the Bush administration holds dozens of suspected Muslim terrorists on
secret or flimsy evidence, one of the world’s most notorious terrorists
slipped into the United States via
Mexico and traveled to
without setting off any law enforcement alarms.
Though the terrorist’s
presence has been an open secret in Miami, neither President George W.
Bush nor Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has ordered a manhunt. The U.S. press
corps has been largely silent as well.
The reason is that this
terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, was a CIA-trained Cuban whose long
personal war against Fidel Castro’s government is viewed sympathetically
by the two Bush brothers and their father. When it comes to the Bush
family, Posada is the epitome of the old saying that “one man’s
terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
The Bush administration –
which has imprisoned
Jose Padilla and other alleged Muslim “enemy combatants” without
trial – has taken a far more lenient approach toward the 77-year-old
Posada, who is still wanted in Venezuela for the bombing of a Cubana
Airlines plane in 1976 that killed 73 people. Posada also has admitted
involvement in a deadly hotel bombing campaign in Cuba in 1997.
More recently, in April
2004, Posada and three other Cuban-Americans were convicted in Panama of
endangering public safety in a bomb plot to assassinate Castro. The men
were pardoned in August 2004 by outgoing Panamanian president Mireya
Moscoso amid rumors that Washington had sought their freedom to boost
George W. Bush’s standing with the Cuban-American community in the
election-battleground state of Florida.
Two months before
Election 2004, three of Posada’s co-conspirators – Guillermo Novo Sampol,
Pedro Remon and Gaspar Jimenez – arrived in Miami to a hero’s welcome,
flashing victory signs at their supporters. While the terrorists
celebrated, U.S. authorities watched the men – also implicated in
bombings in New York, New Jersey and Florida – alight on U.S. soil. [Washington
Post, Sept. 3, 2004]
Posada has now followed
his compatriots back to the United States, albeit surreptitiously from
Mexico. Posada’s lawyer Eduardo Soto has said his client will soon come
out of hiding and seek asylum from the U.S. government. Federal
immigration officials say they might reject Posada’s asylum request, but
are unlikely to deport him to any country where he would face
prosecution for terrorism. [Miami
Herald, April 14, 2005]
say they have a standing request with the United States for Posada’s
extradition in connection with the Cubana Airline bombing. But the Bush
administration is not expected to honor that request because Venezuela’s
current government of Hugo Chavez has close ties to Cuba.
A thorough investigation
of Posada also could prove embarrassing for the Bush family, since the
Cubana Airline bombing was part of a wave of right-wing terrorism that
occurred in 1976 under the nose of then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush.
If Posada ever told his
full story, he might shed unwelcome light on how much the senior George
Bush knew about the terrorist attacks in 1976 and the Iran-Contra
operation a decade later, where Posada also showed up.
One of Posada’s
co-conspirators in the Panamanian bomb plot, Guillermo Novo, was
implicated, too, in the right-wing terrorism that flared up during
George H.W. Bush’s year in charge of the CIA.
Novo was convicted of
conspiracy in the bombing deaths of former Chilean diplomat Orlando
Letelier and American co-worker Ronni Moffitt, who were killed on Sept.
21, 1976, as they drove down Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C.
That terror attack, which
was organized by Chile’s secret police with the aid of Novo and other
anti-Castro Cubans, was the first case of state-sponsored terrorism in
the U.S. capital. The bombing was part of a broader assassination
campaign ordered by right-wing South American dictatorships under the
code name “Operation Condor.”
If the Letelier-Moffitt
murders had been solved quickly, there was a danger the revelations
could have hurt Republican election chances in 1976, when President
Gerald Ford was in a tight race with Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Linking the Chilean
government to an audacious terror attack in the heart of the U.S.
capital would have revived critical press coverage of the CIA’s role in
the overthrow of Chile’s elected socialist government in 1973, a coup
that had put in power Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who, in turn, launched
At the time of the
Letelier-Moffitt car bombing, Bush’s CIA had evidence in its files that
implicated Pinochet’s secret police in the plot to kill Letelier, an
outspoken critic of the military regime. But Bush’s spy agency withheld
the incriminating information from the FBI and misdirected the
investigation away from the guilty parties. [For details, see Robert
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
Two weeks after the
Letelier assassination, right-wing terrorists struck again, planting a
bomb onboard the Cubana airliner as it left Barbados. Seventy-three
people onboard, including the Cuban national fencing team, died.
That investigation soon
led to two of Posada’s employees who had stepped off the plane in
Barbados. Police suspected that Posada, who worked as an intelligence
officer for the Venezuelan government, and another Cuban exile, Orlando
Bosch, were the masterminds. A search of Posada’s Caracas apartment
discovered Cubana flight schedules and other incriminating evidence.
Both Posada and Bosch
were charged in Venezuela, but the men denied the accusations and the
case became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects also possessed
knowledge of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets. The case lingered
for almost a decade.
Meanwhile, despite the
CIA’s misdirection play on the Letelier-Moffitt murders, the FBI managed
to crack the case in 1978. Chilean intelligence agent Michael Townley
was arrested as were Novo and other Cuban exiles who had assisted
Townley in planting and detonating the bomb. Townley, Novo and other
defendants were convicted, but in 1981, Novo’s conviction was overturned
on a technicality.
After the Reagan-Bush
administration took power in Washington, the momentum for solving the
Letelier-Moffitt conspiracy dissipated. The Cold War trumped any concern
about right-wing terrorism. Though the Letelier-Moffitt evidence pointed
to the highest levels of Chile’s military dictatorship, including
intelligence chief Manuel Contreras and Gen. Pinochet, the Reagan-Bush
administration backed away from demands that the architects of the
terrorist attack be brought to justice.
