Their Terrorists and Ours

by Edward S. Herman

Z magazine, September 1998


On July 12 and 13, 1998, the New York Times had successive front-page articles on the career of Luis Carriles Posada, a world class terrorist who had been trained by the CIA in the 1950s in preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion, and who thereafter devoted his life to terrorist actions against Cuba. As a U.S.-sponsored terrorist, for many years in direct U.S. service, and who continued to terrorize a country subject to U.S. economic and other forms of warfare, Posada remained under effective U.S. protection for over 30 years. This protection was paralleled by a treatment by terrorism "experts" and the U.S. media that differed sharply from that accorded terrorists like Carlos the Jackal. The Times articles of July 12 and 13 represent a partial break from the past, in which a potent double standard between "their terrorists" and our own had been consistently maintained.

In 1988, the Pentagon listed the African National Congress as one of the "more notorious terrorist groups" in the world, but not Savimbi's Unita, nor the Israel-sponsored proxy army in South Lebanon, nor the U.S.-organized Nicaraguan contras. Libya has long been declared a sponsor of international terrorism, but never South Africa, which in the 1980s was supporting not only Unita in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique, but whose assassination attempts abroad extended to London, Paris, and Sweden (in 1996, the former head of a covert South African hit squad claimed that Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme had been murdered in 1986 by South African agents). In its recent report on "Patterns of Global Terrorism," issued on April 30, 1998, the State Department lists Cuba as a sponsor of international terrorism, solely on the grounds that it "harbors" alleged terrorists. But Saudi Arabia's giving safe haven to Idi Amin is different, and the U.S. provision of refuge to Haitian killers General Raoul Cedras and Emmanuel Constant, Salvadoran military officers Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Vides Casanova-both recently named by the released soldiers who murdered four U.S. religious women in 1980 as the ones who gave the orders to kill-and numerous Cuban refugee terrorists, does not interfere for a moment with the Godfather's right to name the world's terrorists.

Carlos Versus Posada

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, popularly known as Carlos the Jackal, carried out many terroristic acts against Israel, other Western states, including France, and Arabs who cooperated with Israel and the West (one of his most notable ventures was kidnapping a group of Arab country oil officials from a high level conference). The Western media have credited him with some 83 killings over his career. Taken into custody by France in a deal with Sudan where he was in hiding, Carlos was recently tried and convicted of murder in Paris. For the Western media and experts, Carlos is the model terrorist and is portrayed without qualification as evil incarnate.

Luis Posada Carriles, on the other hand, was trained by the CIA as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion project, and has been a long-standing member of the Cuban refugee terrorist network. This network has been one of the most active and durable anywhere, because it was given legitimacy by U.S. sponsorship, has served U.S. aims, and has in consequence been under U.S. protection. The U.S. official and media treatment of Posada has reflected this protection and role of the network.

Posada came to public notice when a Cuban airliner was blown up in October 1976 killing 73 people. Two Cubans were apprehended, confessed, and implicated Posada and Orlando Bosch as fellow participants. Posada was caught and tried three times in Venezuela, but was acquitted on technicalities. Before a further trial could be held, he escaped prison. He next came into notice when Eugene Hasenfus's contra supply plane was shot down over Nicaragua in 1986, and evidence surfaced that Posada was an operative in the contra supply network, working for the Reagan administration at Ilopango airbase in El Salvador.

The mainstream media's treatment of this disclosure was extremely muted. I believe that if Carlos had turned up as an employee of Bulgaria or the Soviet Union in some military-terrorist function, the media would have expressed outrage, and would have cited this as definitive evidence of a Soviet terror network. When it was disclosed in 1990 that Carlos had been given refuge in Hungary, the New York Times gave this-front page coverage ("Aide Says Hungary Gave Refuge in '79 to Terrorist Carlos," June 28, 1990)-and it distorted the news in the process, by suppressing the fact, available in the European media, that Carlos's refuge was conditional on his suspending all terrorist activities, and that he was expelled in 1982. In the case of Posada, an escaped and wanted terrorist was not only being protected against prosecution for serious terrorist crimes, he was being used in U. S terrorist operations against Nicaragua. But as he was our terrorist, the media were virtually silent, thereby collaborating as "news" organizations in facilitating the U.S. "unlawful use of force" (World Court) and sponsorship of contra terrorism.

