Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Posada walks

Maybe it’s just as well. The sideshow is over, and we’re down to the real issue.

With the immigration fraud charges against Luis Posada Carriles dismissed yesterday – big time – by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, only one issue remains: whether the U.S. government will treat Posada as a terrorist rather than merely an illegal immigrant.

The immigration charges were always a sideshow. The Justice Department calls Posada an “admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks,” the U.S. government’s own declassified files and investigators’ statements implicate him in acts of terrorism, and his own statements do the same.

Once Posada fell into U.S. hands two years ago, the Administration faced a challenge of its own making, one that has nothing to do with the clamor coming from Cuba and Venezuela. It’s simple: Having instructed the world as to its obligations in the fight against terrorism, Washington has to decide whether and how to meet its own clear moral standards.

What might happen now?

1. He might leave the country. The government says he has no legal status here and under the terms of his bail order, he was obligated to continue looking for a country that would give him a visa. Perhaps the U.S. government is also looking for such a country; it has tried and failed before. Surely his lawyers will seek a place where he faces no risk of extradition.

2. Washington may indict him for involvement in the 1997 Havana hotel bombings. Follow the Newark grand jury.

3. Washington could respond to Venezuela’s extradition request so that Posada would face charges in the 1976 airliner bombing in Barbados.

4. Washington could invoke Patriot Act legal authorities that apply to terrorists and return him to detention.

Now, as ever, there is no Administration official explaining the policy judgments in this case. There is only Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd, explaining that prosecutors are reviewing the judge’s decision.

There’s a lot more to say about Judge Cardone’s decision, but one of her statements deserves mention because it makes one wonder what the government was trying to achieve with these charges, other than a lengthy pretrial detention for Posada while Washington sorted out its options.

The maximum sentence for Posada’s charges added up to 40 years – but even if convicted, Posada might have walked. The judge notes:

“The Court routinely presides over trials and formulates sentences for defendants facing the same charges as those faced by the Defendant in this case. For example, a typical defendant convicted of all seven counts with which Defendant is currently charged would receive a maximum sentence of six to twelve months under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. In addition, any time that such defendant served in federal incarceration would more likely than not qualify such defendant for time served, or at the very least, probation.”

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