'If You Harbor Terrorists, You Are a Terrorist'

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In an obscure list of recent errors, on October 6, 2006, the New York Times revealed the following information:

“An article on Sept. 21 about criticism of President Bush at the United Nations by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran reported that Mr. Chavez praised a book by Noam Chomsky, the linguist and social critic. It reported that later, at a news conference, Mr. Chavez said that he regretted not having met Mr. Chomsky before he died. The article noted that in fact, Mr. Chomsky is alive. The assertion that Mr. Chavez had made this misstatement was repeated in a Times interview with Mr. Chomsky the next day.

In fact, what Mr. Chavez said was, “I am an avid reader of Noam Chomsky, as I am of an American professor who died some time ago.” Two sentences later Mr. Chavez named John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist who died last April, calling both him and Mr. Chomsky great intellectual figures.

Mr. Chavez was speaking in Spanish at the news conference, but the simultaneous English translation by the United Nations left out the reference to Mr. Galbraith and made it sound as if the man who died was Mr. Chomsky.

Readers pointed out the error in e-mails to the Times soon after the first article was published. Reporters reviewed the recordings of the news conference in English and Spanish, but not carefully enough to detect the discrepancy, until after the Venezuelan government complained publicly on Wednesday.

Editors and reporters should have been more thorough earlier in checking the accuracy of the simultaneous translation.”

With such sloppy reportage by America’s self-proclaimed “premier” source of news, is it any wonder that people around the world, who are aware of the lies, duplicity and hypocrisy, that pass for U.S. foreign policy and government-derived “public diplomacy," have grown to distrust the accuracy of the American media as well?

Sunday, October 8, 2006, at least, the Times did publish a piece on America’s continued hypocrisy entitled, “Castro Foe Puts US in an Awkward Spot,” which calls attention to our double standards on Terror, especially in a case where the Terrorists were trained by the CIA.

“EL PASO, Oct. 6 — Thirty years ago, long before liquids and gels were restricted on airliners, a tube of Colgate toothpaste may have brought a plane down from the sky.

Cubana Airlines Flight 455 crashed off the coast of Barbados on Oct. 6, 1976, killing all 73 people aboard. Plastic explosives stuffed into a toothpaste tube ignited the plane, according to recently declassified police records.

Implicated in the attack, but never convicted, was Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile who has long sought to topple the government of Fidel Castro.

Today, Mr. Posada, 78, is in a detention center in El Paso, held on an immigration violation while the government tries to figure out what to do with him. His case presents a quandary for the Bush administration, at least in part because Mr. Posada is a former C.I.A. operative and United States Army officer who directed his wrath at a government that Washington has long opposed.

Despite insistent calls from Cuba and Venezuela for his extradition, the administration has refused to send him to either country for trial.

Intensifying the problem is that Mr. Posada, who was arrested last year in Miami after sneaking into the country, may soon go free because the United States has been reluctant to press the terrorism charges that could keep him in jail.

That prospect has brought a hail of criticism of the Bush administration for holding a double standard when it comes to those who commit terrorist acts.

“The fight against terrorism cannot be fought à la carte,” said José Pertierra, a Washington lawyer who is representing the government of Venezuela in its effort to extradite Mr. Posada. “A terrorist is a terrorist.”

The Bush administration has stopped short of prosecuting him as a terrorist, however, even though the Justice Department called him as much this week. In papers filed in federal court in El Paso on Thursday, it described him as “an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks on tourist sites.”

Instead, Mr. Posada faces immigration charges, as the Bush administration tries its best to deport him somewhere else, where he would walk free.”

The Atlantic Monthly, October 19, 2006, also carries a long article about Posada “Twilight of the Assassins,” by Ann Louise Bardach.

This is, not of course, a new issue. This writer wrote about it several years ago, quoting Bush on Terrorists. The issue was obscured perhaps by the 2004 election then only a few weeks hence. Little has really changed since then, even as a new election approaches, and I have made only a couple of additions to that essay below.

