[News] Former CIA asset Luis Posada Carilles goes to trial

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 7 13:24:10 EST 2011



<http://www.thenation.com/article/157510/former-cia-asset-luis-posada-goes-trial>http://www.thenation.com/article/157510/former-cia-asset-luis-posada-goes-trial

Peter Kornbluh // Former CIA asset Luis Posada Carilles goes to trial

On January 10 one of the most dangerous 
terrorists in recent history will go on trial in 
a small courtroom in El Paso, Texas. This is not 
the venue the Obama administration has finally 
selected to prosecute the perpetrators of 9/11; 
it is where the reputed godfather of Cuban exile 
violence, Luis Posada Carriles, may finally face 
a modicum of accountability for his many crimes.

In the annals of modern justice, the Posada trial 
stands out as one of the most bizarre and 
disreputable of legal proceedings. The man 
identified by US intelligence reports as a 
mastermind of the midair destruction of a Cuban 
airliner -- all seventy-three people on board 
were killed when the plane plunged into the sea 
off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976 -- 
and who publicly bragged about being behind a 
series of hotel bombings in Havana that killed an 
Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, is being 
prosecuted for perjury and fraud, not murder and 
mayhem. The handling of his case during the Bush 
years became an international embarrassment and 
reflected poorly on the willingness and/or 
abilities of the Justice Department to prosecute 
crimes of terror when that terrorist was once an 
agent and ally of America. For the Obama 
administration, the verdict will carry 
significant implications for US credibility in 
the fight against terrorism, as well as for the future of US-Cuban relations.

Posada's trial gets under way almost six years 
after he brazenly appeared in Miami and announced 
that he would seek political asylum in the United 
States. Here was a fugitive from justice in 
Venezuela -- Posada escaped from prison there in 
1985 while on trial for the plane bombing -- who 
had been imprisoned in Panama from November 2000 
to August 2004 for trying to assassinate Fidel 
Castro with more than 200 pounds of dynamite and 
C-4 explosives. Despite an outstanding Interpol 
warrant for his arrest, for two months the Bush 
administration permitted him to flaunt his 
presence in Miami, where he is still considered a 
heroic figure in the hard line anti-Castro exile 
community. Confident of his welcome, Posada even 
filed an application to become a naturalized US 
citizen. Only after the media turned their 
attention to the hypocrisy of a White House that 
claimed to be leading a war on international 
terrorism while allowing a wanted terrorist to 
flit freely around Florida did agents from the 
Department of Homeland Security finally detain Posada, on May 17, 2005.

Initially Posada was incarcerated in El Paso for 
illegal entry into the United States. Immigration 
& Customs Enforcement (ICE) went through the 
motions of trying to deport him, but no country 
would take him. At the same time, the United 
States refused to extradite him to the one 
country that had a legitimate claim to him -- 
Venezuela. Only after the immigration court 
decided to release him on bail did ICE officially 
identify him as a terrorist: Posada's "long 
history of criminal activity and violence in 
which innocent civilians were killed," ICE wrote, 
meant that his "release from detention would pose 
a danger to both the community and the national security of the United States."

To its credit, the Justice Department did quietly 
empanel a grand jury in New Jersey to weigh an 
official indictment of Posada for masterminding 
the hotel bombings in Havana. (Evidence gathered 
by the FBI indicates that Posada raised funds for 
that operation from Cuban-American benefactors in 
Union City, New Jersey.) In April 2006 government 
lawyers decided to hold a naturalization 
interview with Posada while he was in jail, 
surreptitiously gathering self-incriminating 
evidence against him in the hotel bombing case.
But, for reasons that remain under seal, the New 
Jersey grand jury proceedings stalled. Initially, 
as a senior State Department official confided, 
prosecutors were unable to secure a key piece of 
evidence -- the tape recordings of an interview 
Posada had given to then–New York Times stringer 
Ann Louise BBardach in 1998, in which he appeared 
to take full responsibility for the hotel 
bombings. "The Italian was in the wrong place at 
the wrong time, but I sleep like a baby," Posada 
proclaimed, according to his statements published 
in the Times. Under subpoena, Bardach turned over 
the tapes to the grand jury on December 15, 2006. 
But no indictment was ever handed down.

