“We will make no distinction between those who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
–George W. Bush, Address to the Nation on September 11, 2001
“The Cuban-American community is a bastion of the traditional values that make America great. Included in those values are the rights of the accused criminal that insure a fair trial. Thus, in the final analysis, we trust that any disappointment with our judgment in this case will be tempered and balanced by the recognition that we are a nation of laws in which every defendant, no matter how unpopular, must be treated fairly. Our Constitution requires no less.”
–US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Atlanta, August 9, 2005
The Cuban Five should command the attention of all citizens. Their plight sends a message about the precarious state of law and justice and the reign of raw power under Bush.
On August 9, the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals seemed to have understood this when they reversed the 2001 convictions of the five Cubans (Ruben Campa, Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Luis Medina and Antonio Guerrero) sent from Havana to Florida to infiltrate anti-Castro terrorist groups. The appellate judges concluded, “Pervasive community prejudice against Fidel Castro and the Cuban government and its agents and the publicity surrounding the trial and other community events combined to create a situation where they were unable to obtain a fair and impartial trial.” Their decision concurred with an earlier UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruling, which found the conviction of the Cuban Five “arbitrary” and against international law.
The case exemplifies Bush’s approach to equal justice and respect for law, and his lack of consistency on terrorism as well. Indeed, during the trials, the Cuban Five’s lawyers pointed to these gaping holes in disputing the government’s espionage accusations.
The FBI arrested the five as part of Bush’s political agenda–not law or fact. In the 2000 Elections, Bush’s lawyers argued that democracy meant limiting Floridians’ right to vote and not counting the total votes. The Republican dominated Supreme Court wrote this into law. Trying the Cuban Five, prosecutors argued that to secure the land from terrorism they had to prosecute those trying to catch terrorists. Real terrorists, however, continue to bask under the Florida sunshine.
From the 1959 revolutionary takeover until the 1990s, from Florida, anti-Castroites staged thousands of terrorist attacks, with CIA help and encouragement. Several presidents routinely approved assassination attempts against Castro and other Cuban leaders (motivation for Pat Robertson?) as well as sabotage missions, including the 1961 CIA-backed invasion at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs.
After 9/11, Bush linked “terrorism” to almost everything except violence aimed at Cuba. For Bush, the omnipresent word referred only to “evil” terrorists, like the governments of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, not to those who practiced terrorism as their vocation and used the United States as their ally.
One anti-Castro zealot had spent several decades with CIA help — trying to assassinate Fidel Castro. Luis Posada Carriles, now 77 and held in a Texas jail for immigration fraud, also faces an extradition hearing on charges that in 1976, he successfully plotted to blow up a Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados. 73 passengers and crew members died.
If the Cuban Five are retried, he might become an embarrassing witness for the Bush Administration. Unless he lies, he will elaborate on his words to New York Times reporters on July 12, 1998. From 1997-98, a series of hotel bombings caused property damage, intimidated tourists and eventually killed one of them. Cuban security arrested a Salvadoran who confessed and named Posada as the man who paid him to plant and detonate the explosives. The money for the operation, Posada confided to the reporters, came from Miami supporters of anti-Cuban terrorist actions.
Indeed, the Cuban Five’s lawyers conceded that the FBI had done little to stop attacks against Cuba by exile groups. They cited Alpha 66 as “involved in terrorist attacks on Cuban hotels in 1992, 1994 and 1995.” From 1994-1996, Brothers to the Rescue “flew into Cuban air spaceto drop messages and leaflets promoting the overthrow of Castro’s government.” Members of the Cuban American National Foundation “planned to bomb a nightclub in Cuba.” Prosecutors did not dispute that Cuba had sent the Five to disrupt the anti-Castro version of Al-Qaeda.
“Following each attack,” noted the 11th Circuit, “Cuba had advised the United States of its investigations and had asked the United States’ authorities to take action against the groups operating from inside the United States.” On September 4, 1997, after several bombs had exploded at tourist sites, guests in Havana’s Copacabana Hotel lobby heard a loud noise. After the smoke had cleared, hotel staff found a mortally wounded Fabio di Celmo, a 32-year-old Italian businessman.
