Castro Foe With C.I.A. Ties Puts U.S. in an Awkward Spot
By MARC LACEY, The New York Times
EL PASO (Oct. 8) — 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.
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