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.
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.
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.]
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 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.]
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.
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.