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 Sept. 11, 2001. But while Arab suspects with no evidence or charges against them get “rendered” to other nations or stranded in Guantanamo, two anti-Castro terrorists who destroyed an airplane with passengers aboard are getting kid-glove treatment.
The most dramatic example of Bush coddling Castro-hating terrorists involves Luis Posada Carriles. On Oct. 6, 1976, agents working for Posada and Orlando Bosch, another anti-Castro exile, planted a bomb on a 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 has added 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. How ironic in light of Bush authorizing torture for terrorist suspects this October. Even more ironic is that there is no credible evidence that Venezuela practices torture.
Torture After JFK Stopover
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 home to Canada. After several days of interrogations, U.S. immigration authorities placed the Syrian-born Canadian citizen and software engineer on a private 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 links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network. U.S. officials didn’t ask Canada to verify this completely incorrect tip, however. Indeed, a Canadian inquiry completed in September found that days before U.S. authorities 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 all the information it apparently needed to ship Arar to Syria, for torture.
The hefty and detailed Canadian 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 with the decision to send Arar to Syria.
Arar, now back in Canada and still suffering the aftereffects of his torture, feels understandably bitter about his experience. In a video he made to accept his Letelier Moffitt human rights award on Oct. 18, Arar gave details both of his torture and his efforts to clear his name and restore his mental and physical health. The yearly ceremony to honor the two Institute for Policy Studies workers assassinated by Pinochet’s secret police in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 1976, gives recognition to people who exemplify the struggle for human rights.
Arar and the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented him in his legal travails, took this year’s international honor for their work against torture.
A man who had no terrorist connections, much less a history of violence, might compare 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, Posada, who had worked with the CIA even before the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion 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 explosives-filled toothpaste tube on board the Cubana plane in Caracas, got off in Barbados, and left behind the volatile toothpaste.
On Oct. 6, 1976, 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. Col. Oliver North, helping him resupply 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’s governor, have reassured 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.
Washington Wants to Export Posada
Posada 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 Sept. 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.
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. That casts doubt on Bush’s supposed tough standards on terrorism. Double standards? In fact, Bush has shown he has no standards.
Bush’s government, by the way, has yet to prosecute one serious terrorist suspect although some have been held for five years in Guantanamo. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice charged seven poor African-American men in Miami, none of whom had knowledge of explosives, with conspiring to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower. The government has also held for four years U.S. citizen Jose Padilla 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. Meanwhile, Arar remains on the no-entry-no-fly list despite his total exoneration by Canadian investigators. The right thing to do stares the Bush administration in the face. Even if there were no war on terror, Arar merits an apology and his name’s removal from the no-fly list. Bush should send Posada to Venezuela to be tried for the 1976 sabotaging of the Cuban airliner.
This article originally appeared at Foreign Policy in Focus.