November 16, 2007
Democratic lawmakers criticized how the Bush administration handled the case of exile Cuban militant Luis Posada Carilles.
Members of Congress on Thursday panned the Bush administration's handling of the case of anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles, wanted by Cuba and Venezuela in the 1976 bombing of a Havana airliner that killed 73 passengers and crew.
The hearing brought together Posada's attorney, Arturo Hernández, as well as journalists and investigators who have looked into the activities of Posada, now free and living in Miami.
The hearing was convened by Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight, and one of the sharpest critics of the Bush administration's policy on Cuba and Venezuela.
Both countries often cite the Posada case as an example of the Bush administration's double standard -- demanding international cooperation on terrorism but seemingly reluctant to press terrorism charges against Posada, presumably to avoid upsetting some Cuban exiles who consider him a hero.
Delahunt said there was ''compelling evidence'' implicating Posada in the airplane bombing and that he was ''bewildered'' by the administration's reluctance to invoke the Patriot Act and arrest Posada as a terrorist.
U.S. officials have said they cannot indict Posada for the airplane bombing because no U.S. citizens were involved and no U.S. assets were used.
Earlier this year, a judge in Texas ruled that Posada, a former CIA operative, cannot be sent back to Venezuela because he could be tortured there. Venezuela denies that.
He was arrested in Miami in 2005 and charged with immigration fraud, but U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone threw out the charges. The Justice Department is appealing that ruling.
Delahunt questioned Hernández over the Department of Justice's handling of the immigration case, asking how many witnesses had testified and the reliability of those who did.
Hernández said Posada considered himself a freedom fighter and said he had decided to testify on behalf of his client because there was a need ``to counterbalance the rhetoric and often misinformation that has emanated from Cuba and Venezuela and their acolytes in our country.''
''Mr. Posada Carriles is not and has never been a terrorist,'' he said. ``His lifelong ambition has been to bring democracy and freedom to his place of birth.''
He said most of the evidence in the airplane case, which includes declassified CIA and FBI documents, was more than three decades old and ``based on dubious double hearsay from unidentified sources.''
Freelance writer Blake Fleetwood testified about his six-hour interview with Posada and another alleged participant in the airplane attack, Orlando Bosch, in a Venezuelan prison in 1977, saying the two ``proudly bragged of their complicity in hundreds of murders, bombings and assassinations.''
He then faced a barrage of skeptical questions from the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, (Calif., who asked if the two had confessed to having been ''personally involved'' in killings of civilians. Fleetwood demurred, and agreed that they had not.
The subcommittee also took testimony from Peter Kornbluh, who heads the Cuba documentation project at George Washington University's National Security Archives. Kornbluh has successfully declassified CIA and FBI documents on Posada that suggest an involvement in the airline bombing.
Also testifying was Anne Louise Bardach, who interviewed Posada in 1998 and co-authored a story for The New York Times. She is fighting a subpoena by a federal grand jury in New Jersey investigating Posada's links to a string of bombings in Havana in 1997 that killed one Italian tourist.
She said that ``if the government had been serious about criminally prosecuting Mr. Posada on the basis of the statements he made [to me] . . . it could have done so long ago.''