WITH A MISGUIDED decision upholding bail for Cuban-born terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has done more than free a frail old man facing unremarkable immigration charges. It has exposed Washington to legitimate charges of hypocrisy in the war on terror.
By allowing Posada to go free before his May 11 trial, the court has released a known flight risk who previously escaped from a Venezuelan prison, a man who has boasted of helping set off deadly bombs in Havana hotels 10 years ago and the alleged mastermind of a 1976 bombing of a Cuban airplane that killed 73 people. Posada's employees confessed to the attack, and declassified FBI and CIA documents have shown that he attended planning sessions.
In other words, Posada is the Zacarias Moussaoui of Havana and Caracas. Moussaoui is serving a life sentence without parole in a federal prison in Colorado for conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks; Posada is free to live in Miami.
Posada, a 79-year-old Bay of Pigs veteran who served time in Panama for plotting to kill Fidel Castro, has never been charged with crimes of terrorism in U.S. courts. Instead, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement nabbed him for lying to immigration authorities after he sneaked in the country in March 2005 and held a news conference announcing his triumphant return. Both Customs and the Justice Department lobbied to keep Posada behind bars, but U.S. law enforcement has never shown a strong interest in trying him for more serious crimes. In turn, Posada's lawyer has preemptively warned that if charged, his client would likely reveal extensive collaboration with the CIA.
The United States keeps 385 suspected terrorists imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, many in isolation and all without U.S. norms of due process. Yet Posada, a confessed terrorist, is sent home with an ankle bracelet.
The United States has not been able to persuade any of seven allied nations to accept Posada. A federal judge has ruled that he can't be extradited to Cuba or Venezuela because he might be tortured. The best solution would have been for the court to refuse bail until trial while the State Department keeps searching for a third-party country that would agree to try him on terrorism charges.
Instead, Castro receives a propaganda victory gift, the White House has its moral authority undermined and the victims of Carriles' alleged crimes see justice delayed once more.
The U.S. government has done many odd things in 46 years of a largely failed Cuba policy, but letting a notorious terrorist walk stands among the most perverse yet.