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A happy day for terrorism

From the Bay of Pigs to Baghdad
The Convenient Terrorist

Who says the Bushes don’t coddle terrorists? All three of them—Jeb and the two Georges—successfully freed convicted Cuban, anti-Castro terrorists, and used some of them in other illegal operations such as the Reagan administration’s weapons-for-hostages scandal known as Iran-Contra back in the 1980s, and which also involved trading with terrorists. The latest twist in this sordid tale took place on April 19 when federal authorities released on bail Luis Posada Carriles, who’d been in prison for entering the country illegally. That’s the least of it. The man is a fugitive. He faces charges in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, “the deadliest attack on a civilian airliner in the Western Hemisphere in history—until 9/11,” as Berbardo Alvarez Herrera, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, wrote in the Times. The Justice Department describes Posada as “an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots.” The Venezuelan Supreme Court recently signed an extradition order for Posada. The United States and Venezuela have an extradition treaty even older than Posada, who’s 79. The Justice Department claims to have done all it could to keep him in prison. Bunk. It never followed the law. But to get a sense of the depth of this and the previous Bush administrations’ duplicity, a little background is helpful.

On October 6, 1976, Cubana Airlines Flight 455 left Barbados for Havana, with a lay-over in Trinidad. Soon after take-off, a bomb in the luggage compartment exploded, downing the plane and killing 73 people on board, including the Cuban Olympic fencing team. The bomb was left on the plane by Hernan Ricardo Losano and Freddy Lugo, Cuban exiles opposed to Castro’s regime. They worked for Posada, who ran a detective firm in Venezuela—and who’d been among the masterminds of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, working alongside the CIA. Venezuelan and Trinidadian authorities pieced together the case rapidly enough. Losano and Lugo were arrested the day after the explosion when they took a plane back to Trinidad. Losano confessed to planting the bomb and fingered Posada, who was also arrested in Venezuela, along with colleagues. By October 19, Venezuelan and American authorities were reporting that Posada and 13 other Cuban and Venezuelans, including Orlando Bosch, had formed a terrorist action group and plotted a “vast” number of terrorist acts against Cuban interests in the hemisphere.

Bosch, an alleged doctor, was convicted in the United States of a terrorist attack in 1972 on a Polish freighter. He led a bazooka attack on the ship while it was moored in Miami. He was released on parole, promptly escaped the country, and resumed his terrorist ways. Venezuelan courts repeatedly acquitted him of the Cuban airliner bombing charges, but those weren’t the only ones he faced. Somewhere along the way he sneaked back into the United States, was caught and re-imprisoned. While the first Bush was president and Jeb Bush was oiling his Republican machinations in South Florida, Jeb pleaded with Poppy to have Bosch released. Poppy, like Ronald Reagan before him, sermonized against terrorism in public. Not so publicly, he pardoned Bosch in July 1990. As the Times reported back then,

The release today of Dr. Bosch, a 63-year-old former pediatrician, represents a reversal by American officials. Last year the Justice Department tried to deport him, citing a Federal Bureau of Investigation report that asserted he ‘has repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death.’ But today Dan Eramian, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said ''a review'' had led to the decision to release Dr. Bosch on limited parole. He refused to elaborate. The Bush Administration has been lobbied heavily by South Florida Republicans who have close ties to Cubans here and who wanted Dr. Bosch freed, including the President's son, Jeb Bush. Administration officials had privately expressed reluctance to free Dr. Bosch, fearing that such a move would be hard to explain when Washington is condemning terrorism.

Substitute the name of Posada for that of Bosch, substitute nothing at all between Bush, Bush and Bush, and last week’s release of Posada, supposedly with an ankle bracelet so he is sure to make it back for his May court appearance, has all the stink of hypocrisy and cover-ups.

Particularly ironic about the timing of Posada’s release is a parallel story in Iraq—the three-week-old detention of Lt. Col. William H. Steele, commander of a prison in Iraq, and the announcement, on Thursday, that he’d been charged with “aiding the enemy,” an accusation that could get him the death penalty. But have a look at the charges. He let inmates use a cell phone—inmates who, let’s remember, have been neither charged with crimes nor given access to lawyers nor had their day in court for the overwhelming majority. He slept with an inmate’s daughter: Hardly an offense the U.S. military, where sexual abuse is a Catholic sport, can credibly prosecute, unless, in this case, the commander had developed his own little harem, using inmates’ wives and daughters as his imperial droit de seigneur. That’s not aiding the enemy. It’s a form of rape. He also, apparently, had sex with an interpreter, and kept official papers where he shouldn’t have. Plus, he had porn, an “offense” which if the military was to act on, would lead to the reduction of the armed forces to a literal Army of One. The charges sound oddly bogus, oddly like those against the protagonist in J.M. Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians” (a commander in an imperial outpost who is arrested for fraternizing with the enemy—that is, being too indulgent with the enemy. There is, he notes, “no man who has not frightened himself with visions of the barbarians carousing in his home, breaking the plates, setting fire to the curtains, raping his daughters. These dreams are the consequences of too much ease.”

What joins all these threads together from Posada to Steele to Bosch and the Bushes is the dispiriting duplicity of it all: Terrorists are freed in the United States because they’re too close to presidents, too cozy with the behind-the-scenes thuggery that characterized every Republican administration since Reagan’s when it came to communism or terrorism. A soldier is imprisoned in Iraq for fraternizing, if on a rather low and sordid scale, for doing what these presidents, in fact, did on a very high scale, getting away with it every time. As the protagonist of “Waiting for the Barbarians” knew early enough, the enemy isn’t the assumed one. It isn’t the barbarians. It’s that organism of which he himself was a conspirator, the organism that now sent the “cold rigid colonel” to punish him: “I was the lie that Empire tells itself when times are easy, he the truth that Empire tells when harsh winds blow. Two sides of imperial rule, no more, no less.”

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