The U.S. media always search diligently for links to high officials in the case of enemy misdeeds. With Posada, there was a very definite link to the top: he was a good friend of Felix Rodriguez, a fellow right-wing Cuban, who was Vice President George Bush's liaison to the contra terrorist campaign against Nicaragua in the 1980s. But in this case, the media showed no interest whatever in the link of this terrorist to the political leadership. There were also other differences from the treatment of Carlos. The Times article that discussed Posada (December 10, 1986)-and the only one ever to focus on him in any detail until the two part series on July 12 and 13, 1998 (the paper had at least 14 separate articles featuring Carlos)-was on page 21, and was entitled "Accused Terrorist Helping to Supply Contras." Even U.S. officials acknowledged that Posada had been involved in the Cuban airliner bombing and was a real terrorist, but unlike Carlos, Posada was only an "accused" terrorist in the Times. While mentioning the accusation that he had participated in a terrorist bombing killing 73, the paper didn't mention that two colleagues had quickly incriminated him, and that he was still wanted for crimes in Venezuela. Also, the article stressed his anticommunism, long fight against Castro, and devotion to his family, a form of exoneration not extended to Carlos.

Posada Terrorizes Cuba and Honduras

Posada has been living in Honduras and El Salvador since 1986. His exact location has been known to U.S. authorities (as was acknowledged to the Miami Herald [June 7, 1998]), and he could easily be extradited or seized by U.S. forces in these client states; this would be easier than France's recovery of Carlos from the Sudan. But Posada is a terrorist who has worked for us directly and indirectly, and thus has remained free to continue his activities. The contrast between our treatment of this world class terrorist and the French treatment of Carlos is not discussed in the mainstream media.

In 1994 and 1995 Posada joined with a group of right-wing army officers in Honduras to destabilize the government of Carlos Roberto Reina, who had angered the officers by cutting the military budget and curbing their kickbacks on arms purchases, and who the Cuban right wing felt was too soft on Castro and might interfere with plans to use Honduras as another secret base for anti-Cuban operations. This terrorist program involved a dozen or more bombings in late 1994 and early 1995, with at least six Hondurans killed and 26 injured (Miami Herald, September 28, 1997). Neither the terrorist operation in Honduras nor Posada's involvement were reported in the leading U.S. newspapers or TV newscasts.

On November 16, 1997, a lengthy article in the Miami Herald, by Juan O. Tamayo, traced the 11 bombings of hotels and restaurants in Cuba during 1997 to a "ring of Salvadoran car thieves and armed robbers directed and financed by Cuban exiles in El Salvador and Miami...And it was Luis Posada Carriles. . . who was the key link between El Salvador and the South Florida exiles who raised $15,000 for the operation." The Cuban bombings killed one tourist and wounded six other people.

The Miami Herald article on the Cuban bombings was based on "dozens of interviews with security officials, friends of the bombers, Cuban exiles and others in El Salvador, Miami, Guatemala and Honduras." Carried out by a distinguished group of reporters, led by Tamayo, this story had great credibility. But it was neither reproduced nor were its findings summarized in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, or on the TV network broadcasts. In fact, in the puny stories covering these terrorist attacks none of these papers ever mentioned Posada.

Nor were the important revelations of a subsequent investigative report by the Miami Herald picked up in any of the major media forums. "One of the most ambitious" of Posada's adventures, the Herald reports, "appears to have been a plot to assassinate Castro at a 1994 summit of Ibero-American heads of government in the Colombian port city of Cartegena." But although Posada and his five accomplices "managed to smuggle arms into Cartegena," the report continues, "Columbian security cordons kept them too far away to take a good shot at Castro..." ("An exile's relentless aim: oust Castro," June 7, 1998). "If there is no publicity, the work is not useful," the Herald reporter quotes Posada as having written to a fellow "conspirator. " "The U.S. newspapers don't publish anything unless it is confirmed." Posada was wrong-stories that fit newspapers' biases require minimal confirmation; those that don't, like Posada's terrorist activities, will get minimal publicity despite compelling evidence.

The New York Times method of keeping the story of Posada's connection to the Cuban bombings out of the public eye in 1997 is enlightening. The killing of the tourist was covered in World News Briefs, on page A13, and got 3.5 inches of space (September 5, 1997). In the case of the other bombings, the Times quoted generalities from Cuban reports and accusations, always on the back pages (e.g., September 6, 1997). After a Salvadoran was captured, confessed, and linked the bombings to the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), the Times said that "Havana tries to link a suspect to an exile group in Miami" (September 12, 1997). The confession didn't make the link real for the Times, and it was offset by denials from the CANF and statements by the State Department that Cuba hasn't given them solid evidence. But Tamayo and his colleagues did more, and the Times trick is to cite only Cuban officials-easily dismissed as biased-and to avoid a serious source that is more credible. (This method, of using the less credible witness to make the case you oppose, is widely used by the Times and other media; e.g., in its letters column the Times often publishes a weak offering that provides nominal balance while rejecting others that contain unwanted critical substance.) It is also notable that the Times failed to do any investigative research of its own on the anti-Cuban terrorism. It didn't want to know, or to have the public know, of the escapades of our terrorist.

