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U.S. Bending Backwards Not to Extradite

By Wayne S. Smith

Facing a barrage of criticism over its handling of the case of the notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, the Bush administration has had nothing to say, no explanation whatever for the fact that it can only be seen as sheltering him. And no one is more silent than Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, even though U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., pointed out to him in a hearing on May 10 that “the buck stops with you.” Gonzalez is, after all, our senior law enforcement official. All he could say, however, was that he'd have to “go back and look at this case so I can give you an answer.”

His usual evasiveness. Go back and look at it? The case has been pending for two years and the consequences of our inaction, as indicated below, are clear.

Posada has a long record of terrorist acts. Just out of prison in Panama (where he'd been serving a sentence for "endangering public safety"), in March of 2005, he showed up in Miami. Everyone knew he was there, but U.S. authorities made no effort to apprehend him until May, when he gave a press conference and forced their hand.

He was then arrested, but rather than charging him with acts of terrorism, he was simply charged with illegal entry and sent off to El Paso for an administrative immigration hearing, a complete farce. He was ordered deported, but, as U.S. authorities already knew, there were no countries willing to take him except Venezuela, which had already requested his extradition for the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner. The federal judge, however, on nothing more than the opinion of a long-time associate of Posada's, ruled that he could not be extradited to Venezuela for fear that he would be tortured there.

To hold him longer, the government then came up with a charge of giving false statements on his application for entry. Another sham, which finally ended on May 8, when Judge Kathleen Cardone, seeing clearly that the whole thing was nothing more than an effort to finesse the case, charged the government with bad faith and "engaging in fraud, deceit and trickery." That being the case, she said, "this court is left with no choice but to dismiss the indictment."

So what will the government do now? On May 10, the attorney general seemed to have not a clue. And yet, the issue is perfectly clear. Venezuela has asked for his extradition. We have an extradition treaty with Venezuela. Under that treaty and others, we must either extradite him to Venezuela or we must indict him for acts of terrorism and try him in the United States. Otherwise, we will be in blatant violation of international treaties, and will be guilty of openly sheltering a terrorist.

President Bush has often taken the position that "if you harbor a terrorist, you're equally as guilty as the terrorist." Where, then, would our harboring of Posada leave George W. Bush? Why is the administration so reluctant to take appropriate action against Posada? Doubtless because dating back to the early 1960s, he was a long-time agent of the CIA. Were some of his terrorist acts carried out at the behest of the CIA? In any event, he knows far too much. And his lawyer has stated clearly that if the government moves to prosecute him, he'll tell all.

There will be hearings in Congress on the Posada case in the next few days. It will be fascinating to see what position the government takes, and if Gonzalez has anything more than his usual evasions to offer, especially with a vote of no-confidence against him looming in the Senate.


Wayne S. Smith is a senior fellow at the Center for International Relations in Washington, D.C. and an adjunct professor of Latin American studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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