Testing the Definition of ‘Terrorism’

by Oct 6, 2006Foreign Policy0 comments

Thirty years ago today, a bomb exploded on a Cubana Airlines plane over the Caribbean Sea, resulting in the death of all 73 passengers on board. The anniversary of this terrorist attack “coincides with a critical juncture in the case of Luis Posada Carriles,” the Washington Post explains. Posada is wanted by both Cuba and Venezuela […]

Thirty years ago today, a bomb exploded on a Cubana Airlines plane over the Caribbean Sea, resulting in the death of all 73 passengers on board. The anniversary of this terrorist attack “coincides with a critical juncture in the case of Luis Posada Carriles,” the Washington Post explains. Posada is wanted by both Cuba and Venezuela on charges of terrorism for his alleged role in the bombing. He is also suspected of involvement in a series of hotel bombings in Havana, Cuba, in 1997.

Posada, who was “trained by the CIA, along with other Cuban exiles, for the botched Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961,” re-entered the United States in March 2005, and was arrested in May of that year on immigration charges.

He does not deny involvement in acts of terrorism. Rather, in a statement released by his attorney, he simply declares that that is all in the past. “The Cuban government,” the statement read, “is in a very deteriorated condition, inexorably reaching its end, and I sincerely believe that nothing would help to go back to the past with sabotage campaigns.” Earlier this year, Posada said that the Cubana flight was a “legitimate target.” A field officer at the Department of Homeland Security interviewed by the Post noted his “propensity to engage in terrorist activities.”

As the Post also notes, “Much of the evidence against Posada Carriles has been drawn from the U.S. government’s own files, including declassified FBI and CIA documents.” Shortly after attending a meeting in 1976 with Orlando Bosch, the other prime suspect in the Cubana bombing, Posada , according to a CIA report, said, “We are going to hit a Cuban airplane. Orlando has the details.” The Post article concludes by saying,

Declassified documents state that the two men who placed the bomb on the Cubana flight worked for Posada Carriles. After getting off the plane in Barbados, one of the men called his girlfriend, who was also a Posada Carriles employee, and delivered a coded message to report the attack was successful. The message: “The bus was fully loaded with dogs.”[1]

The U.S. has been harboring Bosch since he arrived in the States in 1988, refusing to turn him over to Cuba.[2] Although the Justice Department described him as “a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency, threatening and inflicting violence without regard to the identity of his victims,” his deportation was overruled by the first Bush administration in 1990.[3] As the Post noted yesterday, “the administration of George H.W. Bush released Bosch from prison after he, like Posada Carriles, was caught entering the country illegally.”[4] Bosch resides in Miami.

Posada similarly went to the U.S., The New York Times informed us, “to seek political asylum for having served as a cold war soldier in the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency.”[5] A 1966 CIA document records that Posada had “been of operational interest to this Agency since April 1965.”[6] An FBI document from the same year also noted the CIA’s “operational interest” in Posada, adding that “Posada is receiving approximately $300 per month from CIA.”[7] The year of the Cubana bombing, the CIA acknowledged that “Posada is a former agent of the CIA,” claiming that contact was terminated in July 1967, but re-established in October, after which time the CIA “continued occasional contact with him” until June of 1976, several months before the bombing.[8]

Orlando Bosch was similarly a CIA asset. In 1962, he assisted the CIA “in formulating operational plans for infiltration (into Cuba) teams.” Posada , meanwhile, after arriving in the U.S. in 1961, “received paramilitary training in Guatamala under Agency auspices in preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion,” during which time he “received at least rudimentary familiarization training in demolitions.” He also received training from the U.S. Army in 1963 and 1964. He served in a Ranger battalion, where he “would very likely have received demolitions training.” By the time he was formally “recruited by the Agency” in 1965, he was regarded as a “demolitions expert.”[9]

It was known that Posada was connected to terrorist activities—activities in which he applied the training he received from the CIA and the Army. An FBI memo from 1965 reported that Posada has been paid by a group known as the Cuban Representation in Exile (RECE) “to cover the expenses of a demolition operation in Mexico,” and that he was planning to blow up “either a Cuban or Soviet vessel in the harbor of Veracruz.”[10]

The RECE officer who paid Posada was Jorge Mas Canosa, who boasted about one of his agents planting a bomb in the Soviet Library in Mexico City. He also boasted, the FBI observed, about the fact that “he was not bothered by U.S. authorities, although his activities were common knowledge in exile circles.” This was interpreted by Canosa “to mean U.S. tacit approval to the operation” (a perception the FBI memo makes no attempt to challenge). Posada operated under a similar assumption. He “had not been told they [the anti-Castro group, Junta Revolucionaira Cubana (JURE)] had the support of the U.S. Government, but they did believe they had U.S. Government tolerance by the very fact they had not been bothered by anyone while they conducted their military training activities” in the U.S. The owner of the property where the training was carried out “was led to believe it was in accord with the Government’s desire…and on one occasion the Sheriff of Polk County, Florida, told Williams [the property owner] he had checked with the Federal Government and verified it was operating with U.S. Government approval.”[11]

The U.S. intelligence community also had foreknowledge of a plot to bomb the Cubana Airliner flight in 1976, as revealed by a CIA report dated June 21, months before the bombing, entitled “Possible Plans of Cuban Exile Extremists to Blow up a Cubana Airliner.” In its report, the CIA noted that “A Cuban exile extremist group, of which Orlando Bosch is a leader, plans to place a bomb on a Cubana flight traveling between Panama and Havana.”[12]

Then came the bombing of October 6, for which the government’s own files indicate that Posada and Bosch were the principle culprits.