All around, life was
looking up for anti-Castro extremists. Novo landed a job as an
“information officer” for the Miami-based Cuban American National
Foundation, which was founded by Cuban exile Jorge Mas Canosa to press
the anti-Castro cause in Washington. U.S. government grants soon were
flowing into Mas Canosa’s coffers.
Posada also gained his
freedom during the Reagan-Bush years. In 1985, Posada escaped from a
Venezuelan prison, reportedly with the help of Cuban exiles. In his
autobiography, Posada thanked Mas Canosa for providing the $25,000 that
was used to bribe prison guards who allowed Posada to walk out of
Another Cuban exile who
aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to
then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and who was overseeing secret
supply shipments to the Nicaraguan contra rebels. After fleeing
Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and was assigned
the jobs of managing munitions and serving as paymaster for pilots in
the contra-supply operation.
After one of the
contra-supply planes was shot down inside Nicaragua in October 1986,
Posada was responsible for alerting U.S. officials to the crisis and
then shutting down the operation’s safe houses in El Salvador.
Even after the exposure
of Posada’s role in the contra-supply operation, the U.S. government
made no effort to bring the fugitive accused terrorist to justice.
In 1992, 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.
a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada
said Bush’s national security adviser, 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 to freedom. [For details,
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & Project Truth.]
By the late 1980s,
Orlando Bosch, Posada’s co-defendant in the Cubana Airlines bombing, had
snuck into Miami from Venezuela. But Bosch, who had been implicated in
about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by federal
officials who warned that the United States could not credibly lecture
other countries about cracking down on terrorists 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 President George H.W. Bush pardoned Bosch, allowing
the unapologetic terrorist to remain in the United States.
Meanwhile, in Guatemala,
after surviving an assassination attempt that disfigured his face,
Posada returned to his anti-Castro plotting.
In 1994, Posada set out
to kill Castro during a trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Posada and five
cohorts reached Cartagena, but the plan flopped when security cordons
prevented the would-be assassins from getting a clean shot at Castro,
according to a Miami Herald story. [Miami Herald, June 7, 1998]
The Herald also described
Posada’s role in a lethal 1997 bombing campaign against popular hotels
and restaurants inside Cuba. The story cited documentary evidence that
Posada arranged payments to conspirators from accounts in the United
States. “This afternoon you will receive via Western Union four
transfers of $800 each … from New Jersey,” said one fax signed by SOLO,
a Posada alias.
Posada landed back in
jail in 2000 after Cuban intelligence uncovered a plot to assassinate
Castro by planting a bomb at a meeting the Cuban leader planned with
university students in Panama. Panamanian authorities arrested Posada,
Novo and other alleged co-conspirators in November 2000. In April 2004,
they were sentenced to eight or nine years in prison for endangering
public safety. [CBSNews.com,
Aug. 27, 2004]
Four months after the
sentencing, lame-duck Panamanian president Moscoso – who had friendly
ties to George W. Bush’s administration – pardoned the convicts, citing
her fear that their extradition to Venezuela or Cuba would mean their
deaths. Despite press reports disclosing that Moscoso had been in
contact with U.S. officials about the pardons, the State Department
denied that it had pressured Moscoso to release the Cuban exiles.
terrorists returned from Panama to the United States amid Bush’s “War on
Terror,” but the old Cold War rules – turning a blind eye to
anticommunist terrorism – still seemed to apply.
Rather than demonstrating
that the United States will not tolerate murderous attacks on civilians
regardless of the cause, the Bush administration and the major U.S. news
media have largely ignored the contradictions in the U.S. government’s
benign neglect toward anti-Castro terrorism compared to the aggressive
tactics against Islamic terrorism.
While U.S. law has been
stretched to justify the arrests and indefinite incarcerations of
Islamic extremists, often without evidence of participation in any
violent act, anti-Castro Cubans – even those with long records of
violence against civilians – are allowed refuge and financial support
within the politically influential Cuban-American community in South
Instead of the
throw-away-the-key attitude shown toward Islamic terror suspects, the
anti-Castro Cuban terrorists enjoy get-out-of-jail-free cards.
As Washington Post writer Marcela Sanchez
noted in a September 2004 article about the Panamanian pardons, “there
is something terribly wrong when the United States, after Sept. 11,
fails to condemn the pardoning of terrorists and instead allows them to
walk free on U.S. streets.”
To highlight the Bush administration’s
inconsistency, Sanchez cited a 2002 speech by Pentagon policy chief
Douglas Feith declaring that in the post-Sept. 11 world “moral clarity
is a strategic asset” and that the United States could no longer afford
double standards toward the “evil” of terrorism.
But Feith’s admonition appears to have
fallen on deaf ears in George W. Bush’s White House and in Jeb Bush’s
governor’s mansion. Neither scion of the Bush dynasty has any intention
of turning Posada, the aging “freedom fighter,” over to Fidel Castro’s
Cuba or to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
Whatever proof there is against Posada for
actual acts of violence, it’s a safe bet that the evidence will be
judged as inconclusive, that Posada will be portrayed more as a victim
than a villain. He’ll get every benefit of the doubt.
The Bush family has made the larger
judgment that when it comes to protecting anti-Castro terrorists, double
standards can be useful for protecting unpleasant family secrets and for
garnering votes in South Florida.