May 21, 2008—Is a government guilty of terrorism if it harbors known terrorists? What should one say about a country that permits open fund-raising on behalf of a terrorist implicated in the mass killing of civilians?
What about a government that secretly arms a guerrilla army that wantonly kills and abuses civilians while seeking to overthrow an elected government?
If your answer to those questions is to recite George W. Bush’s dictum that a government that harbors or helps terrorists should be punished just like the terrorists, then you must turn your wrath on the U.S. government and the Bush family -- guilty on all the above points.
But the U.S. political/media system continues to view the world through a cracked lens that focuses outrage on “enemy” regimes while refracting away a comparable fury from similar actions by U.S. officials.
So, while President Bush ponders whether to add Venezuela to the terrorist list – because of a captured Colombian guerrilla computer that appears to implicate Hugo Chavez’s government in weapons smuggling – Bush would broach no criticism of Ronald Reagan who armed Nicaraguan contra guerrillas in the 1980s.
Reagan continued that covert war even after the ruling Sandinistas won an election in 1984 that most outside observers praised as free and fair and even after the facts of the contras’ human rights abuses – kidnapping, torturing and murdering civilians – became widely known and were acknowledged by some senior contra leaders.
Though Reagan was well aware of the contras’ cruelty (he privately called them “vandals”), he hailed them publicly as “freedom fighters” and equated them with America’s “Founding Fathers.”
Reagan kept arming the contras even after Congress ordered him to stop and the World Court ruled against the CIA’s secret mining of Nicaragua’s harbors.
Reagan also backed vicious rebel forces in Angola and Afghanistan (including foreign Islamic fundamentalists who later coalesced into al-Qaeda) and supported state terror against civilian populations in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands.
By any stretch of the imagination – if any other country had so brazenly violated international law and human rights standards – that government would be condemned by civilized nations and would be treated as a terrorist pariah.
However, the vast majority of Republicans and many Democrats view Reagan as a political icon deserving of honors, such as having Washington’s National Airport renamed Ronald Reagan National Airport.
To suggest that the late President was a war criminal or a sponsor of terrorism is unthinkable within the U.S. political mainstream. [For details on Reagan’s war crimes, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
Similarly, it is unacceptable to note how the Bush family has protected Cuban-American terrorists – from 1976 when George H.W. Bush ran the CIA to the present when George W. Bush balks at an extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles, wanted on Venezuelan terrorism charges for blowing up a Cubana airliner and killing 73 people in 1976.
On May 2, 2008, more than six years into President Bush’s “global war on terror,” there was a remarkable scene in Miami as Posada, now 80, was feted at a gala fundraising dinner. Some 500 supporters chipped in to his legal defense fund as he remains free facing half-hearted U.S. government litigation on a minor immigration charge.
Posada, who has had plastic surgery to repair damage to his face from a shooting in the late 1980s, arrived to thundering applause. Then, in a bristling speech against the Castro regime in Cuba, Posada told his supporters, “We ask God to sharpen our machetes.”
Venezuela’s Ambassador the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, protested the Bush administration’s tolerance of the dinner. “This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about [more] violence,” the ambassador said.
Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen who worked for Venezuela’s intelligence agency in the 1970s, masterminded the 1976 Cubana airline bombing, according to evidence compiled by the U.S. government and in South America.
Despite Posada’s record – and despite the strong evidence against him in U.S. government files – Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made little effort to capture Posada when he sneaked into Miami in 2005. Posada was detained only after he held a news conference.
Then, instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela, the Bush administration engaged in a lackadaisical effort to have him deported for lying on an immigration form.
During a 2007 court hearing in Texas, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela. The judge, therefore, barred Posada from being deported there.
After that ruling, Ambassador Alvarez accused the Bush administration of applying “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”
The kid-glove treatment of Posada and other right-wing Cubans stands in marked contrast to President Bush’s tough handling of Islamic militants. While Posada is afforded all U.S. legal protections and then some, suspected Islamic terrorists are locked away without trial at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and face “alternative interrogation techniques.”
On May 15 in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, Bush even denounced Western political leaders who advocate negotiations with “terrorists and radicals,” likening the idea to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler.
But Bush’s hard-line stance doesn’t apply to terrorism that’s in line with U.S. foreign policy or that connects to Bush’s family. In those cases, opposite standards apply.
For instance, even as Posada’s record for terrorism was relevant to his immigration case, the Bush administration sat on evidence implicating him in a series of 1997 hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist.
The Associated Press reported that an FBI document, belatedly filed with the court, revealed that a confidential source had planted a listening device in a Guatemalan utility company office, picking up conversations about smuggling a “putty-like explosive” into Cuba in the shoes of operatives posing as tourists.
