The other war against terrorism

The Daily Tribune, July 14, 2009
By Ken Fuller

On July 5, a Philippine committee wrote to US President Obama to demand that he grant immediate amnesty to five men — two US-born, three Cuban-born — who have been incarcerated for 11 years. Their crime? Investigating terrorists and gathering evidence which was then presented to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by the Cuban authorities.


Fernando Gonzales, Rene Gonzales, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez and Ramon Labanino successfully infiltrated terrorist networks in Florida, home to a large expatriate Cuban community, some members of which have long been involved in terrorist activities against the Cuban government. In June 1998, Cuban officials handed over the accumulated evidence to FBI officials invited to Havana specifically for this purpose.
One of those named in the evidence was Luis Posada Carriles. Cuban-born, he has been accused of masterminding the bombing of a Cuban airliner in October 1976, killing all 73 persons on board. He is also accused of being behind the bombing of hotels in Havana in 1997. In fact, in 1998 he admitted this in interviews, but later retracted. At the same time, speaking to the New York Times, he revealed his ties to the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, but, as his colleagues came under pressure, this was also retracted.
The National Security Archive at George Washington University collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. It has posted CIA records revealing that in the 1960s and part of the 1970s, Posada was a CIA agent, and, as an informant, remained in sporadic contact with representatives of that body until at least June 1976 — three months before the Cuban airliner was bombed.
Between 1963 and 1965, Posada was in the US military, during which time the CIA trained him in demolition work. By the 1970s, however, he was a senior official in Venezuelan intelligence. The declassified documents show that the CIA had concrete advance intelligence as early as June 1976 that a Cuban airliner was to be targeted. Moreover, an FBI attaché not only had “multiple contacts” with one of the Venezuelans who placed the bomb but issued him a US visa five days before the bombing.
Posada’s role in the Venezuelan secret police was not enough to save him, however, and he was arrested and jailed for the bombing. He escaped in 1985 and went on to participate in various other activities, including assisting in Lt. Col. Oliver North’s illegal operations (run, as the world now knows, on narcotics money) against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Posada then served time in Panama for a 2000 assassination attempt against Fidel Castro, but in August 2004 he was pardoned by the outgoing Panamanian President — a favor, some say, to George W. Bush, who needed the Cuban expatriate vote in Miami.
The following year, he was arrested for entering the USA illegally but, when a dozen “friendly” countries were contacted with a view to deporting him (needless to say, the USA would not deport him to Cuba or Venezuela, the two countries that sought his extradition), none was willing to put out the welcome mat for him. Posada is still not behind bars — unlike the five Cubans who named him in their 1998 evidence.
Instead of using that evidence against the terrorists, US officials tipped them off and hunted down the five men who had provided it. Arrested, they were held in solitary confinement for 17 months and charged with “conspiracy” and failure to declare themselves as “foreign agents.” They were tried in Miami, where they had little hope of receiving a fair trial, and given sentences ranging from 15 years to life-plus. One of the men received a double life sentence plus 18 years. Then they were placed in solitary confinement again, preventing any effective preparations for their appeals.
There has been, of course, an international outcry against the injustice of it all, but even so the US Supreme Court last month refused to review their final appeal. This triggered the July 5 letter from the Philippine Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, urging Obama to grant immediate amnesty to these “true heroes of the real war against international terrorism” who “should never have been imprisoned in the first place.”
There is one glimmer of hope. Until this year, Posada had been charged with little more than immigration fraud and lying to the federal authorities in order to become a US citizen. Some analysts took the view that the US government had avoided any serious prosecution for fear that Posada would spill the beans on CIA involvement in coups and assassination attempts. This April, however, Posada, now 81, was indicted on 11 counts, including perjury and obstruction of a federal proceeding.
While he has not been charged with the bombing of either the Cuban airliner in 1976 or the Havana hotels in 1998, he does stand accused of having lied about his (non-) involvement in the latter.
If the stronger charges are due to the change of guard in Washington, then Obama may just decide that he wishes to be on the “right side of history” and release the Cuban 5. He can afford to ignore the impact of such a decision in vote-rich Miami, because it’s hardly likely that the anti-Castro Cuban expatriates would vote for him anyway.
On the other hand, this is the same President who has agreed to suppress photographs showing inmates of Iraq’s Abu Grahib jail being tortured by US military personnel. At the end of the day, therefore, it will probably depend on how many decent Americans stand up and pressure him on this issue.
But this is one of the decisions by which Obama will be judged.

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