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2005-05-18

Cuban 'Terrorist' and CIA Asset Posada Carriles Holds Press Conference and is Taken By Homeland Security, But Will the US Extradite Him to Venezuela to Face Terror Charges?

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Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles was arrested in Miami shortly after he gave a press conference. Despite having been jailed on terrorism charges in Venezuela and Panama, Carriles managed to sneak into the United States in March in order to seek political asylum. [includes rush transcript]

Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles was arrested in Miami Tuesday by immigration authorities as he was preparing to leave the country. Posada is a 77-year-old former CIA operative who has been trying to violently overthrow Fidel Castro’s government for four decades. He has been connected to the 1976 bombing of a civilian airliner that killed 73 passengers–the first act of airline terrorism in the Western hemisphere. He snuck into the United States in early March after years of living in hiding in Latin America and is seeking asylum. Hours before the arrest, Cuban President Fidel Castro led about a million Cubans in a protest march in Havana to demand that the United States act against Posada. Castro–who has accused repeatedly accused Washington of double standards in its war on terrorism–spoke to the crowd.

  • Fidel Castro, Cuban president speaking on March 17 in Havana

Posada’s arrest at a house in Southwest Miami-Dade County came on the same day the U.S. government summoned him to an asylum interview. But instead of appearing at the interview, Posada gave a news conference at an empty warehouse near Hialeah where he denied the accusations against him.

  • Luis Posada Carriles, speaking at a press conference in Miami on March 17.

After the news session, Posada’s lawyer told reporters his client had dropped his US asylum petition and had intended to leave the country. He was arrested at a house in Southwest Miami-Dade County shortly afterwards.

Both Cuba and Venezuela have called for the Bush administration to extradite him to face charges of terrorism. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said "As a matter of immigration law and policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not generally remove people to Cuba, nor does ICE generally remove people to countries believed to be acting on Cuba"s behalf." Homeland Security went on to say it has 48 hours to determine Posada’s immigration status.

In an interview in Tuesday’s Miami Herald, Posada said he was amazed the U.S. government had not been looking for him. He said "At first I hid a lot. Now I hide a lot less." He also denied any involvement in the airliner bombing although recently declassified documents from the CIA and FBI indicate he attended at least two planning meetings for the attack. Posada refused to confirm or deny involvement in other attacks, telling the newspaper: "Let"s leave it to history."

  • Ann Louise Bardach, award-winning journalist and Author of Cuba Confidential. She interviewed Posada in 1998 for The New York Times in one of his only in-depth interviews. She is the director of the Media Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
  • Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and author of the new book "Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq." For years he worked as an investigative reporter for both the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine. His reporting led to the exposure of what is now known as the "Iran-Contra" scandal.
  • Ira Kurzban, Miami based lawyer who specializes in asylum cases. Since 1991, he has served as General Counsel for the government of Haiti.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Hours before the arrest, Cuban President, Fidel Castro, led about a million Cubans in a protest march in Havana to demand that the United States act against Posada. Castro, who has accused Washington repeatedly of having double standards in its war on terrorism, spoke to the crowd.

FIDEL CASTRO: It is a march against terrorism, in favor of life, and of peace of our people and the brother people of the United states, whose ethical values we trust.

AMY GOODMAN: Posada’s arrest at a house in Southwest Miami-Dade County, came on the same day the U.S. government summoned him to an asylum interview. But instead of appearing at the interview, Posada gave a news conference at an empty warehouse near Hialeah, where he denied the accusations against him.

LUIS POSADA CARRILES: I want to emphasize that I had nothing to do with the acts mentioned, and I repudiate these abominable acts as a case of terrorism that has been used by Castro through all of the years to lie.

AMY GOODMAN: After the news session, Posada’s lawyer told reporters his client had dropped his U.S. asylum petition and had intended to leave the country. He was arrested at a house in Southwest Miami-Dade shortly afterwards.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Both Cuba and Venezuela have called for the Bush administration to extradite him to face charges of terrorism. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said, (quote), "As a matter of immigration law and policy, US immigration and customs enforcement does not generally remove people to Cuba, nor does it generally remove people to countries believed to be acting on Cuba’s behalf." Homeland Security went on to say it has 48 hours to determine Posada’s immigration status. In an interview in today’s Miami Herald, Posada said he was amazed the US government had not been looking for him. He said, (quote), "At first I hid a lot, now I hide a lot less." He also denied any involvement in the airliner bombing, although recently declassified documents from the CIA and FBI indicated he attended at least two planning meetings for the attack. Posada refused to confirm or deny involvement in other attacks, telling the newspaper, (quote), "Let’s leave it to history."

