President George W. Bush has promoted himself as single-mindedly tough on terrorists and those who protect them. “We make no distinction between those who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” he told the nation on September 11, 2001. But Muslims or Arab suspects with no evidence or charges against them generally get “rendered” to other nations or Guantanamo while anti-Castro terrorists who destroyed an airplane with passengers aboard get kid glove treatment.
The most dramatic example of Bush coddling Castro-hating terrorists involves Luis Posada Carriles. On October 6, 1976, agents working for Posada and Orlando Bosch, another hate screaming anti Castroite, planted a bomb on a Cuban commercial plane and blew it up shortly after it took off from Barbados. All 73 passengers and crew members perished. Thirty years later, Posada sits in an El Paso jail cell. Since his airliner “success” he went on to add new notches to his terrorist gun including an attempted assassination of Fidel Castro in Panama in 1999.
When Posada illegally entered the United States last year, Homeland Security agents ignored him until he held a press conference. Then, embarrassed that they had not grabbed him when he entered the country without a visa, they gently arrested him and charged him with “illegal entry.” Washington has since refused to answer Venezuela’s request to extradite him to the place where he plotted the airliner bombing. The excuse accepted by the El Paso judge for not considering Venezuela was that Venezuela might torture him; ironic in light of Bush authorizing torture for terrorist suspects this October.
Compare the way Homeland Security handled Posada with the case of Maher Arar. In 2002, officials arrested Arar when he landed at JFK airport in New York, to change planes on his way to Canada where he lived. U.S. immigration authorities placed the Syrian-born Canadian citizen and software engineer on a plane. Before boarding the aircraft he had demanded from U.S. authorities his rights to a lawyer, to hear charges against him as established by international law. The official told him: “The INS is not the body or the agency that signed the Geneva Convention against torture.” Hearing he was bound for Syria, Arar says he foresaw torture.
Canadian police had previously informed U.S. officials that Arar was “an Islamic extremist suspected of being linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.” U.S. officials didn’t ask Canada to verify the data, however. Indeed, a Canadian inquiry completed in September 2006 found that days before the U.S. rendered Arar to Syria, Canadian police had advised the FBI that they possessed no definitive evidence of Arar’s links to terrorist groups. Yet, Arar remained in solitary confinement and was tortured at the behest of Washington for almost a year. Flimsy suspicion based on one Canadian report and countered by another provided Homeland Security with sufficient motive to deport Arar and request that Syria torture him.
The September, 2006, thousand page Canadian Commission report on the Arar case concluded that Canadian officials had not been informed of the U.S. decision to send Arar to Syria. The commission found no evidence that Canadian officials participated in or agreed to the decision to send Arar to Syria.
Arar now back in Canada and still suffering the after effects of his torture feels understandably bitter about his experience. A man who had no terrorist connection, much less a history of violence, compares his treatment to the anti-Castro Cubans who boasted of their murderous achievements. Indeed, in the case of the airline bombing, the CIA had information that could have helped stop the sabotage.
According to declassified documents published by the National Security Archives, in September 1976, Luis Posada Carriles, who had worked with the CIA even before the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and had gotten even more specialized CIA training subsequently, told the Agency that he intended to destroy a Cuban passenger jet. Thirty years ago, no one inspected passengers or restricted gels. Hernan Ricardo, one of Posada’s agents, told Trinidad police that he took an explosive-filled toothpaste tube on board the Cubana plane in Caracas, got off in Barbados and left behind the volatile toothpaste.
On Oct. 6, 1976, the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 took off, the bomb went off and the pilot helplessly shouted radio messages over Barbados airspace. Everyone aboard died. Bosch and Posada said violence against civilian targets was legitimate in their “war” against Fidel. Venezuelan authorities imprisoned them, but Posada “escaped” with help from Miami comrades and found employment in the mid 1980s with Lt. Co. Oliver North, helping him re-supply the Nicaraguan Contras in their war against the Nicaraguan government. In 1989, over objections from the FBI and Justice Department, George H. W. Bush granted amnesty to Bosch who has resided in Miami ever since.