When he learned about this, asked the Times reporters to Posada, did he feel some remorse? “I sleep like a baby,” Posada responded.
Like the fiends who flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, Posada claimed that civilian deaths became collateral damage in his war with Castro’s Cuba.
In his four plus decades of organizing assassination attempts and sabotage missions, Posada took time out in the 1980s to help a US covert operation against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. He worked with Lt. Col. Oliver North to supply the Contras and their death squads.
In the late 1990s, he returned to his chosen profession and with three other Cuban exiles (Ignacio Novo, Pedro Remon and Gaspar Jimenez), tried to blow up Fidel Castro during a speech in Panama.
On April 20, 2004, a Panamanian court found them guilty of “threatening public security” and “falsifying documents.” Posada received an 8-years prison sentence but he and with fellow members of MOGA, Miami’s Old Geezer Assassins Club, escaped jail time after outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned them in 2004. Coincidentally, Moscoso became instantly $4 million richer.
In March 2005, Posada Carriles, still wanted in Venezuela and El Salvador, fled to Miami. It took two months before Homeland Security acknowledged that they had a terrorist in their midst. On May 17, HS agents arrested Posada for illegal entry, not for his voluminous contributions to terrorism.
The difference in treatment of the Five and Posada raise key questions about law in the age of “war on terrorism.” On July 19, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals convened on the case of Jose Padilla. A lower court had ruled that Padilla, a US citizen and Muslim convert, detained by the military without access to court since 2002, “should be charged with a crime or released.” US Solicitor General Paul D. Clement responded that the US is a “battlefield” in the war on terror, which thus justified the indefinite detention of such so-called “enemy combatants.”
“You captured Padilla in a Manhattan jail cell,” said Judge M. Blane Michael, addressing Clement. “What, in the laws of war, allows you to undertake a non-battlefield capture and hold them for the duration?…To call the United States a battlefield, wouldn’t you have needed a specific authorization from Congress? It’s not up to us as a court to develop laws of war” (Washington Post, July 20, 2005).
The judge might have also asked what kind of war on terrorism allows the government to try those sent to thwart terrorists, like the Cuban Five, while holding special exemptions for actual terrorists, like Posada? Venezuela, the place where Posada plotted the 1976 airline bombing, has demanded his extradition. US officials have sneered at the demand.
Yet, in today’s “battlefield,” Orlando Bosch, who co-plotted with Posada the 1976 airline bombing, lives freely in Miami. A declassified March 1988 cable from Secretary of State George Schultz tells the US Ambassador in Costa Rica that Bosch “arrived in the United States from Venezuela without a US visa”. Bosch has an “outstanding warrant for parole violation for firing a bazooka at a Polish freighter.” Schultz asked the Ambassador to investigate claims that Bosch conspired “to kill Henry Kissinger [then Secretary of State] while Kissinger was in Costa Rica during 1976.” In 1989, President Bush overruled FBI recommendations to deny entry to this dangerous criminal.
Guillermo Novo, another Posada confrere in the Panama plot to kill Castro, served time for perjury about his knowledge of the 1976 Washington DC assassination of former Chilean Chancellor Orlando Letelier. In 1964, Novo also fired a bazooka at UN headquarters. In 2004, he reentered the United States without triggering a peep from Homeland Security. He currently works for the Allapattah Business Development Corporation, a not for profit organization that receives funds from Miami and Dade County.
In the wake of the 11th Circuit US Court’s crucial decision, prosecutors have declared their intentions to retry the Five, should appeals fail. Think of the un-repenting terrorist Posada and his gentle treatment even in custody and of The Five who pay a heavy price for sincere anti-terrorism.
This case carries long-term ramifications for prosecuting real terrorists, if the legal and academic media began to cover the issues it raises. By analyzing the meaning of the Cuban Five’s ordeal, citizens would learn that we don’t have a government of laws. Rather, sleazy lawyers connive to satisfy Bush’s political desires.
Saul Landau is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Farrah Hassen was the Associate Producer of the film, “Syria: Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” with Landau. She is an IPS Seymour Melman Fellow for 2005
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005