Posted October 27 2005
From the Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper
The United States is supposed to be in an all-out struggle against terrorism. As part of that, President Bush has said over and over again that anyone who shelters terrorists or gives aid to terrorists is a terrorist. But the Bush administration and influential members of the Florida congressional delegation are again in the process of giving shelter to Cuban exile terrorists, most prominently to one Luis Posada Carriles. The latter is accused of being one of the masterminds of the bombing of a Cubana airliner back in 1976 with the loss of 73 innocent lives, including the Cuban junior fencing team. He was in a Venezuelan prison awaiting trial on that charge when he escaped in 1985. Venezuela long ago asked for his extradition and now has done so again.
He also bragged to The New York Times in a 1998 interview that he had ordered the bombing of a number of tourist hotels in Havana, acts which led to the death of an Italian tourist and the wounding of several other people.
And then in 2000, he was arrested in Panama, and later convicted of "endangering public safety" because of his involvement in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro by blowing up a public auditorium where Castro was to speak before an audience of some 1,500. One can imagine the carnage and suffering that would have resulted from that.
Posada managed to get to Miami and was there from March until May of this year, untouched by U.S. authorities. Only in mid-May, when he brazenly organized a press conference, did the Department of Homeland Security feel compelled to take him into custody. And then, although the Venezuelan government had several days earlier formally requested that the U.S. detain him for extradition, he was instead charged only with illegal entry and sent off to El Paso for an administrative immigration hearing, a hearing that turned out to be a total farce.
Posada's lawyer called only one witness, one Joaquin Chaffardet, who, without presenting a shred of evidence, said the accused would be tortured if he were deported to Venezuela. The Immigration, Customs and Enforcement Agency of the DHS called no witnesses and made no effort to cross-examine Chaffardet. Had it done so, the immigration judge would have learned that Chaffardet was by no means an objective witness. Over the past 40 years, he had been one of Posada's closest associates, was his ex-boss in the Venezuelan Secret Intelligence Agency and is now his lawyer in Venezuela. And yet, relying on nothing more than that biased testimony, the immigration judge ruled that Posada would be tortured if removed to Venezuela. Never mind that the Venezuelan government had given assurances that he would be held under conditions of the greatest transparency and that no credible evidence that he would be tortured was even offered.
Meanwhile, on June 15, Venezuela again formally asked the U.S. government to extradite him to Venezuela. But it seems clear that the U.S. had -- and has -- no intention of extraditing him. The most likely thing is that he will remain in custody for a time under the illegal entry charge and will then be freed.
In other words, the Bush administration will then have given shelter to another terrorist, to join others such as Orlando Bosch, who has lived freely and unrepentant in Miami since 1989.
And how did Posada get out of prison in Panama and return to Miami? Why, because U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her two congressional colleagues, Lincoln and Mario Diaz Balart, wrote to then-President Mireya Moscoso requesting that she pardon him, as well as the three others involved in the plot: Guillermo Novo, who had been convicted of the 1976 murder in Washington of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier (his conviction was later overturned); Gaspar Jimenez, who spent six years in prison in Mexico for trying to kidnap a Cuban diplomat and killing his bodyguard in the process; and Pedro Remon, who had pleaded guilty in 1986 to trying to blow up the Cuban Mission to the United Nations.
In August 2004, in one of her last acts as president of Panama, Moscoso did pardon them all. Jimenez, Remon and Novo, who are all American citizens, immediately flew back to Miami to a hero's welcome. Posada, who has Venezuelan citizenship, decided to bide his time in Honduras for a few months, but then quietly entered the U.S. in March.
For its part, the Bush administration did not criticize Moscoso's pardon or in any way express disagreement. On the contrary, there was reason to believe U.S. officials had perhaps encouraged her.
Nor was this the first time Ros-Lehtinen had acted to free terrorists. Bosch, also accused of being a mastermind of the 1976 Cubana airliner bombing, was released from Venezuelan prison under mysterious circumstances in 1987 and returned to Miami without a visa in 1988. The Immigration and Naturalization Service began proceedings to deport him, and as the associate attorney general argued at the time: "The security of this nation is affected by its ability to urge credibly other nations to refuse aid and shelter to terrorists. We could not shelter Dr. Bosch and maintain that credibility."
But shelter him we did. Urged on by Ros-Lehtinen and Jeb Bush -- then managing her election campaign -- the administration of George H.W. Bush approved a pardon for Bosch, who has lived freely ever since in Miami. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush has become governor of Florida.
And now, just as she has played a key role in fending off efforts to bring Posada to justice, Ros-Lehtinen is being touted to be the new chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Observing all this, other nations cannot but question the sincerity of the U.S. commitment to oppose terrorists and terrorism, no matter what their form. It's more a matter of telling them to do as we tell them to do and not as we do -- not an effective argument.
Wayne S. Smith is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., and a former U.S. diplomat with service in Cuba, the Soviet Union, Argentina and other posts abroad.