Apr 26, 2005

Viewpoint | One of Our Own Terrorists Comes in from the Cold | By Jerry Meldon | published in The Tufts Daily April 26, 2005

“What a fix he’s in!”

I can hear it now. A Miami attorney pleads on behalf of 78-year-old Luis Posada Carriles, who four weeks ago emerged from the shadows to seek political asylum in South Florida.

“Protect him from the brutal prisons of Fidel Castro and that Venezuelan Castro wannabe Hugo Chavez [both of whom want him handed over to face murder charges]!! After what this great patriot and freedom fighter has done for the United States, he deserves the Medal of Honor, not extradition!”

Indeed, Posada has done a lot for Uncle Sam since the CIA trained him for the abortive 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of his native Cuba. In the ensuing four-plus decades, both on and off the Washington payroll, he has waged a bloody personal vendetta against the Cuban patriarch, both directly through an endless series of assassination plots, and indirectly through bombings including the 1976 sabotage of a Cuban airliner that claimed 73 innocent lives. In 1985, after bribing his way out of a Venezuelan prison where he had been incarcerated for the Cuban plane bombing, Posada took charge of the Reagan team’s contra supply operations in El Salvador.

In light of that record, and the precedents set by our current president and his father, which are itemized below, you have to admit that Posada has a case for asylum:

* In 1990, after intense lobbying by Jeb Bush – which 10 years later won votes in Miami’s Little Havana that would help swing a presidential election – George H. W. Bush Sr.’s Justice Department shut down INS proceedings to expel the most notorious of all anti-Castro bombers, Dr. Orlando Bosch – after the Cuban-born pediatrician served time in Venezuela for co-masterminding the Cubana plane crash.

* On Christmas Eve 1992, the same President Bush, then a lame duck, pardoned Iran-Contra conspirators, including former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams. In so doing, Bush Sr. salvaged both his hide and the family’s good name. Iran-Contra Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh planned to pressure Weinberger into disavowing Bush’s claim that, while Reagan’s VP, he had been out of the Iran-Contra conspiracy loop. The pardoned Abrams, who had admitted lying to Congress, is deputy National Security Advisor under George W. Bush.

In fact, the Bush Jr. White House has been the nation’s leading employer of Iran-Contra conspirators, rehabilitated and otherwise. Recall the brief stint of Reagan’s indicted National Security Advisor Admiral John Poindexter. At Bush Jr.’s Homeland Security agency, before press exposure of his brainchild, the Total Information Awareness Project, he put fear in the hearts of privacy-cherishing Americans.

And just last week Congress rubber-stamped Bush Jr.’s nominee as National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. As Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras in the ’80s, the man whose task it will now be to reform the CIA coordinated contra actions in close collaboration with the same CIA and Honduran generals knee-deep in cocaine trafficking and death squad slayings.

So it’s understandable that Posada – who as recently as August was languishing behind bars for one of his Castro assassination plots when a lame duck Panamanian president … pardoned him – considers this a good time to hang up his grenades.

I believe Posada took the pardon as a signal that – despite what his lawyer might say – he’s not in a fix.

No, I think Posada believes the fix is in.

Mom’s last wish for Pinochet | By Jerry Meldon | published in The Tufts Daily

When a Santiago judge in mid-December indicted former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet for one murder among the thousands he allegedly ordered, I imagined how the glimmer of vindication would have delighted my mother who had passed away 10 days earlier in a Miami Beach hospital. Few acts of political violence had troubled Mom more than another one of those murders, the 1976 assassination of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier in broad daylight on the streets of Washington, DC.

I thought as well, how ironic it was that she had lived so close to the erstwhile epicenter of anti-Castro extremism, “Little Havana,” the preferred watering hole of CIA-trained Cuban exile terrorists – three of whom Pinochet bankrolled to bomb Letelier’s car. Mom died convinced the truth would never come out, and she was not without reason for believing so. Then CIA director George H. W. Bush had stonewalled the initial FBI investigation, leaving it dead in the water for years.

Americans have long since lost interest in terrorism – unless, of course, we’re the targets. And why not? Thanks to the Elian Gonzalez affair and, before that, Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” rhetoric, the anti-Castro brigadistas are no longer recalled as “terrorists” but as “freedom fighters.” This is the opposite of present day Washington D.C.’s regard for Osama bin Laden and his Islamic extremist cohorts, whom Reagan hailed as freedom fighters when the CIA was paying them billions to kill Russians in Afghanistan.

Throw in talk radio, “embeds,” and a stenographic White House press corps, and it’s easy to understand why Americans asked “why us?” on Sept. 11. To resume contact with reality we need to confront Washington’s primary role in Latin America’s decades-long nightmare of military dictatorship. We need to acknowledge that the “post-factual era” began with the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan, not George W. Bush.

Notwithstanding the media hagiography upon his death, Reagan was the master of flipping reality on its head. He not only heaped praise upon bin Laden’s minions, but also the nun-raping Salvadoran death squads and the hospital-bombing Nicaraguan contras. He even deemed these contras as being “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.” When even the hyperbole fell short of its goals, the Reagan team manufactured front groups to manipulate public opinion.

They created the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) to marshal support for the contras, who had been assembled by the CIA from the remnants of deposed dictator Somoza’s secret police to oppose Nicaragua’s leftist government. A grateful Reagan invited CANF director Jorge Mas Canosa, a successful exile businessman and inveterate Castro-hater, to the White House.

As a sideline, Mas Canosa used his deep pockets to play “sugar daddy” to some of the more notorious Cuban extremists. When a technicality voided Guillermo Novo’s prison sentence for the Letelier assassination, Mas Canosa found the anti-Castro bomber and drug trafficker a job as an information officer for the CANF.

When the CIA sought a demolitions expert to train the contras, it sent out a call to the legendary anti-Castro bomber and long-time agency operative Luis Posada Carriles. However, Posada was languishing in a Venezuelan jail on charges of masterminding the decimation of a Cuban airliner two weeks after the Letelier murder. Posada magically got hold of $25,000 to bribe his way out of prison and join the contras in Nicaragua. In his memoirs he names Mas Canosa as his benefactor.

Mom would have gagged in the ambulance taking her home from the Miami Beach rehab hospital had she noticed that part of Biscayne Boulevard had been renamed “Jorge Mas Canosa Boulevard.” However, she noticed little and suffered a second stroke before peacefully passing away. Shortly thereafter, on the eve of a Chilean judge’s determination of his fitness to stand trial, Gen. Pinochet had another of his own remarkably well-timed strokes. Mom would have wished him the health he will need to face his accusers.

Apr 25, 2005

The Bush Family's Favorite Terrorist | By Jerry Meldon & Robert Parry | published in Consortium News April 25, 2005

 While 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 Florida 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.

Political Pardons?

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]

Venezuelan authorities 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.

Bush Embarrassment

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 “Operation Condor.”

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 Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]

Airline Bombing

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.

Iran-Contra Link

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 prison.

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. According to 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, see Parry’s Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & Project Truth.]

Protecting Bosch

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.

Double Standards

The anti-Castro 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 Florida.

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.

Jerry Meldon is an associate professor (chemical and biological engineering) at Tufts University. Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com.