Posada was once again employed by the U.S. in the 1980s as part of an operation headed by Oliver North to supply the Contras in the war against Nicaragua.[13]

Incidentally, the International Court of Justice ruled that “by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces” and “by laying mines in the internal or territorial waters of the Republic of Nicaragua,” among other offenses, the U.S. had “acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.” The Court called upon the U.S. to “cease and refrain” from its violations of international law (a ruling ignored by the U.S.). In one interesting finding, the Court said that the U.S., “by producing in 1983 a manual entitled Operaciones sicologicas en Guerra de geruillas, and disseminating it to contra forces, has encouraged the commission by them of acts contrary to general principles of humanitarian law.”[14]

The manual, the title of which translates “Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare,” stated that “A guerilla armed force always involves implicit terror because the population” recognizes that “the weapons may be used against them.” While discouraging “explicit” terror, it says “positive results can be expected” from “implicit” terror. Other excerpts from the manual: “Destroy the military or police installations…. Cut all the outside lines of communications…. Set up ambushes…. Kidnap all officials or agents of the Sandinista government…. Establish a public tribunal…. Shame, ridicule and humiliate…. If a guerilla fires at an individual, make the down see that he was an enemy of the people…. It is possible to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets, such as court judges, mesta judges, police and State Security officials…. The target groups for the Armed Propaganda Teams are not the persons with sophisticated political knowledge, but rather those whose opinions are formed from what they see and hear….”[15] Giving the U.S. the benefit of the doubt, its war against Nicaragua was an act of international terrorism, though the case could be made that it amounted to the more heinous crime of aggression, “the supreme international crime,” as defined at Nuremberg.

Posada’s record as a terrorist was certainly no blemish on his resume to participate in a war of state-sponsored terrorism.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”[16] Shortly thereafter, the U.S. waged a war against Afghanistan, overthrowing the Taliban regime for harboring Osama bin Laden, who as presumed to be responsible for the attacks. Following that, the Bush administration claim that Saddam Hussein harbored terrorists was one of the justifications used for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

As a thought experiment, one might imagine the consequences if Nicaragua, Venezuela, or Cuba were to bomb Washington, D.C. on the grounds that the U.S. harbored terrorists responsible for terrorist acts resulting in the deaths of Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, or Cubans. Nicaragua’s actual response to terrorism was to bring its case to the International Court of Justice. Similarly, neither Venezuela nor Cuba have bombed or threatened to bomb the U.S. if they don’t hand over Posada or Bosch. They have rather pursued legal means to seek the extradition of suspected terrorists from the country harboring them.

Bush reiterated in August that “if you harbor terrorists, you are just as guilty as the terrorists.”[17] Thus, as The New York Times observed in a headline from last year, “Cuban Exile Could Test US Definition of Terrorist.”[18] That is, it will be a “test” to see whether the convention holds true or not that their terrorists are defined as “terrorists” while our terrorists are defined as something other. The dilemma was similarly noted by The Washington Post yesterday, in a headline which read, “In 30-Year-Old Terror Case, a Test for the U.S.”[19]

As a further thought experiment, one might imagine the reaction from the U.S. if it was learned after September 11, 2001 that a terrorist who trained on Iraqi soil, with tacit Iraqi approval, was largely responsible for the terrorist attacks of that day. One might imagine further if it was then discovered that Saddam Hussein’s regime had learned of the plan by a terrorist operating within its borders to hijack planes and fly them into buildings but had done nothing to stop them or warn the U.S. government. As a footnote, we could contemplate the reaction if Iraq later employed this same terrorist in a war of state sponsored terrorism against one of its neighbors.

In contrast, the reaction in the U.S. to the U.S. having behaved exactly as the Iraq in our thought experiment is muted. The best the media can do is to point out the burden upon the Bush administration, faced with the choice of living up to its own rhetoric and extraditing Posada , or rejecting the same standards it demands of others for itself and harboring him, as the U.S. has long done with his partner in crime, Orlando Bosch.

Presumably, the U.S. would pass the “test” if it were to extradite Posada to either Venezuela or Cuba to be tried on charges of terrorism. But that, perhaps needless to say, isn’t expected to happen.

[1] Manuel Roig-Franzia, “In 30-Year-Old Terror Case, a Test for the U.S.” The Washington Post, October 5, 2006; A20

[2] William Blum, “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (Updated Edition)”, (Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 2004), page 387

[3] Tim Weiner, “Cuban Exile Could Test US Definition of Terrorist”, The New York Times, May 9, 2005

[4] Manuel Roig-Franzia

[5] Tim Weiner

[6] CIA file-search memo on “Luis Pozada”, June 1966

[7] “[Excised] Cuba”, FBI Memo, July 18, 1966

[8] “Traces on Persons Involved in 6 Oct 1976 Cubana Crash”, FBI Retransmission of CIA Trace Report, October 16, 1976

[9] “Information Regarding Anti-Castro Figures Possibly Involved in Neutrality or Other Violations of Federal Law”, FBI memo from Deputy Director for Operations to the Director, December 9, 1976

[10] “Luis Posada Carriles”, FBI Memo, July 7, 1965

[11] “Cuban Representation in Exile (RECE)”, FBI Memo, July 13, 1965

[12] “Possible Plans of Cuban Exile Extremists to Blow up a Cubana Airliner”, CIA Report, June 21, 1976

[13] “Record of Interview with Luis Posada Carriles”, Office of the Independent Counsel, February 7, 1992

[14] Nicaragua vs. United States of America, Judgment of the International Court of Justice, June 27, 1986

[15] “Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare”, CIA manual

[16] President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001

[17] President George W. Bush, August 31, 2006

[18] Tim Weiner

[19] Manuel Roi-Franzia

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

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