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Feds refuse to turn over Posada Carriles to Venezuela
Will the U.S. free a right-wing terrorist?

By Nicole Colson | September 22, 2006 | Page 2

THE U.S. government may be about to release a known terrorist. On September 12, U.S. Magistrate Judge Norbert Garney recommended releasing 79-year-old Luis Posada Carriles from the Texas detention center where he has been held since last year on immigration charges.

Posada is an anti-Castro Cuban exile known for his participation in various right-wing plots since the 1960s. Declassified documents confirm that he was on the CIA payroll for much of the 1960s and early 1970s.

In addition, Posada was involved in Venezuela's fanatically anti-communist spy agency and El Salvador's paramilitary death squads--as well as helping the U.S. to supply the Nicaraguan contras battling the left-wing Sandinista government during the 1980s.

Posada admits to being involved in a campaign of bombings in Havana hotels and restaurants in the 1990s. In 1998, he bragged to the New York Times that he paid a Salvadoran mercenary to place a bomb in the Copacabana Hotel the year before. The blast killed an Italian tourist.

But Posada is probably most notorious for his suspected role in the October 6, 1976, midair bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner that killed 73 people. Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 before a civilian trial could be completed.

Now, as the 30th anniversary of this crime approaches, U.S. officials may set its mastermind free.

Posada has been in the U.S. since March 2005, when he snuck into the country illegally--after being pardoned in Panama for his part in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. After an international outcry, U.S. authorities arrested him.

The Venezuelan government has been asking the U.S. to extradite Posada so that he can be put on trial, but the Bush administration has refused. Although he was initially ordered deported because of his illegal status, the administration has dragged its feet.

Now, Garney has ruled that Posada cannot be sent to either Cuba or Venezuela because of what he outrageously claimed is the probability that Posada would be "tortured." The irony of the ruling is rich, given the continuing revelations about the U.S. government's treatment of "war of terror" detainees at its base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

According to Garney, unless the Bush administration can find--by September 22--a legally acceptable country willing to give Posada asylum, he must be released.

Garney's recommendation will go to a U.S. district judge for a final decision, but according to Posada's attorney Eduardo Soto, that judge must find "clear error" on the part of the magistrate to reverse the finding. "That is such a high standard that it's almost insurmountable," said Soto. The Bush administration could appeal the decision, but that appears unlikely.

Meanwhile, another example of terrorists on U.S. soil was in the news last week. Wealthy Miami developer Santiago Alvarez--who helped Posada emerge from hiding last year before his arrest--and Osvaldo Mitat, both Cuban exiles, pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess illegal weapons after being found with a stash of machine guns, firearms, a silencer and a grenade launcher in a Broward County apartment complex that belonged to Alvarez.

For Posada's victims, Garney's ruling is a slap in the face.

"We cannot understand how the decision was possibly made to free one of the world's most notorious terrorists, on exactly the same day that the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers was being commemorated," Giustino Di Celmo, an Italian man whose son Fabio was killed in the Copacabana hotel bombing, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last week.

"It seems to be a mockery to the pain of all of us who have been victimized by acts of terror...During the interview, when the journalist asked him if he felt sorry for Fabio's death, without reservation, he said 'No. The Italian was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I sleep like a baby.' The man who uttered these words--the confessed murderer of my son--is the one who they now want to set free."

As José Pertierra, a lawyer representing the Venezuelan government, wrote on the CounterPunch Web site in January, "From the beginning, the Bush administration has tried to bury this man's bloody past and instead presents him before the law and public opinion not as the terrorist that he is, but as a simple undocumented alien that entered the United States without being inspected by an immigration officer.

"If the government is allowed to operate with this false major premise, he will be free...If Posada Carriles hits the streets, mendacity will have triumphed, as it did when the world was told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction."

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