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now on the telephone by Ann Louise Bardach, an award-winning journalist and author of Cuba Confidential. She interviewed Posada in 1998 for The New York Times in one of his only in-depth interviews. We’re joined in Washington, DC by veteran investigative journalist Robert Parry. He’s author of the book Secrecy & Privileges: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. On the line with us from Miami, we’re joined by Ira Kurzban. Ira Kurzban is a lawyer who served as general counsel for the government in Haiti. We turn first to Bob Parry, your description of Luis Posada, both your response to his arrest and what he is saying now?

ROBERT PARRY: Well, Amy, I think he’s saying what he has said for a long time, denying involvement in the '76 airline bombing, and not being very clear about his role in other alleged terrorism acts, but he did — he has admitted previously to involvement in a 1997 bombing campaign inside Cuba, and he was arrested and prosecuted in connection with plans in 2000 to blow up a meeting that Castro was supposed to attend. And the evidence on 1976 is actually quite strong. FBI agent Carter Cornick and others have explained to journalists how much evidence there was pointing to Posada's role both in the planning stages and in connection with the people that actually carried out the bombing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Bob, in terms of the connection to Venezuela and Venezuela’s request to extradite him, he actually escaped, didn’t he, at one time from a prison in Venezuela, and there was some US officials suspected of involvement?

ROBERT PARRY: Right. Posada was a Venezuelan intelligence official back in the 1970s, around the time of the '76 bombing. He was then arrested. There was a long legal proceeding, which never really quite reached a conclusion. In 1985, some Cuban Americans helped him bribe his way out of Venezuela. He then went to Central America where he was based in El Salvador, and was an important figure in the Contra re-supply operations being run by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North out of the White House. Posada was put in charge of munitions and some of the financing. He also later told the FBI in connection with that, after the Iran-Contra scandal broke, that one of his assistants, Felix Rodriguez, another Cuban American tied to the CIA, had been in constant contact or frequent contact with Vice President George Bush's office during this Contra re-supply period.

AMY GOODMAN: Ann Louise Bardach, your response to the capture of the man you interviewed in 1998, secret location, have spent more time perhaps than any US journalist talking to Luis Posada.

ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, I was surprised in a sense that I had thought the plan — and I saw several — you know I had several emails from different sources close to Posada in the days before, and I thought that the grand plan would be that he gives this press conference and kind of declares his freedom, although one of the ground rules of going to the press conference was you couldn’t ask anything about the '98 Cubana hotels situation, only the airplane situation in ’76. And then I had a tip that they were going to arrest him, but it would be more pro forma. And it seems — what I think has happened is that the Department of Homeland Security is — feels embarrassed. They feel embarrassed because they're supposed to guarantee to US citizens that people are not slipping into this country or slipping out of this country, because they’re in charge and there should be some order. And the fact that somebody as notorious, as controversial, as famous as Luis Posada, at one point, number one on one of the fugitive lists, you know, came in without his papers, a fake passport, and was now planning on just slipping on out was just one thing they could not abide by. And so, they nailed him.

Now — now they have got themselves in a real pickle, because they can only hold him around 48 hours. They can’t give him back to Cuba without creating political problems in Miami. Nor really to Venezuela. So they need a third country. And I would imagine that that third country, based upon what Luis Posada told me, will be Salvador, because Salvador was — he has lived there probably more than any other part of the last 30 years, and he was once — he lived with a beautiful woman named Titi, who was once involved with the generals. Posada has long-standing ties with the generals, a group called ARENA, a general named Bustillo, who got kind of a bad rap during Iran-Contra because tied to the group that killed the nuns and some Jesuits. But he has a crowd there that he has worked with for many years and who are protective of him. And I think it’s fairly sure — that will probably be his best shot.

One might also say Guatemala, although Guatemala is where there was the assassination attempt on him that put 12 bullets in him. I think he’s a little weary — he told me he didn’t trust Hondurans — I mean Guatemalans, he did tell me that. So I would imagine a country like Salvador would be sort of a place that he would have a reasonable amount of security. The other possibility that could come down at any moment today is that the relatives of the Italian tourist victim could ask for an extradition order to go to Italy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ira Kurzban, what about this whole issue of him seeking asylum, even though now he has retracted that? What would have been the possibilities in terms of him being able to get asylum here in the United States?

