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2005-07-27

Latin America’s "Bin Laden" Denied Bail, Judge Cites Posada’s Terror Record

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Leading anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is denied bail in his Texas immigration trial. We speak with a U.S. immigration lawyer who has been retained by the Venezuelan government to represent it in the case as it continues to demand his extradition as well as the Chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee. [includes rush transcript]

We being today with a case we have been following closely for years. And that is the case of the Cuban-born former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, the man identified by Havana as a leading anti-Castro terrorist. He is currently in immigration detention in Texas and awaits an asylum hearing in late August. He is currently being held on charges of illegally entering the country, but that is just a grain of sand in this case. He stands accused of a wide range of crimes and alleged crimes against Cuba and its president Fidel Castro. Not the least among the charges against Posada—the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane, killing 73 people including the entire Cuban Olympic fencing team.

The Venezuelan government has demanded his extradition. Washington has said it will not hand him over, saying that Caracas is in the service of Fidel Castro. There is also the issue of Posada’s alleged attempt to kill Castro in 1998 when he was attending a Latin American summit as well as the 1997 hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist. Just some of the long list of charges against him. But none of those are part of the current proceedings. At least not officially.

On Monday, in an El Paso, Texas immigration court, Judge William Abbott rejected a request by Posada’s lawyer that he be released on bond, ruling that Posada must remain in detention until his case is resolved. In his ruling, Abbott cited allegations that Posada is a terror suspect and said he was concerned Posada would flee. Abbott listed a series of terror allegations against Posada over several decades and said even Posada’s participation in operations against Cuba in the early 1960s could be considered terror under today’s standards. The Miami Herald reported that the judge’s statement seemed to catch by surprise Posada’s lawyer, Matthew Archambeault, who said he interpreted it to mean the judge would include the Bay of Pigs invasion — which was organized by the U.S. government . In response, Judge Abbott said, "It doesn’t necessarily matter who helped it...The question is whether that kind of activity today would be defined as aiding terrorism or participating in acts of terrorism.""

According to The Herald, Posada played a role in the Bay of Pigs operation but was not part of the invasion force itself. It was after that that Posada allegedly joined the CIA, moving to Venezuela in the late 1960s. In Caracas, Posada served as a senior Venezuelan security officer and later operated a private security agency.

He was arrested and charged in connection with the blowing up of a Cuban jetliner in 1976 that killed 73 people. Acquitted by a military court, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 before a civilian court could reach a verdict. Posada was detained in Miami-Dade on May 17 and accused of entering the country illegally. The Venezuelan government has demanded his extradition since then, but has been denied.

  • 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.
  • Transcript

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

    AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Caracas where we’re joined on the line by Jose Pertierra. He’s a Washington, D.C. based immigration lawyer. He has been retained by the Venezuelan government to represent it in the Luis Posada Carriles case here in the United States. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

    JOSE PERTIERRA: Good morning, Amy. It’s good to be with you.

    AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you respond first to the decision by the El Paso, Texas, immigration judge that he should not be released on bail, Posada, and what the significance of saying that he was engaged in acts of terrorism going back to the early 1960s?

    JOSE PERTIERRA: Well, Amy, the decision by Judge Abbott is of no surprise, because from the beginning, the way we have evaluated this case is that Posada Carriles is not eligible for release on bond, that he is mandatorily detained because of his past acts of terrorism. And what Judge Abbott has done is simply applied the immigration law to the case. What’s significant about the decision, however, is that curiously the Department of Homeland Security, rather than charging in its charging document, called a notice to appear, rather than charging Posada Carriles as a terrorist, it charged him only as having entered without inspection, a charge that they levy against people who come here to work the agricultural fields of California. The evidence that is presented in this case, however, by D.H.S. shows that Posada Carriles has engaged of acts of terrorism.

