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by Jim Lobe

Why Bush Wants To Harbor Terrorist Who Downed Airliner

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- On the 30th anniversary of the first midair bombing of a civilian airliner in the Americas, the plot's suspected mastermind is hoping that a federal judge will soon release him from a Texas jail where he has been held on immigration-related charges for the last year and a half.

In a brief submitted to the judge Thursday evening, the Bush administration said it opposed the release of Luis Posada Carriles and argued that granting him freedom on bail may have "serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States."

But, while referring to Posada as "the admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks," the administration declined to officially declare him a terrorist under the USA Patriot Act, which, unlike the immigration law, gives the government authority to detain him indefinitely.

"If Luis Posada Carriles does not meet the definition of a terrorist, it is hard to think of who would," observed Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the independent National Security Archive (NSA).

On Thursday, the NSA released a number of recently declassified government documents that, like others released in recent years by the archive, strongly implicate Carriles in the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 shortly after it left Barbados en route to Havana, killing all 73 people aboard.

In its brief, the government indicated that it was still trying to find a country that would accept Posada, other than Venezuela and Cuba, which have both sought his extradition. In the last 16 months, Canada, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala have all rejected approaches by U.S. officials, according to court records cited by Kornbluh.

The administration's efforts to find a foreign refuge for Posada and its refusal to charge him under the Patriot Act have naturally spurred charges of double standards in light of the priority that it has placed on its "global war on terrorism."

"It simply indicates that, as far as we're concerned, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter; it completely undercuts our position against terrorism," according to Wayne Smith, who served as Washington's top envoy in Havana in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Bush himself has said numerous times that anyone who shelters a terrorist is a terrorist," Smith, a Cuba expert with the Center for International Policy here. "Under that definition, President Bush and members of his administration are terrorists because they are effectively harboring Luis Posada Carriles."

Now 78, Posada quietly entered the country in the spring of 2005, although his presence quickly became known -- and celebrated -- among anti-Fidel Castro Cuban-Americans in south Florida. Initially, the administration claimed not to know where he was, a pretence it could not sustain once he formally applied for asylum. He was immediately arrested on immigration charges and transported to a jail in El Paso, Texas.

The latest twist in Posada's case came on Sept. 11 -- ironically, the fifth anniversary of al Qaeda's terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon -- when a Texas magistrate recommended that Posada be released from detention.

In response to a habeas corpus petition filed by Posada's lawyers, he argued that there was no legal basis for keeping Posada in jail because the attorney general had "never certified (Posada) ... as a terrorist or danger to the community" under the Patriot Act.

The Justice Department's brief, which, for the first time, listed many of the terrorist incidents in which Posada has been implicated over some four decades, is designed to persuade the judge that the petition should be denied. The judge is expected to rule on the case in the coming days or weeks.

The Cuban-born Posada joined the U.S. military in 1963 and was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which trained him in demolitions. While working for the CIA, a relationship that lasted at least until 1974, he participated in numerous attempted or actual bombings of Cuban and Soviet targets in Mexico. As of the early 1970s, he also worked in Caracas as a senior official of the Venezuelan intelligence agency, DISIP.

According to FBI reports obtained in recent years by the NSA, Posada and Orlando Bosch, another militant anti-Communist Cuban exile, were identified by various credible informants as responsible for the Air Cubana bombing virtually immediately after it had taken place.

Bosch, who currently lives in Miami, was pardoned by former President George H. W. Bush in 1990 despite a recommendation by the U.S. Justice Department that he be deported.

The same FBI sources identified two Venezuelans -- both of whom worked for a Caracas security firm set up by Posada in 1974 -- as having placed the bomb on the doomed plane. The first telephone call the two men made after the bombing was to the company's offices in Caracas, according to four newly declassified sworn affidavits by police officials in Trinidad and Tobago who were the first to interrogate them.

The NSA released the affidavits Thursday, along with three other FBI reports sent to then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that placed Posada at meetings in Caracas where the bombing was planned, and another State Department report citing CIA sources that quoted Posada as saying, "We are going to hit a Cuban airplane," just days before the bombing.

Posada himself was arrested by Venezuelan authorities shortly after the bombing in what one former FBI counterintelligence official described to the New York Times last spring as a "preventative measure -- to prevent him from talking or being killed."

Posada then spent the next eight years in jail, punctuated by two inconclusive trials, before escaping Venezuela in 1985 and making his way to Central America, where he quickly found employment with the "Contra" resupply operation run out of the National Security Council under former President Ronald Reagan until it was exposed in late 1986, when he went underground again.

In a 1998 Times interview in Central America, Posada admitted to organizing a wave of bombings in Cuba in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and injured 11 others.

He was arrested in 2000 in Panama for allegedly plotting to kill visiting Cuban President Fidel Castro. In 2004, he was sentenced to an eight-year prison term by a Panamian court but was unexpectedly freed by outgoing President Mireya Moscoso, apparently at the behest of Cuban exiles, including several Cuban-American lawmakers from south Florida. He then made his way to the United States.

Venezuela, whose Supreme Court last year referred to Posada in connection to the Air Cubana bombing as "the author or accomplice of homicide," submitted its request for extradition immediately after Posada's presence in the U.S. became known.

But the administration, whose relations with Caracas have steadily deteriorated since Washington appeared to support a 2002 coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez, has refused to respond to the request. It has argued that, if extradited to Venezuela, Posada could face torture or be extradited to Cuba.

Under the existing treaty that is in force between the U.S. and Venezuela, Washington has the option of either extraditing him to Caracas or trying him here for the same crimes.

"We have massive evidence against him against him," noted Smith. "If the administration doesn't either extradite him or try him here for terrorism, then, it is not only harboring a terrorist; it is also violating a treaty."

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Albion Monitor   October 11, 2006   (

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