While 86 Innocent Men Remain At Gitmo, Latin America's Most Wanted Terrorist Lives Freely in Miami

In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba there are 86 detainees who have been cleared for release by the U.S. government since 2009. It is now 2013, and those 86 detainees have yet to be freed. Ali Hussein Al-Shaaban is one of them. Despite pleas from human rights organizations and despite threatening to veto, President Barack Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that has restricted transfers of prisoners. The act destroyed any chance of Al-Shaaban, among others, achieving freedom, and allows the controversial Guantanamo to remain open.

Meanwhile, not far from Guantanamo, former CIA operative and known terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is living peacefully in Miami, Florida. He is wanted in the Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Aptly called the “Bin Laden of the Americas,” Posada has an extensive record. Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, he became an activist after the Cuban revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and placed communist Fidel Castro into power. Opposing Castro, he eventually found himself imbued with the U.S. government after seeking asylum in Mexico. He assisted the U.S. with operations concerning the Bay of Pigs. After the failure of the mission, the CIA took him on as a trainee where he learned the fatal craft of making explosives. He further became involved in plots to overthrow the leftist Guatemalan government.

Ties shifted when the CIA began to suspect Posada of being involved with organized crime. In response, Posada fled to Caracas, Venezuela taking several CIA-owned items with him, including grenades and booby traps in 1967. In addition to possible drug trafficking, the CIA also suspected Posada of planning to assassinate former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who was looking to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

In a follow up to Operation 40, a measure set out to protect the U.S.’s Latin American client states from falling out of its sphere of influence, came Operation Condor in 1975. The campaign sought to eradicate right-wing dictatorships within South America. Posada participated in both operations. However, his jump to infamy came with the terrorist attack of Cubana Flight 455 in 1976.

Utilizing explosives placed within toothpaste tubes, the incident killed all 78 people on board traveling from the Barbados to Jamaica. Many young people were on board the flight, including members of the Cuban Olympic fencing team. Venezuelans Herman Ricardo and Freddy Lugo were arrested in the aftermath. They admitted that the attack was planned by Posada and his partner in crime, Orlando Bosch — another Cuban exile. The CIA had been aware of Posada’s and Bosch’s plans but made no move to thwart them. They were jailed, but Posada escaped while on trial in Venezuela for the crime. From Venezuela, he made his way to El Salvador where he took on a new identity and once again was embedded in White House politics under the Reagan administration. Posada was  involved in the Iran-Contra scandal that involved trading weapons with Iran in order to assist anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua. After being shot in 1990, Posada relocated to the Honduras where the FBI estimated that Posada was involved in 41 bombings in that nation and planned more terrorist attacks against Cuba.

In 1998, Posada said in a New York Times interview that he planned for the series of bombings that occurred in Cuban tourist destinations and in 2000, was caught with explosives in Panama City, Panama with the intention of assassinating Fidel Castro who was set to speak at university. He and his co-conspirators were convicted but then pardoned by the Panama’s government in 2004, rejecting Venezuela’s request for an extradition. The U.S. government denied suspicions of placing pressure on Panama’s president to set Posada free.

Returning back to the U.S., Posada was charged with perjury and immigration fraud, amongst other charges but was acquitted for all eleven of them in 2011, much to Cuba’s disappointment. Both Cuba and Venezuela had made previous requests to extradite Posada. But the U.S., which has noted that a return to either country might subject him to torture, denied them. After having clear evidence implicating him for the Cubana bombing and others, Posada now denies his involvement, with his attorneys arguing that his English was “too poor” to have fully comprehended a journalist’s questions concerning the matter. 

Today, Posada, 85, shines as a hero to Miami Cubans.

Fellow terrorist Orlando Bosch died in 2011 at the age of 84. He was also acquitted of his crimes and peacefully lived his final years in Miami. Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh once described Bosch as an “unreformed terrorist” who should be deported. However, former President George H.W. Bush actually granted him a pardon.

Perhaps if Bosch or Posada had been named Ali Hussein Al-Shaaban in a post-9/11 America, their terrorist acts would have earned them a cell at Guantanamo Bay in their native Cuba. But instead, Posada the terrorist is living happily in the U.S., while 86 men deemed ready for release from Gitmo remain indefinitely detained.