Exclusive: President Barack Obama ordered the targeted killing of al-Qaeda figure and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki despite the lack of any legal due process. But the same week, the U.S. government continued to turn a blind eye to a Cuban-American terrorist harbored in Miami, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Former Vice President Dick Cheney may have expressed the pervasive American double standard on human rights best during a NBC “Today” show interview when host Matt Lauer asked if Cheney’s support for waterboarding would carry over to its use by a foreign adversary against an American suspected of spying or caught conducting a covert operation.
“We probably would object to it,” responded Cheney, “on the grounds that we have obligations towards our citizens and that we do everything we can to protect our citizens.”
As for how that attitude matched up with his enthusiastic support for waterboarding detainees in the “war on terror,” Cheney explained that “we weren’t dealing with American citizens in the enhanced interrogation program.” He then added, “the fact is, it worked.”
In other words, one set of rules on torture applies to the United States and another set applies to the rest of the world, with gradations depending on how close a country or an individual is to the United States. The only consistency is the hypocrisy, and the only measure is whether something “worked.”
Similar double standards were also on display this past week with disparate attitudes applied toward “terrorism” depending on who is doing the terrorizing.
On Friday, President Barack Obama announced the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen of Yemeni extraction who had turned on the United States and joined with al-Qaeda operatives to plot attacks against Americans.
Because Awlaki allegedly collaborated in terrorist attempts to kill Americans, including the botched “underwear” bombing over Detroit on Christmas 2009, he was hunted down and killed by a CIA drone attack with no due process beyond Obama putting Awlaki’s name on a “capture-or-kill” list.
However, also last week, with virtually no attention in the U.S. news media, Venezuela expanded on its appeal to the United States to extradite CIA-trained Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to face charges of not only masterminding the mid-air bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976 but engaging in acts of torture and other crimes while serving in a Venezuelan intelligence agency four decades ago.
The United States has been harboring Posada since 2005, with the Bush administration and now the Obama administration refusing to take action to ensure that Posada faces justice for these grave crimes. Instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela, the U.S. government has bungled minor cases against him for illegal entry and perjury.
As a result, Posada, now 83, has gotten to live out his golden years in relative comfort in Miami supported by the influential Cuban-American community, much as his terrorist co-conspirator Orlando Bosch did.
In being spared punishment for the 1976 Cubana Airline bombing, which killed 73 people including the Cuban youth fencing team, the pair also enjoyed the invaluable assistance of the Bush Family, including George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush and George W. Bush.
Venezuela’s new extradition request results from investigations into political repression from the 1960s to the 1980s, including thousands of kidnappings, “disappearances” and acts of torture.
Posada has been implicated in some of these human rights crimes because – after receiving CIA training for covert operations aimed at Fidel Castro’s Cuba – Posada in 1967 went to work for the feared Venezuelan intelligence agency, known as DISIP, where he became chief of operations.
One recently revealed case implicating Posada involved two women – Brenda Hernandez Esquivel and Marlene del Valle Esquivel – whose home in Maracay was raided in 1973 by state security agents searching for “subversive elements.”
In the raid, three men were killed, one after opening the door and two others after surrendering, the complaint alleges. Later, the women were taken to DISIP’s local headquarters where they say they were abused by Posada, who was known as “Commissioner Basilio,”
Regarding Brenda Hernandez Esquivel, Posada noted that she was pregnant and told his officers that “the seed must be finished off,” which was accomplished by kicking the woman in the abdomen killing the unborn child, according to the complaint. Afterwards, the woman said she barely escaped attempts by the officers to drown her.
Posada is also alleged to have used a lit cigarette and feigned executions to torture Marlene del Valle and her six-month-old child as a means to extract information.
Later, the two women say they were moved to DISIP headquarters in Caracas where they were subjected to further torture until ultimately being released.
Three years later, Posada and Bosch allegedly had a bomb placed onboard a Cubana Airlines plane that was carrying 73 people, including the Cuban youth fencing team from Caracas to Havana. Though Bosch and Posada have formally denied masterminding the Cubana Airlines bombing, evidence in U.S. government files makes the case of their guilt overwhelming.
Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.
But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were well known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who was his host and was still a senior DISIP officer.
The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”
On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.
“Following the 6 October  Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”
In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.
A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.
Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.
A New Day for Terrorists
After President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for unraveling the mysteries of the Cuban Airlines bombing and other anti-communist terror plots dissipated. Reagan’s ramped-up Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.
Indeed, Reagan and Bush found right-wing extremists like Posada useful again – and surely weren’t eager to offend Miami’s politically powerful Cuban community.
In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison where he was awaiting trial. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for the $25,000 that was used to bribe guards who allowed Posada to walk out of prison.
Another Cuban exile who aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. At the time, Rodriguez was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, a pet project of President Reagan.
After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run Contra-supply operation.
By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.
But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb’s dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.
In 1992, also during the Bush-41 presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush’s vice presidential office in the secret Contra operation.
According to a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush’s national security adviser, former CIA officer Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez.
“Posada … recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg,” the FBI summary said. “Posada knows this because he’s the one who paid Rodriguez’ phone bill.” After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy unmolested. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]
In 2005, when Posada eventually made his way into Miami, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made little effort to capture him. Posada was detained only after he held a news conference.
Then, instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela to stand trial for a terrorist mass murder, George W. Bush’s administration engaged in a lackadaisical effort to have him deported somewhere else for lying on an immigration form.
During a 2007 court hearing in Texas, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela. The judge, therefore, barred Posada from being deported there.
After that ruling, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez accused the administration of “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”
Posada came to personify the hypocrisy of George W. Bush’s famous declaration that harboring a terrorist was no better than being a terrorist.
On May 2, 2008, Posada was feted at a gala fundraising dinner in Miami. Some 500 supporters chipped in to his legal defense fund and Posada arrived to thundering applause. In a bristling speech against the Castro regime, Posada told his supporters, “We ask God to sharpen our machetes.”
Venezuelan Ambassador Alvarez protested the Bush administration’s tolerance of the dinner. “This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about [more] violence,” Alvarez said.
Similarly, his alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana Airlines bombing, Orlando Bosch, showed no remorse for his violent past.
In a TV interview, reporter Manuel Cao on Miami’s Channel 41 asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the Cubana plane crashed off the coast of Barbados.
Bosch responded, “In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”
“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked, noting the presence of Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people onboard?”
Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. … She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.
“We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.”[The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976 and which involved a CIA undercover asset.]
Though Bosch was allowed to die in peace earlier this year, the Obama administration’s Justice Department did prosecute Posada on perjury charges (a case that was lost when the jury apparently sympathized with the anti-communist militant).
Still, Obama has shown no interest in seeking justice for the Cubana Airlines victims. To do so would surely have political repercussions in the swing state of Florida in 2012.
The U.S. news media remains similarly blasé about Posada walking free, in contrast to their fury over Libya’s supposed role in the mid-air bombing of Pan Am 103, which killed 270 people in 1988. The widely presumed guilt of Muammar Gaddafi’s government was often cited as justification for seeking violent “regime change” in Libya this year.
At leading news outlets, such as the New York Times, Libyan guilt for the Pan Am 103 bombing was stated as flat fact, even though the evidence was much weaker – indeed threadbare – compared to what exists against Posada and Bosch on the Cubana Airlines case. [For more on the Pan Am 103 case against Libya, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Through the US Media Lens Darkly.”]
There is also a strong U.S. media consensus that President Obama did the right thing in ordering the targeted killing of Awlaki even though there was no criminal indictment, no evidence presented to a grand jury, no formal legal proceeding of any sort.
By contrast, the U.S. government’s calculated neglect of Venezuela’s repeated requests that Posada be turned over for criminal prosecution for acts of terrorism and torture draws virtually no media attention at all.
Perhaps the true meaning of “American exceptionalism” is that the rules apply to every nation except America. Ultimately, Dick Cheney seems to be right, that the U.S. government feels no obligation to enforce international laws against terrorism and torture – if American officials or their friends are the ones implicated.
[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.