Batista’s repressive forces until the January 1959 revolutionary takeover. Posada then swore vengeance.
The CIA recruited him for its 1961 invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. But the Agency placed Posada in an anti-Castro version of the Waffen SS, a squad that would “mop up” after the invaders had prevailed. Following the April fiasco, the CIA sent Posada for “training” at Fort Benning, Georgia, to learn about spying, using explosives and other lethal devices. In 1971, working out of Venezuela, he partnered with Antonio Veciana, founder of Alpha 66, another anti-Castro terrorist group, to plan an elaborate plot to assassinate Castro.
In a 1996 interview, Veciana told me how he and Posada had recruited two Venezuelan hit men, disguised them as a TV news crew and sent them to Santiago, Chile, before Castro arrived on a visit. Meanwhile, the assassins “blended in” with the press corps. CIA technicians had outfitted their news camera with a gun. Fortunately for Fidel, the assassins chickened out. Posada, enraged over such cowardice, recruited other assassins to use the same lethal camera on Castro when he stopped in Caracas for a press conference on his return to Cuba. Those whackers also had second thoughts and the plot failed again.
Perhaps Posada’s frustration over the failed 1971 hits abated after the “success” of his 1976 Barbados air sabotage. After Venezuelan authorities charged him with responsibility for the airline bombing, they tossed him into prison while appeal after appeal took place until August 1985. Then, someone who knew and admired Posada perhaps Jorge Mas Canosa, leader of the Cuban American Nation Foundation in Miami, who is listed with a $50 note next to his name in Lt. Col. Oliver North’s notebooks, published by the Iran-Contra Congressional subcommittees – bribed prison authorities to help Posada “escape.”
Following his “escape,” North then engaged this fugitive to re-supply the CIA-backed Contras from El Salvador. When the United States stopped funding the Contra War, with the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Posada returned to the bombing business. This time, he selected bombing hotels in Cuba, a strategic target that would impair Castro’s foreign exchange source by making the island a dangerous spot for European tourists. Posada told Times reporters Bardach and Rohter that the money came from wealthy Cubans in Miami.
Given Posada’s own boasting and from the available evidence in published documents, the Justice Department had to either try him for terrorist acts or deport him to Venezuela, which has requested his extradition. He plotted the 1976 airliner bombing from Caracas and escaped from prison there. He also apparently committed murder and torture there as well. Despite this overwhelming documentation, however, the Justice Department rejected Venezuela’s May 2005 extradition request to try Posada for this crime on the grounds that the request lacked sufficient detail.
One wonders: Did Posada announce his illegal presence in the United States with the idea that U.S. government complicity in aiding and abetting his past acts of terrorism would protect him? U.S. authorities didn’t inform Cuba or try to stop the 1976 air-bombing plot, and in 1971, as Veciana stated, the CIA made the gun that Posada’s agents placed inside the camera to assassinate Castro. And Ollie North has knowledge of Posada’s covert activities for U.S. intelligence as well.
Given Washington’s decade long history of terrorism aimed at Cuba, Bush might ask his staff to re-word the doctrinaire anti-terrorist statements they write for his press conferences.
After the foul 9/11 deeds, a few wise counselors had recommended that Bush leave the anti-terrorist campaign to police and judicial agencies. But Bush insisted on war. By employing the military to this task and in the process justifying the erosion of human rights as necessary to fighting terrorism, the world has come to think of the U.S. government as hypocritical at best.
Posada, an old U.S. terrorist chicken, has come home to roost in Bush’s nest. He has also exposed Bush’s anti-terrorist policies as a hoax.
SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He wrote Assassination on Embassy Row, an account of the Letelier-Moffitt murders, (with John Dinges). A version of this article appeared in Foreign Policy In Focus.