Instead, on January 11, 2007, Posada was indicted 
in El Paso on six counts of making "false 
statements" and one of fraud about how he came to 
the United States and for his use of false names 
and false passports -- charges that carry an 
maximum sentence of five to ten years each. To 
make matters worse for the credibility of the US 
legal system, four months later Judge Kathleen 
Cardone dismissed all charges against Posada. The 
government, she ruled, had engaged in "fraud, 
deceit and trickery" in obtaining evidence 
against Posada under the guise of conducting a 
naturalization review. The court, she declared, 
could "not set aside [Posada's legal] rights nor 
overlook Government misconduct [just] because 
Defendant is a political hot potato."

A free man, Posada took up residence in Miami. 
Since he is on the government's no-fly list, 
Posada was forced to drive back to Florida, where 
he has lived openly for the past several years, 
attending right-wing exile fundraisers and even 
participating in public protests against Castro's Cuba.
But in August 2008 the US Court of Appeals for 
the Fifth Circuit overruled Cardone's decision 
and ordered Posada to proceed to trial. In 
another positive turn of events in this long, 
twisted legal saga, in April 2009 the new Obama 
Justice Department used the New York Times tapes 
of Posada's interview with Bardach to file 
several additional counts of perjury and fraud 
relating specifically to lying about "soliciting 
other individuals to carry out...[the hotel] 
bombings in Cuba." To be sure, Posada is still 
not being charged with actually perpetrating 
those terrorist operations, only with lying about 
aspects of his involvement in orchestrating them. 
But for the first time in a US court, a team of 
lawyers from the Justice Department's 
Counterterrorism Division will present concrete 
evidence to prove that Posada was indeed behind a 
series of terrorist attacks on Cuban soil.


* * *
Obtaining a conviction will not be easy. Posada 
will turn 83 on February 15; he suffers from a 
variety of physical ailments and does not fit the 
image of a "terrorist alien," as government 
records describe him. Posada's lawyers have 
charged that the key evidence against him -- the 
Bardach tapes -- contain unexplained gaps and 
erasures. Bardach, who will be called as a 
witness to authenticate the tapes, has publicly 
decried their use in the trial as a government 
violation of freedom of the press and an assault 
on the rights of the Fourth Estate.

Moreover, in a pretrial ruling, Judge Cardone 
denied a Justice Department motion to "exclude 
all testimony, evidence, questioning and argument 
concerning defendant's relationship with the 
Central Intelligence Agency." Posada's past 
agency associations were "irrelevant to the 
charges," prosecutors submitted in court filings; 
introducing his CIA connection in court would 
"divert the jury's attention away from the basic 
charges in the indictment." But the judge ruled 
that Posada could offer the existence of his 
relationship with the CIA "to show his state of 
mind" when he allegedly made false statements to 
authorities -- as long as he used only unclassified information.

The government has introduced into the court 
record an "Unclassified Summary of the CIA's 
Relationship with Luis Clemente Posada Carriles," 
which states that he first joined the agency as 
part of its Bay of Pigs operation in 1961. 
"Posada was a paid asset of the CIA from 1965 to 
1967," when he left the United States to set up 
operations in Caracas as an intelligence official 
of the Venezuelan secret police, DISIP, "and 
again from 1968 to 1974," states the summary. 
"From 1974 to 1976, CIA had intermittent contact 
with Posada." The document reveals that in 1993, 
when Posada was an escaped fugitive wanted by 
Interpol for the Cuban airplane bombing, the 
agency intercepted intelligence on an 
assassination plot against him and 
surreptitiously "contacted him in Honduras by 
telephone to warn him about a threat to his life."

CIA documents, obtained and posted by my 
organization, the National Security Archive, show 
that in the mid-1960s Posada worked at a salary 
of $350 a month as an instructor in sabotage and 
demolition for the CIA's Maritime Training 
Section. The declassified records, which identify 
Posada using his CIA cryptonym, AMCLEVE/15, also 
reveal his work as an active snitch on other 
violent Cuban exile groups. "I will give the 
Company all the intelligence that I can collect," 
Posada promised his CIA handlers in 1966. "A/15 
is dedicated to the overthrow of Castro," his 
"Company" supervisor Grover Lythcott noted in one 
secret report on Posada, but he "is not a typical 
'boom and bang' type of individual. He is acutely 
aware of the international implications of ill 
planned or over enthusiastic activities against 
Cuba." In an observation that proved to be wholly 
inaccurate, Lythcott noted that Posada would 
"discourage activities which would be 
embarrassing to WOLADY" -- the CIA's codeword for the United States.

