Thu, Oct 26, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Anti-Castro CIA agent headache for Bush

WORDS AND DEEDS A former CIA operative linked to various terrorist plots in Cuba is putting Bush's terrorism rhetoric to the test, with no palatable options to choose from

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A former CIA operative wanted for trial for acts of terrorism against Cuba is stuck in legal limbo in a Texas jail.

Luis Posada, 78, who has allegedly taken part in plots to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro and bomb Havana hotels, is being described as a test case of the US government's commitment to fighting terrorism.

Posada, a Cuban opponent of Castro who is a naturalized Venezuelan, is in jail in El Paso, Texas. He was arrested in Florida last year on charges of entering the country illegally.

He has been accused by Cuba and Venezuela of being part of a 1976 plot to blow up a Cuban airliner en route from Venezuela to Cuba with the loss of 73 lives.

Both countries now seek his extradition to stand trial.

The US courts have ruled that Posada should not be sent to Venezuela or Cuba on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial and may face torture.

However, although Posada has denied involvement in the airliner bombing, he has admitted to being part of a plot to bomb Havana hotels in an attempt to damage the country's tourist industry, which led to the death of an Italian tourist.

In addition, he was jailed for an assassination attempt on Castro in Panama in 2000, although he was later pardoned by the Panamanian authorities.

For the US President George W. Bush administration -- committed to a "war on terror" and opposed to anyone "willing to harbor a terrorist or feed a terrorist," in the president's words -- Posada is an increasing irritation.

One solution was for him to leave the US for a country prepared to offer him a home.

However, so far seven countries which have been approached -- Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala -- have all refused.

On Tuesday, his lawyer in El Paso, Felipe Millan, said that situation remained unchanged.

His legal team argues that Posada worked for the CIA and carried out his activities with their knowledge.

They are seeking his release and permission for him to remain in Miami with his family.

The immigration court judge in El Paso, Norbert Garney, has ruled that he should be freed but the Justice Department has filed an objection, using an obscure law that blocks the release of an illegal immigrant whose release could damage foreign policy.

The family of the Italian killed in the Havana explosion have expressed their anger at the failure to charge him.

For the Bush administration, the issue is delicate, and whatever it does, it is certain to generate anger.

If Posada is charged or deported, the large Cuban exile community in Florida will be furious.

If he is released without charge, the Justice Department will be accused of being selective in its pursuit of terrorists.

In an article in the Atlantic Monthly, Ann Louise Bardach reported that US investigating officers had worked with Cuban counterparts on the Havana hotel bombings. It occurred to the US that the Cubans could have eliminated Posada but declined to do so.

"They'll never get better propaganda than Luis Posada," an FBI veteran told Bardach.

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