ANN LOUISE BARDACH: He doesn’t have it anymore, because just for a bunch of reasons. As I said, entry with false papers, false identity, and also when you do do that, to be qualified for the Cuban, what’s called dry foot-wet foot policy, you need to immediately notify authorities and say that you are here. There’s a certain procedure. And he has already goofed up that procedure.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s ask Ira Kurzban in Miami, who is an expert in asylum law, what this means and also who gets to stay here — I mean, you have represented Haiti for many years — and who gets kicked out? Who is called a terrorist, and who is called a freedom fighter?

IRA KURZBAN: I think first of all, I don’t think Luis Posada is going anywhere. I think that he, if he wants to, can probably remain in the United States and certainly the extraordinary statement from immigration and customs enforcement yesterday, I would even say an unprecedented statement, really inviting him to apply for what are his rights under the Convention Against Torture. We have a treaty that the United States has signed called — that is called commonly among lawyers the Cat Claim. He has not given up, actually, any claim, and he certainly, if he wants to, can now claim before an immigration judge asylum, withholding of removal, and Convention Against Torture claims, and he can also actually ask for a bond, believe it or not, under immigration law at this point. I think, really, in some ways, I think what Ms. Bardach said was correct. I think Immigration was embarrassed. They obviously knew they had a terrorist here for two months. He slipped into the United States. And when the Miami Herald interview came out, it was really kind of putting it in the Immigration Service’s face that not only was he here for two months, but he stated in the interview that he tricked Immigration, that he was on a bus coming into Miami from Ft. Lauderdale. They were checking his papers, and they basically let him go. So, I think it made Immigration look pretty stupid at this point. I think they had to act. I think they thought he was going to come in for his asylum interview and just arrest him at that point, which is a very common way in which they do it, when he didn’t show up, I think they felt they had to go out and get him.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But Ira, in terms of the situation with Venezuela, is there an extradition treaty between Venezuela and the United States? I don’t think there’d certainly be any claims, or at least I haven’t heard, of any that Venezuela practices torture of people that it detains or jails.

IRA KURZBAN: Right. That’s why the statement by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement was so political and so extraordinary, when they said, ICE does not remove people to countries believed to be acting on Cuba’s behalf. That’s just unheard of. It’s unheard of under extradition law. It’s unheard of under asylum law. And clearly what they were saying there, we’re not going to extradite him to Venezuela either. Now extradition is not effected by asylum. In other words, even if someone has an asylum claim, the Department of State has repeatedly taken the position that the US government is free to extradite the person, absent a provision in the extradition treaty regarding political crimes. So, whether or not Posada applies for asylum would not and should not effect whether or not the State Department seeks his extradition.

However, there is another provision, again, the Convention Against Torture provision, which allows the Secretary of State to decide not to extradite somebody to a country that they believe they would be tortured to. But they’re going to have to prove that. And I think the Secretary of State is going to have to go out on a limb and say that they believe that anybody who is extradited to Venezuela is going to be tortured. There’s clearly no evidence for that. It would clearly be a purely political move. So, I think what’s going to unfold in the next days and weeks will largely depend on Posada and what the Bush administration has agreed to do with him, because although it appears as of today that there’s some kind of enforcement action going on, I think everyone in Miami knows this is a completely politicized process, that they will do whatever the right wing Cuban community wants in Miami, and if Posada is an embarrassment to them, maybe they will work out something where he can just leave, as Miss Bardach was saying before, or if they decide that he can stay, just like Orlando Bosch stayed in Miami, another terrorist who’s living freely in Miami, that they will figure out a way first of all to give him a bond, and secondly, to quietly, ultimately grant him Convention Against Torture protection.

AMY GOODMAN: Ira Kurzban, we have less than 30 seconds, but the condition of the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Haiti, the ousted Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, as you understand, having been the attorney for the Haitian government for so long?

IRA KURZBAN: He is in very, very bad shape. It’s ironic to me, of course, that none of this ever gets in the mainstream press in Miami or anywhere else. But he is pretty close to death at this point. And we’re just hoping that the government in Haiti, the puppet government in Haiti, will finally release him and allow him to remain in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Ira Kurzban, Miami-based attorney. Robert Parry will stay with us to talk about the next issue, as we talk about the controversy over whether the Koran was desecrated in Guantanamo, and Ann Louise Bardach, author of Cuba Confidential, interviewed Luis Posada for The New York Times in 1998.

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