The day after his detention in Rome, the Ethiopian Hamdi Isaac received the news that he would be extradited to London. He was told in no uncertain terms that he had no recourses available: no right to a bond, no immigration hearing to attend, no administrative proceedings to delay his extradition. It was enough for Italian authorities that he was wanted by London for the terrorist attacks this past July 21. According to the Italian news agency, ANSA, Hamdi´s extradition will be expedited.
Why are things so different in the United States? In what legal limbo can a terrorist who is accused of 73 counts of premeditated murder find shelter? What is the status of Venezuela’s request for the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles?
The inconsistency in this so-called war against terrorism is glaring. Whereas Hamdi´s extradition to London will take place in a matter of days, Luis Posada Carriles´case languishes, and after a more than a month and a half the United States has yet to even name a prosecutor to handle the extradition case in court.
The United States instead stubbornly insists on plodding along with an immigration case, premised on the inconsequential charge of Posada´s visa violations. The authorities want to hypnotize us with the immigration case in El Paso, so that we forget the extradition matter pending in Washington. They want to show us the undocumented immigrant detained in El Paso since May, so that we do not discover the terrorist that they sheltered for more than four decades.
A storm, however, may be brewing in El Paso. Washington didn’t count on the legal audacity and courage of a previously unknown administrative judge in El Paso. A few days ago, Judge William Abbott told one of Posada´s lawyers that it doesn’t matter if it was the United States that organized and planned his client’s actions. According to news reports, the attorney was astonished to hear Judge Abbott tell him that under U.S. immigration laws there is no such thing as good terrorism and bad terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism, period.
Posada Carriles´ asylum application is a Pandora’s Box. From it spring, as hidden demons from a bottle, the secret intelligence agencies and sacred cows of American political institutions who, alongside local dictators, unleashed a campaign of terror in Latin America for decades.
Despite the distasteful consequences to some, immigration law is quite clear. To stand a chance of winning, an asylum applicant must testify and tell the truth under penalty of perjury. To have Posada Carriles under oath, answering questions about his life as a CIA agent, is his superiors´ worst nightmare.
Posada has never been a loose cannon. He was a disciplined and key agent in Washington’s dirty war in Latin America. Will he explain on the stand under whose orders he acted?
Will Judge Abbott be given as evidence the admissions that Posada made to the New York Times in 1998, claiming credit for masterminding the string of bombs that exploded in several Cuban hotels and restaurants the previous year, resulting in the death of an Italian tourist. He is already examining Posada´s record of conviction in Panama for the attempted murder of Fidel Castro with C-4 explosives in a university auditorium crowded with students. Posada´s testimony about these terrorist acts will be riveting and fraught with danger for his accomplices and superiors.
It is evident that Judge Abbott wants to get to the heart of the immigration case at bar, and we applaud the efficient way he goes about his job. But the Immigration Court in El Paso is the wrong forum to hear about the crimes of Luis Posada Carriles. It’s an administrative forum within the executive branch of the government. The maximum sanction it can impose on Posada is to deny him asylum and recommend he be expelled from the country. It can neither convict nor punish.
The Italians know it, and they instead promise to expedite Hamdi´s extradition to London. The United States knows it as well, yet thus far it refuses to begin Posada´s extradition proceedings. Why?
There is an arrest warrant for Luis Posada Carriles in Caracas for 73 counts of first degree murder. Posada escaped from a Venezuelan jail in 1985 in the midst of his criminal trial. The case against him is still pending.
The children, widows and loved ones of those who perished in a ball of fire in that passenger plane above a sun drenched beach on October 6, 1976 have a right to see him prosecuted for homicide. To try him in the United States for immigration violations makes a mockery of their pain and is an affront against the war on terrorism.
JOSÉ PERTIERRA is an attorney. He represents the government of Venezuela in Washington, D.C.