    So what Judge Abbott has done is he has looked at the evidence, not simply the charging document, and has found that this man is not eligible for bond. He has also injected into the case Venezuela’s extradition request, because one of the concerns that we have had in the past several weeks has been that although Venezuela requested the extradition of Posada Carriles in the middle of June, June 15, that nonetheless, the government has yet to even assign a prosecutor to the case or presented the case before a judge in El Paso, a federal judge in El Paso, seemingly warranting the immigration case to proceed so as to lull us to sleep without taking into account the very serious extradition request. Judge Abbott has looked at that and has said, 'Wait, I'm not going to release this man on bond because of past acts of terrorism and because he’s wanted in Venezuela for having committed an act of terrorism,’ mainly blowing up, as you indicated earlier, a Cubana de Aviacion passenger plane that took off, you know, from Barbados with the Cuban fencing team and 73 people on board, including a pregnant woman.

    AMY GOODMAN: Art Heitzer joins us, chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee from Milwaukee. The significance of this decision yesterday in El Paso, Texas?

    ART HEITZER: Well, as Jose said, obviously the denial of bail is critical and was the only reasonable conclusion, but we’re looking to the August 29th actual hearing, which will probably take a week, and there will be coordinated demonstrations not only in El Paso, but around the country, that you can find more information about at the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition website. And, you know, the whole raising of the question by the judge of the Bay of Pigs issue, you know, does raise the question as to his long record of activity, sometimes working for the C.I.A. and sometimes not, and the whole question of state-sponsored terrorism. And if he — you know, he does have leverage against the U.S. government. He was working when he got out of Venezuela and bribed himself out of jail with U.S. money, private sector money, I guess, paying for that. Then he promptly went to work with the Contras in Nicaragua. Negroponte is now our coordinator, our czar of intelligence, and he was the ambassador to Honduras where the Contras were based. So, there’s probably lots of information that Carriles could reveal that might be very embarrassing to the Bush administration. So, they’re curious position in not really charging him with terrorism but merely entering the country illegally leaves much more to be discovered.

    AMY GOODMAN: How does this work, that this is now in the purview of an immigration judge? Does this judge only determine whether or not he stays in the United States or leaves? If — what about this series of crimes? Who considers these, and does this judge decide if he remains in a U.S. jail?

    JOSE PERTIERRA: Well, Amy, the immigration case and extradition case are parallel.

    AMY GOODMAN: Jose Pertierra.

    JOSE PERTIERRA: That is to say, the immigration judge in El Paso has no jurisdiction to consider the extradition request. That request is considered only by a federal judge or a magistrate in El Paso, which is where Posada Carriles is detained at this time. The regulations and past case law establish very clearly that it is the extradition case that has priority, because even assuming for the sake of argument that Posada Carriles were a permanent resident of the United States, that would still make him extraditable. He couldn’t raise as a defense that he’s a permanent resident. If a federal judge found him to be extraditable, then he would be extradited.

    What the government is doing, however, is it’s focusing all of its energy and our time on the immigration case, and not pursuing the extradition case at all at this time. And you know, what we want is for this case to go forward on the extradition request. The immigration case is very interesting. There’s a lot of issues involved. But as I say, it should not take priority.

    Now, as to the acts of terrorism committed by Posada Carriles, the one that we’re most focusing on is the 1976 blowing up of the Cubana de Aviacion plane, because that is the only case for which an extradition request has been filed. It was filed by the Venezuelan government. Posada Carriles is a Venezuelan citizen. A lot of people forget that, but he is a naturalized Venezuelan citizen, who for a number of years was head of special operations for the Venezuelan secret intelligence agency in Venezuela in the 1970s. And the blowing up of the Cubana de Aviacion flight was planned in Caracas by Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, two Venezuelans named Herman Ricardo and Freddy Lugo.

    It was planned right across the street from where I’m sitting right now, at a hotel called the Anauco Hilton. And the explosives, which were C-4 plastic explosives, were armed here in Venezuela, and so Venezuela has jurisdiction over this case. They filed the case, the criminal case against Posada Carriles. While the case was pending, Posada Carriles escaped from jail, ended up in El Salvador involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. And he has to return to Venezuela to answer these charges and to have a trial here concerning this very, very serious case. It’s 73 counts of homicide.