Ironically, it is now the legal proceedings 
against Posada that could be embarrassing to, and 
carry significant implications for, WOLADY. In 
the six years Posada has been in the United 
States, his case has become a spectacle around 
the world. Now, if he is found guilty and in 
effect proven to be a mastermind of terrorism, 
the US government will have to address the 
scandalously short sentence the perjury charges 
carry. If he is found innocent and released, the 
Obama administration will have to confront the 
fact that the US legal system is inadequate to 
hold Posada even minimally accountable for his 
violent crimes, and that the United States is, in 
the end, harboring an international terrorist.

The government has introduced into the court 
record an "Unclassified Summary of the CIA's 
Relationship with Luis Clemente Posada Carriles," 
which states that he first joined the agency as 
part of its Bay of Pigs operation in 1961. 
"Posada was a paid asset of the CIA from 1965 to 
1967," when he left the United States to set up 
operations in Caracas as an intelligence official 
of the Venezuelan secret police, DISIP, "and 
again from 1968 to 1974," states the summary. 
"From 1974 to 1976, CIA had intermittent contact 
with Posada." The document reveals that in 1993, 
when Posada was an escaped fugitive wanted by 
Interpol for the Cuban airplane bombing, the 
agency intercepted intelligence on an 
assassination plot against him and 
surreptitiously "contacted him in Honduras by 
telephone to warn him about a threat to his life."

For Havana, where officials routinely refer to 
Posada as "the Osama bin Laden of Latin America," 
the case remains a particular sore point in 
US-Cuba relations. The Cubans have readily 
assisted the Justice Department by welcoming 
teams of FBI agents and US prosecutors, turning 
over more than 1,500 pages of documents as 
evidence from the hotel bombings and making 
Posada's alleged accomplices in Cuba available 
for depositions. But even as the US government 
allowed Posada to live freely in Miami, it has 
kept Cuba on its terrorism list because, the 
State Department claims, Cuba has not done enough 
to support the international effort against 
terrorism. To add insult to injury, in the wake 
of the Christmas 2009 terrorist attempt aboard a 
Detroit-bound plane, the Obama administration put 
Cuba on the list of fourteen countries, including 
Iran and Syria, whose citizens receive extra 
security screenings when traveling to the States 
-- escalating tensions between Havana and 
Washington to their highest level since Obama took office.

* * *


As the Posada case illustrates anew, the danger 
of terrorism relating to Cuba has emanated not 
from Cuban territory but from the shores of the 
United States. Just five years ago, Posada's ally 
and benefactor, Santiago Alvarez, was busted in 
Miami by the FBI for illegally accumulating a 
warehouse of war-grade armaments, presumably for 
use against the island. Indeed, the Cubans are 
incensed by the contrast between how the US legal 
system has treated Posada and the severe 
treatment meted out to five Cuban 
counterterrorism agents sent to the United States 
in the mid-1990s as part of La Red Avispa (Wasp 
Network) -- an espionage operation to gather 
intelligence on the activities of Posada's 
supporters and other violent exile groups in 
Florida. (It was Cuban agents spying on exile 
groups who ferreted out information that led to 
Posada's November 2000 arrest in Panama for the 
attempted assassination of Castro.) The so-called 
Cuban Five -- Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio 
Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez and 
Rene Gonzalez -- were arrested in 1998, thrown 
into solitary confinement, prosecuted on maximum 
charges of conspiracy and even homicide, and 
given sentences from fifteen years to life. A 
court has reduced the sentences of two of them, 
but the Cuban government continues to make their 
release a top priority in communications with the Obama administration.

A guilty verdict in the Posada case, and a 
determination by the Justice Department and the 
Department of Homeland Security that Posada 
should be imprisoned indefinitely as a 
perpetrator of terrorism, could still contribute 
to conditions for better US-Cuban relations. As 
the trial starts, however, the last word on its 
significance belongs to Posada's victims. "He is 
not being charged as a terrorist but rather as a 
liar," says Livio Di Celmo, whose brother, Fabio, 
was killed in one of the hotel bombings in Cuba. 
"My family and I are outraged and disappointed 
that a known terrorist, Luis Posada, is going to 
trial for perjury and immigration fraud, not for 
the horrific crime of masterminding the bombing 
of a civilian airliner," Roseanne Nenninger, 
whose 19-year-old brother, Raymond, was aboard 
the Cuban plane, told The Nation. "Our hope is 
that the US government will designate Posada as a 
terrorist and hold him accountable for the pain, 
suffering and loss he has caused to us and so many other families."



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