WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – On the 30th anniversary of the first midair bombing of a civilian airliner in the Americas, the plot’s suspected mastermind is hoping that a federal judge will soon release him from a Texas jail where he has been held on immigration-related charges for the last year-and-a-half.

In a brief submitted to the judge Oct. 5, the administration of President George Bush said it opposed the release of Luis Posada Carriles and argued that granting him freedom on bail may have “serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States.”

But, while referring to Mr. Posada as “the admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks,” the administration declined to officially declare him a terrorist under the USA Patriot Act, which, unlike the immigration law, gives the government authority to detain him indefinitely.


“If Luis Posada Carriles does not meet the definition of a terrorist, it is hard to think of who would,” observed Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the independent National Security Archive (NSA).

On Oct. 5, the NSA released a number of recently declassified government documents that, like others released in recent years by the archive, strongly implicate Mr. Posada in the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 shortly after it left Barbados en route to Havana, killing all 73 people aboard.

In its brief, the government indicated that it was still trying to find a country that would accept him, other than Venezuela and Cuba, which have both sought his extradition. In the last 16 months, Canada, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala have all rejected approaches by U.S. officials, according to court records cited by Mr. Kornbluh.

The administration’s efforts to find a foreign refuge for him and its refusal to charge him under the Patriot Act have naturally spurred charges of double standards in light of the priority that it has placed on its “global war on terrorism.”

Now 78, Mr. Posada quietly entered the country in the spring of 2005, although his presence quickly became known–and celebrated–among anti-Fidel Castro Cuban-Americans in south Florida. Initially, the administration claimed not to know where he was, a pretense it could not sustain once he formally applied for asylum. He was immediately arrested on immigration charges and transported to a jail in El Paso, Texas.

The latest twist in his case came on Sept. 11, when a Texas magistrate recommended that he be released from detention. In response to a habeas corpus petition filed by Mr. Posada’s lawyers, he argued that there was no legal basis for keeping him in jail because the attorney general had “never certified (Posada) … as a terrorist or danger to the community” under the Patriot Act.

The Justice Department’s brief–which for the first time listed many of the terrorist incidents in which Mr. Posada has been implicated over some four decades–is designed to persuade the judge that the petition should be denied.

The Cuban-born Posada joined the U.S. military in 1963 and was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which trained him in demolitions. While working for the CIA, a relationship that lasted at least until 1974, he participated in numerous attempted or actual bombings of Cuban and Soviet targets in Mexico. As of the early 1970s, he also worked in Caracas as a senior official of the Venezuelan intelligence agency, DISIP.

According to FBI reports obtained in recent years by the NSA, he and Orlando Bosch, another militant anti-Communist Cuban exile, were identified by various credible informants as responsible for the Air Cubana bombing virtually immediately after it had taken place. Mr. Bosch, who currently lives in Miami, was pardoned by former President George H.W. Bush in 1990, despite a recommendation by the U.S. Justice Department that he be deported.

The same FBI sources identified two Venezuelans–both of whom worked for a Caracas security firm set up by Mr. Posada in 1974–as having placed the bomb on the doomed plane. The first telephone call the two men made after the bombing was to the company’s offices in Caracas, according to four newly declassified sworn affidavits by police officials in Trinidad and Tobago who were the first to interrogate them.

The NSA released the affidavits Oct. 5, along with three other FBI reports sent to then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger that placed Mr. Posada at meetings in Caracas where the bombing was planned, and another State Department report citing CIA sources that quoted him as saying, “We are going to hit a Cuban airplane,” just days before the bombing.

Mr. Posada was arrested by Venezuelan authorities shortly after the bombing in what one former FBI counterintelligence official described to the New York Times last spring as a “preventative measure–to prevent him from talking or being killed.”

He then spent the next eight years in jail, punctuated by two inconclusive trials, before escaping Venezuela in 1985 and making his way to Central America, where he quickly found employment with the “Contra” re-supply operation run out of the National Security Council under then-president Ronald Reagan until it was exposed in late 1986, when he went underground again.

In a 1998 Times interview in Central America, Mr. Posada admitted to organizing a wave of bombings in Cuba in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and injured 11 others.

“It simply indicates that, as far as we’re concerned, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; it completely undercuts our position against terrorism,” according to Wayne Smith, who served as Washington’s top envoy in Havana in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Bush himself has said numerous times that anyone who shelters a terrorist is a terrorist,” added Mr. Smith, a Cuba expert with the Center for International Policy here. “Under that definition, President Bush and members of his administration are terrorists because they are effectively harboring Luis Posada Carriles.”