Posada in the Times

However, on July 12 and 13, 1998, the Times ran two lengthy front-page articles on Posada, by Ann Louise Bardach and Larry Rohter, based on interviews with him at his secret Caribbean hideout, as well as on borrowings (unacknowledged) from the Miami Herald. What caused the Times to alter its news judgment and give Posada such attention? One reason was the recent softening in Administration policy toward Cuba, manifested in the reopening of direct air travel between Cuba and the U. S., the tightening of restraints on exile forays into Cuban waters, and a crackdown on the smuggling of refugees from Cuba. The Times has long "followed the flag" in reporting on foreign policy, so that when a bipartisan hard-line policy is in place the paper protects "our terrorists" and downplays the U.S. terror campaign in which a Posada (or D'Aubuisson, or Savimbi) plays his part. While the Times performed this protective service in relation to Posada through 1997, it had not been entirely happy with U. S. policy toward Cuba, denouncing Helms-Burton and calling for a more humane mode of opposition to the Castro regime (e.g., "Turning a Page in Cuba," ed., November 25, 1997). The softening of policy that preceded the July articles was therefore surely welcomed and this editorial position undoubtedly contributed to making Posada, at long last, newsworthy.

The moderation of policy has been a reflection of changing political forces bearing on Cuban policy, including the effect of the Pope's visit to Cuba, the growing interest of U.S. business in Cuban markets, and the desire to move away from the damaging confrontation with allies over Helms-Burton and the U.S. policy of destructive engagement.

Another important factor was the November 1997 death of Jorge Mas Canosa, the influential head of the CANF, and the consequent disarray and weakening of his hard-line faction (displayed in part by the willingness of Posada to implicate CANF in his activities, and thereby damage its legal and moral status in the U.S.). The July articles featured Posada's close relationship with Mas Canosa and the long-time and regular funding Posada received from him and CANF. Posada made it clear that the money was provided with the understanding that it was underwriting his general terrorist activities, including the 1997 bombing campaign in Cuba. In short, he was a terrorist arm of the tax exempt CANF, which had been organized at the recommendation of the Reagan administration.

The articles also focus on Posada's long relationship with the CIA as an agent and informant, and it quotes Posada time and again explaining how his friendly relations with CIA and FBI personnel and long service as a U.S. operative protected him and allowed him to continue his life and "work." The Times describes in detail how a Cuban-America businessman in Guatemala, who discovered Posada's (and his partners') assemblage of bombs and a planned assassination attempt against Castro, notified the FBI, which apparently made no investigation and took no action on the case. Posada told the interviewer that the FBI had never questioned him in connection with this incident. It is made clear throughout the series that the rule of law has long been inoperative in dealing with CANF, Posada, and the approved terrorism they represent.

While much of this information is not new or surprising, it is useful to have it confirmed from the terrorist's mouth and given a Times news imprimatur. It should be noted, however, that significant biases are still evident in these articles. For example, Posada is not referred to as a terrorist; in fact, the authors note that Cuba calls Posada a terrorist, but they themselves repeatedly describe him as a "Cuba foe" and as a man who has "devoted his life to trying to bring down Castro," or even as a "fugitive." They state that when Hasenfus's plane was shot down in Nicaragua in 1986, the world soon learned that "Ramon Medina was actually Luis Posada Carriles, the international fugitive." The Times never called Carlos a mere "fugitive," nor did it ever identify Carlos by his self-designated objectives (anti-Israel, anti-imperialist); unlike Posada, his acts and methods made him an unqualified terrorist.

The series is kind to Posada in other ways. The authors state that Posada "opposed the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista," without offering any evidence. Almost as much space is given to the injuries Posada suffered in a 1990 assassination attempt as to his terrorist acts and the damage inflicted on his victims. As in the past, the Times does not mention the fact that the two terrorists apprehended following the 1976 Cuban airliner bombing quickly named Posada as an accomplice. This bloody killer is humanized and asked no difficult or harsh questions. His history and linkages are spelled out by him on his own terms, with his own rationales unchallenged.

The articles also fail to make connections and draw conclusions. His close relationship with Felix Rodriguez, with whom he worked at the Ilopango air base in El Salvador in the 1980s, is mentioned without noting that Rodriguez was Vice President George Bush's liaison to the contra war, which ties the employment of this terrorist to the highest echelons of the U.S. government. More important, the authors nowhere ask whether the close relationship between the "fugitive " and U. S. government doesn't make the U.S. a sponsor of international terrorism and its leaders and mainstream intellectuals and journalists-who regularly denounce the scourge of terrorism-world class hypocrites.

When Cuba shot down an overflying Cuban refugee network plane in 1996, the Times gave this front page and intense coverage, and expressed the greatest indignation. This is the same refugee network that Posada has tapped for his terrorist activities, and one under U. S. protection. The relative treatment of the shootdown, and the intense and indignant coverage of Carlos, versus the earlier "don't want to know" treatment of Posada, and recent surfacing and moderate critique of Posada in a time of softening policy, exemplifies well the Times's bias, role, and propaganda service.


Edward S. Herman is an economist, author, media analyst, and professor emeritus at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

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