    AMY GOODMAN: Jose Pertierra, on the line with us from Venezuela. He represents the Venezuela government in their request for extradition of Luis Posada Carriles. Art Heitzer, on the line with us from Milwaukee, chair of the National Lawyers Guild Cuban Subcommittee. We’ll continue with them, and when we come back, we’ll also be joined by Robert Parry, who is a veteran investigative reporter. Speaking of Iran-Contra, one of the reporters who actually broke that story.

    [break]

    AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about Jose Posada, the man who has been accused by the Cuban and Venezuelan government as being a terrorist, sits in an El Paso, Texas jail. An immigration judge ruled yesterday that he cannot be released on bail. We’re on the line from Caracas by Jose Pertierra, who represents the Venezuelan government in the request for Posada’s extradition; Art Heitzer, chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Cuban Subcommittee; as well as Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and author of the book, Secrecy and Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. I’d like to bring Robert Parry into this conversation. You wrote a piece recently that says that The New York Times has finally put the case of fugitive terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, on page one, observing the violent anti-Castro Cuban’s presence in Florida could test George W. Bush’s universal condemnation of terrorism, but that principal already has been tested and failed. Explain.

    ROBERT PARRY: It’s been quite clear that there has not been the approach toward Posada Carriles that there has been toward other terrorists. If, say — if Posada had been a Basque terrorist or a terrorist from any other part of the world who had not been involved with the U.S. intelligence services in the past, he would have been approached in a very aggressive way. It would have been a manhunt when he arrived. Posada even told the Miami Herald at one point in May, I think it was, that he had expected when he snuck into the country earlier, several months earlier, that he would be hunted. And he said, it turns out I wasn’t being hunted. He finally turned himself in, or he had a press conference and then was arrested, but the point was that there was really no effort, no serious effort, by the Bush administration to apprehend this accused terrorist and bring him to justice. So, the question of double standards already is in play. This is not — Posada is not being treated like anybody else would be in similar circumstances.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the ruling of this judge, Bob Parry, talking about his past going back to the 1960s, which includes the Bay of Pigs and talking about it in terms of terror, the standards today, how significant do you think this is, and as a journalist, what do you think has been allowable in describing what Posada has done?

    ROBERT PARRY: Well, there’s been a problem in the United States. We have not really gone back over our history very carefully. There have been truth commissions in many countries, Guatemala, South Africa; across the world there’s efforts to reconstruct the history of the Cold War and many of the crimes that were committed on all sides. That has not happened in the United States. In an effort to mythologize history to make it seem like it was all quite decent, and there may have been a few excesses here and there, but basically alright.

    And I think what Posada presents is a question of whether the United States and the American people will ever come to grips with the dark side of that history. And I think what the judge introduced, I think perhaps in passing, was this bigger question: Was the United States itself involved in terrorism when it took actions, especially in Latin America? I covered the Iran-Contra affair, and in the case of Central America, we had — there was violence across the isthmus. Much of it was done by covert operations. People like Posada Carriles played roles in it. There was massive violence against the people of Nicaragua, as well as death squad operations that roamed throughout Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras. So you have here a history that has never been presented in any kind of full way. And I think the Posada case represents an opportunity as well as an example of what that history was about.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it is possible that the U.S. would allow Posada to be extradited, as opposed to try him in this country? I mean, for example, if the United States got a hold of Osama bin Laden, would they just send him out of the country?

    ROBERT PARRY: Well, certainly not. I mean, there are ways you would treat anyone suspected of terrorism from an Islamic perspective. It would be very different, as we have been seeing people being arrested for vague suspicions that they might be tied up to terrorism. People after September 11 throughout the country were being rounded up if they had somehow overstayed their visas. There are all kinds of excuses to put people in jail and keep them there for quite a period of time. The approach to Posada has been a glaring contradiction to those principles.

    AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting to look at the role of Posada and what — and how he is actually tied in to the politics of the current administration. I mean, Posada and three other men charged in the conspiracy to attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro at the Ibero-American Summit in Panama. They were sentenced to something like eight years in prison. The U.S.-backed president there, Mireya Moscoso, right in her last days in office let them go free. Three of them came to this country, to Miami to a hero’s welcome in the anti-Castro community just before President Bush — this is right before the Republican Convention —- went down for a big rally in Miami and then came up to the Republican National Convention. So, she released them right before. Posada went off somewhere in Latin America. But the close links between what has happened to him over these last few years, and the Bush administration maybe -—

    ROBERT PARRY: Well, that goes back —

    AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

    ROBERT PARRY: Sorry, Amy. That goes back to the 1980s, as well. Remember what Posada was doing in El Salvador. He was working on the Contra war, but he was working closely with Felix Rodriguez. Posada has said — he was debriefed by the F.B.I. in 1991 in connection with the Walsh investigation of Iran-Contra. And he provided a great deal of detail, including the fact that Felix Rodriguez was in almost daily contact with George H.W. Bush’s office at the White House in the mid 1980s. Bush, senior, of course, has always claimed that he was not involved in these operations. He didn’t really know about them, but Posada has potentially the information that he could share that would implicate this — the current President Bush’s father in some of the crimes of that period. Certainly, there were people very close to the first President Bush who were involved, people like Rodriguez, people like Donald Greg. So, you had there the whole issue of how much was covered up in the mid 1980s, and Posada Carriles is a person who has some of those secrets.

    AMY GOODMAN: You mention Felix Rodriguez. Isn’t he the man who oversaw the killing of Che Guevara in Bolivia?

    ROBERT PARRY: That’s what he says, yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: Art Heitzer, you’re chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee. What activities are planned around Posada right now who currently sits in this El Paso, Texas jail?

    ART HEITZER: Well, as I mentioned, August 29, there will be probably a week-long hearing on his asylum application. And so, there are going to be — there’s going to be a regional demonstration scheduled in El Paso, itself, on that day, and a call for demonstrations, vigils, sometimes panel discussions around the country. For example, one of the persons killed in the airplane was someone who was going to Cuba to study medical school from Guillera. And his family since immigrated to the United States. His sister is going to be one of the people speaking in El Paso. So, we want to focus as much attention as possible on the contradiction that Bob Parry has just mentioned.

    And I should say that Posada’s decision to come to the United States in this context is very interesting, because, for example, when the pardon happened in Panama from the assassination attempt on Castro, which would have killed maybe hundreds of Panamanian students in August of 2000, the other three plotters were immediately whisked by private plane to Miami, got a welcome, as you said, and their background is very interesting. One of them had fired a bazooka to the U.N. building, and he was also convicted and sentenced to 40 years for conspiracy to the assassination in Washington, D.C., of the former Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Letellier, although that was overturned on a technicality on appeals. Another was convicted and imprisoned in Mexico for murdering a Cuban consulate official and was released years later. Another one was sentenced to ten years for conspiring to kill Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1980. These are the people who Posada was caught with in the Panama assassination attempt in the year 2000, were then all pardoned based on various forms of U.S. intervention and then were welcomed to the United States with no question, and like Orlando Bosch who worked with Posada in bankrolling and plotting this whole history of terrorism, they’re walking free in Miami. So Posada reasonably concluded, 'Well, this is the welcome they get, why don't I go there, too, and I’ll have safe haven.’ But the tendency of people in the United States and some media coverage to say with Bush’s commitment to the war against terrorism, this doesn’t fly, with Posada being so high profile, it has made it a huge mistake for him and a big hot potato for Bush.

    AMY GOODMAN: Well, Art Heitzer, I want to thank you very much for being with us, chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Cuba Subcommittee from Milwaukee; Jose Pertierra, representing the Venezuelan government in the case of Posada, he speaks to us from Caracas; and Bob Parry, staying with us, investigative reporter.

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