It may outrage the radical fringe in the Cuban exile community in Miami, but the Bush administration did the right thing in ordering Tuesday's arrest of Luis Posada Carriles. Washington now needs to send the old anti-Castro fighter to Venezuela to face charges that he was involved in blowing up a Cuban airplane in 1976, causing 73 deaths.
Posada, who crossed illegally into the United States from Mexico this year, had filed and withdrawn a request for political asylum. Asylum is not a plausible option. Posada, although he has denied involvement in the downing of the airliner, has boasted of placing bombs in six hotels in Havana that killed one person and injured 11 others.
The government is expected to decide Posada's immigration status as soon as today. The desirable outcome is for Posada to be sent back to Venezuela as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the rest of the world will mock the Bush administration's avowed commitment to the war on terrorism. If Washington disregards its extradition treaty with Venezuela, other countries will feel free to disregard their extradition treaty obligations with the U.S.
Washington has pursued a lot of flawed policies to placate anti-Castro activists in the past, but surely no one in this administration will want to go soft on terrorism -- or try to define away the problem by claiming that Posada is a legitimate freedom fighter.
Venezuela's judiciary admittedly does not have all the due-process guarantees Posada might have found in a U.S. court, and it may be tempting to try him here under the theory that terrorism is a crime of universal jurisdiction. But it would be a misguided move, seen elsewhere as politically driven and hypocritical. In prosecuting terrorism, the U.S. works with many countries whose legal systems are no worse than Venezuela's.
Moreover, there is a process already underway against Posada in Venezuela. He was tried and acquitted there twice but escaped from jail while awaiting an appeal by prosecutors in 1985. Venezuelan law allows the jailing of defendants until all appeals have been dealt with.
According to recently declassified FBI documents from 1976, Posada was present at two meetings in which the bombing of the Cuban plane departing from Caracas was discussed. In 2000, Posada resurfaced in Panama in the company of three other terrorists previously convicted of serious crimes. The four were tried, convicted and jailed. But then, in August 2004, Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned the four a few days before she left office. Three of the men went to Miami, where they were greeted like heroes by hard-line exiles. The whereabouts of Posada remained unknown until now.
Why these four violent men were pardoned is a mystery. The fact that three of them were admitted into the U.S. is alarming. Doesn't President Bush mean it when he says no country should harbor those accused of terrorism? To answer that question in the affirmative, U.S. authorities must extradite Posada to Caracas and review the status of any other Cuban exiles in this country who stand accused of terrorism.