Subsequently, his sons George W. and Jeb, Florida Governor, have re-assured Bosch he can live serenely in Miami while, as he admitted to a New Times reporter, he continues to plot violent terrorist acts against Cuba. (June 2, 2006)
In the mid 1990s, Posada organized bombings of Cuban tourist sites, one of which killed an Italian tourist. He admitted his complicity to New York Times reporters. (July 1998)
In 1999, Posada, Bosch’s co-conspirator, had plotted to assassinate Castro in Panama. Together with Guillermo Novo, one of the Letelier killers, and two other Cuban exiles with long terrorist records, they went to Panama and collected explosives, which Panamanian police found in their rented car with their fingerprints on them.
Posada’s comrades bought him a pardon from outgoing President Mireya Moscoso — $4 million mysteriously appeared in her Swiss bank account. Then, Posada entered the United States. Homeland Security apparently did not “detect” that the hemisphere’s best-known terrorist had come to the United States without a visa. But the Bush-Bosch-Posada connection dated back to 1976. As Posada and Bosch began planning terrorist actions and informing the CIA the former President George H.W. Bush headed that Agency. Nothing was done to stop any of the dozen bombings of, and shootings at, Cuban land targets and individuals; nor was Cuba warned that the airliner would be blown up.
In 2005, after Posada brazenly held a press conference, U.S. authorities gently arrested him and charged him with “illegal entry” into the United States. He waits in an El Paso jail cell for the Justice Department to charge him with terrorism or let him go. Washington has asked Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama to take him. They have all said “No thanks.”
So, on September 11, 2006, a federal judge warned that he would release Posada. At the last minute, government lawyers told the judge not to release him to wait. Posada, meanwhile, declared he will soon be free, implying that the Bush family is friendly toward him.
For Bush, Posada, like Bosch, remains a zealous patriot, not a terrorist. Even though the Justice Department filed papers in mid October 2006 at the El Paso federal court acknowledging that Posada is “an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks on tourist sites,” they refuse to charge him. Bush’s friendship patterns vitiate not only the last shreds of law, but his supposed tough standards on terrorism. Double standards? In fact, Bush has shown he has no standards. His tough talk — “Those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves” (October 7, 2002) could be read more literally as stating that Bush views himself as guilty as the terrorists. His pseudo John Wayne imitation implied, however, that he would stand as the invincible foe of anyone who dared to even think of terrorism.
Bush’s government, however, has yet to prosecute one serious terrorist suspect some held for five years in Guantanamo. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice charged seven poor black men in Miami, none of whom had knowledge of explosives, with conspiring to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower. It has also held U.S. citizen Jose Padilla for four years as an enemy combatant, but has yet to take him to trial. Padilla claims the government tortured and drugged him.
Posada has received gentle treatment despite his unambiguous terrorist credentials. Indeed, the government used men like Posada and Bosch to carry out terrorism against Cuba. Felipe Millan, Posada’s lawyer, asked: “How can you call someone a terrorist who allegedly committed acts on your behalf?” Calling Posada a terrorist, he added, “would be the equivalent of calling Patrick Henry or Paul Revere or Benjamin Franklin a terrorist.” (New York Times, Oct. 8, 2006)
Roseanne Nenninger Persaud’s 19-year-old brother died on the downed Cuban aircraft. She said Posada should be treated “like bin Laden. If this were a plane full of Americans, it would have been a different story.” (Oct 8, 2006)
Bush’s tough guy rhetoric and reality are far apart. He has yet to bag a real terrorist. But Arar remains on the no entry-no fly list despite his total exoneration by Canadian investigators. The U.S. bullied an innocent man into a torture chamber. Bush’s tough talk on terrorism, like that of most bullies, relies on public credibility. If the media looked at the record, Bush would lose his “tough guy” image all that remains of his presidency.
SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His new book, A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, will be published by Counterpunch Press.