While delegates to the GOP convention were congratulating themselves for their candidate’s tough stand against terrorism, the Bush administration was creating an international incident — little publicized in the United States — by harboring a notorious group of international terrorists on US soil.

Earlier this month, three anti-Castro Cuban exiles flew to Miami from Panama after serving four years in prison for "endangering public safety." They were arrested in 2000 for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro by planting explosives at a meeting the Cuban dictator planned to hold with university students in Panama.

The average convicted terrorist does not just waltz past US immigration authorities in this post-9/11 age of orange alerts, "no fly" lists and shoe searches. Senator Edward Kennedy reportedly gets stopped by airport authorities every time he tries to make a flight, allegedly because the "Kennedy" name appears on a database of suspects.

Only political influence exerted at the highest level could account for terrorists reentering US borders without impediment, despite rap sheets extending back as long as forty years:

Pedro Rémon, sentenced to seven years for the bomb plot in Panama, pleaded guilty in 1986 to bombing Cuba’s mission to the United Nations and later conspiring to murder its ambassador to the UN. A New York detective also fingered Rémon for the machine-gun murders of two political opponents.

Gaspar Jiménez, sentenced to eight years for the Panama bomb plot and falsifying documents, had previously served time in Mexico for the attempted kidnapping and murder of Cuban diplomats there. He was also indicted in Florida for blowing the legs off a liberal Miami radio talk show host in 1976. (The indictment was eventually dropped for insufficient evidence, even though the main witness passed several lie-detector tests.)

Guillermo Novo, sentenced to 7 years for the Panama terror plot, was arrested in 1964 for firing a bazooka at the United Nations, where Ché Guevara was speaking. In 1978, he was convicted of participating in one of the worst acts of terrorism ever committed on US soil, the car bombing in Washington, D.C. of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier. (The conviction was later overturned on a technicality, though Novo was convicted of perjury.)

A fourth Panama conspirator, Louis Posada Carriles, left Panama for Honduras. He is still wanted in Venezuela on charges of bombing a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing all 73 passengers. In 1998, in an interview with the New York Times from a hideout in Central America, Posada admitted taking part in numerous acts of terrorism, including a wave of Havana hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. He said his violence was funded by prominent US based supporters in the Cuban exile community.

The release of these terrorists from Panama — ordered by its outgoing president — has caused a furor in Central America. Venezuela recalled its ambassador and Cuba severed diplomatic relations with Panama.

Honduras also protested. "I will . . . demand that the United States and Panama explain how Posada Carriles used a false US passport," declared Honduran President Ricardo Maduro. "How did that airplane leave Panama with Posada Carriles, reach Honduras, and wind up in the United States?"

"We know we’re dealing with important international influences," the president added.

Those influences no doubt include the fact that Posada was trained by the CIA in the 1960s in sabotage techniques, remained on the CIA payroll into the 1970s, and in the mid-1980s (after escaping from a Venezuelan jail) assisted the Reagan administration’s covert supply operation on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras.

Then there’s the undeniable fact that Cuban exile terrorists enjoy strong political support in the swing state of Florida, thanks to organized lobbying by such groups as the Cuban American National Foundation. That explains why President Bush, in 2001, rejected the advice of the FBI and freed from INS custody two convicted colleagues of Guillermo Novo in the Letelier assassination.

Conservatives have long (and rightly) derided the glib phrase, "one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter." The incoming Panamanian president, Martin Torrijos, likewise stood on principle when he rejected his predecessor’s decision to pardon the terrorists, saying, "For me, there are not two classes of terrorism, one that is condemned and another that is pardoned. . . . It has to be fought no matter what its origins."

Three years ago, after 9/11, President Bush appeared to draw the same line in the sand. Addressing members of the 101st Airborne Division, he declared, "If you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist."

Today, Americans should ask whether those tough words were only rhetoric, quickly forgotten when political convenience dictates. Today, Bush appears to be harboring terrorists still, and by his own definition, that makes him one as well.

This article was first published by the Independent Institute.

William Marina [send him mail] is Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University, a Research Fellow of the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA, and Executive Director of the Marina-Huerta Educational Foundation. He lives in Asheville, NC.

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