The source added that another employee of the utility company found 22 plastic tubes in a closet in August 1997 labeled "high-powered explosives, extremely dangerous." The explosives were being mixed into shampoo bottles, the employee said.
According to the AP, the confidential source provided the FBI with a fax about wire transfers from individuals in New Jersey that was signed Solo, one of Posada’s aliases.
The FBI concluded that at least $19,000 in wire transfers connected to the hotel bombings were sent from the United States to El Salvador and Guatemala to a "Ramon Medina," the code name used by Posada in the 1980s when he worked on Oliver North’s operations. [AP, May 4, 2007]
In 1998, in interviews with a New York Times reporter, Posada admitted a role in the Havana bombings, citing a goal of frightening tourists away from Cuba.
But Posada later denied making the admissions. He also has denied masterminding the 1976 airliner bombing in collusion with another notorious Cuban exile, Orlando Bosch, who moved to Miami, too, with the help and protection of the Bush family.
Not only did the Bush administration take a dive during Posada’s deportation hearing by letting the Venezuela torture claim go unchallenged, but also it ignored Bosch’s statement a year earlier, when he justified the 1976 mid-air bombing in a TV interview with reporter Manuel Cao on Miami’s Channel 41.
When Cao asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the Cubana plane crashed off the coast of Barbados, Bosch responded, "In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”
“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked.
“Who was on board that plane?” Bosch responded. “Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese.” [Officials tallies actually put the Guyanese dead at 11.]
Bosch added, “Four members of the Communist Party, chico! Who was there? Our enemies...”
“And the fencers?” Cao asked about Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people on board?”
Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. ... She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.
“We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.” [The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976 and which involved a CIA undercover asset.]
“If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn’t you think it difficult?” Cao asked.
“No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba,” Bosch answered.
Beyond Bosch’s incriminating statements about the Cubana Airlines bombing, other evidence of his and Posada’s guilt is overwhelming.
Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana Airlines plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.
But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in anti-communist Cuban extremists Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela’s intelligence agency, DISIP.
The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”
On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.
“Following the 6 October Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”
In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.
A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.
Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.
After President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for fully unraveling the mysteries of anti-communist terrorist plots dissipated. The Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.
In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison, reportedly with the help of Cuban exiles. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for providing the $25,000 that was used to bribe 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 Vice President Bush. Rodriguez was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, a pet project of President Reagan.
After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run contra-supply operation.
When one of the contra-supply planes was shot down inside Nicaragua in October 1986, Posada alerted U.S. officials and shut 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 accused terrorist to justice.
By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism 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 Jeb's dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.
In 1992, also during the first Bush presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 12 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.]
Posada soon returned to his anti-Castro plotting.
In 1994, Posada set out to kill Fidel 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, according to a Miami Herald account. [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 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.
Four months after the sentencing, however, lame-duck Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso – who had a home in Key Biscayne, Florida, and had close ties to President George W. Bush’s administration – pardoned the convicts.
Just 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 writer Marcela Sanchez noted in a September 2004 article about the Panamanian pardons that “there is something terribly wrong when the United States, after Sept. 11 (2001), fails to condemn the pardoning of terrorists and instead allows them to walk free on U.S. streets.” [Washington Post, Sept. 3, 2004]
Posada reportedly sneaked into the United States in early 2005 and his presence was an open secret in Miami for weeks before U.S. authorities did anything. The New York Times summed up Bush’s dilemma if Posada decided to seek U.S. asylum.
“A grant of asylum could invite charges that the Bush administration is compromising its principle that no nation should harbor suspected terrorists,” the Times wrote. “But to turn Mr. Posada away could provoke political wrath in the conservative Cuban-American communities of South Florida, deep sources of support and campaign money for President Bush and his brother, Jeb.” [NYT, May 9, 2005]
Only after Posada called a news conference to announce his presence was the Bush administration shamed into arresting him. But even then, the administration balked at sending Posada back to Venezuela where the Chavez government – unlike some of its predecessors – was eager to prosecute.
The next Bush move was to bungle the immigration case and thus let Posada live out his golden years as a hero in Miami.
The handling of the Posada-Bosch cases – when they are put next to Bush’s tough-guy attitude toward Islamic terrorism – point to one unavoidable and unpleasant conclusion: that the Bush family regards terrorism – defined as killing civilians for a political reason – as justified or at least tolerable in cases when their interests match those of the terrorists.
A principled rejection of terrorism only applies to the other guys.
[For more on how the senior George Bush looked the other way on Chile’s international terrorism, see Consortiumnews.com’s “When the Terrorists Were Our Guys.”]
This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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This story was published on May 21, 2008.