The McCain campaign's Bill Ayers?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 15 2008 3:40 PM

The GOP's Bill Ayers?

The McCain campaign has its own questionable connections to bombers and assassins.

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After serving nine years, Posada "escaped" from prison in Caracas, Venezuela, thanks to a bribe paid to the warden. Posada gives effusive thanks in his memoir, Los Caminos del Guerrero, to at least two members of the Cuban Liberty Council for their help in resettling him during his early fugitive days. After serving 11 years, Bosch won an acquittal (following death threats to several judges hearing the case). However, hundreds of pages of memorandum of the FBI, CIA, and State Department, released by the National Security Archives, leave no doubt that U.S. authorities fully concurred with Venezuelan, Trinidadian, and Cuban intelligence that the two men had masterminded the airplane bombing.

Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh described Bosch, who spent four years in federal prison for firing a bazooka into a Polish freighter bound for Havana in Miami's harbor, as an "unreformed terrorist" and recommended immediate deportation when he showed up in Miami in 1988. But there were political considerations in Miami. Ros-Lehtinen, then running for Congress and now the Republican leader of the House foreign-affairs committee, lauded Bosch as a hero and a patriot. After she personally lobbied then-President George Bush (with her campaign manager Jeb Bush at a meeting noted in the Miami media), Bush overruled the FBI and the Justice and State departments, and Bosch was granted U.S. residency.

In 1998, I interviewed Luis Posada in Aruba for an investigative series for the New York Times in which he claimed to have orchestrated numerous attacks on both civilian and military targets during his 50-year war to topple Castro. Most notably, Posada took credit for masterminding the 1997 bombings of Cuban hotels that killed an Italian vacationer and wounded 11 others.

Posada made his last failed attempt to eliminate Fidel Castro at the Ibero-America Summit in Panama in November 2000. After his trial and conviction in 2004, Diaz-Balart (along with his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and Ros-Lehtinen), wrote at least two letters on official U.S. Congress stationery to Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso seeking the release of Posada and his collaborators."We ask respectfully that you pardon Luis Posada Carriles, Guillermo Novo Sampol, Pedro Crispin Remon and Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo," went one missive. On Aug. 24, 2004, Posada and his fellow conspirators—all with colorful rap sheets—received a last-minute pardon from the outgoing Moscoso.

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Posada's supporters tell me that he had been quietly assured by several Miami exile leaders that he would be allowed to live free in the United States like Bosch. While still a fugitive, Posada slipped into Miami in 2005. But following international outrage over his release, a federal grand jury was impaneled in Newark, N.J., in January 2006 to hear evidence against Posada for the Havana hotel bombings. FBI investigators testified that Posada had smuggled plastic explosives in shampoo bottles and shoes into Cuba a few weeks prior to the bombings. At the cost of millions of dollars, dozens of witnesses have testified to the grand jury over two and a half years. On Sept. 19 and 20, 2007, two witnesses, compelled to turn state's evidence, offered damning evidence implicating Posada and his confederates. (Disclosure: The New York Times and I were subpoenaed in the matter but have not appeared before the grand jury, citing First Amendment protections.)

But election year politics seem to have interfered with the case. One of the attorneys representing Posada's comrades in the case told me that the defendants received target letters last year and were warned by the FBI that they would be indicted by the end of 2007. Now he says it is certain nothing will happen because of the 2008 elections and the damage that could be done to the McCain ticket, the Diaz-Balarts, and Ros-Lehtinen. Another Posada attorney told me that he had been assured that Posada's case "is being handled at the highest levels" of the Justice Department.

In the meantime, Posada has resettled in Miami. In November 2007, the Big Five Club, an elite watering hole for Miami's movers and shakers, hosted an art show and fundraiser to benefit Posada and his comrade-in-arms, Letelier assassin José Dionisio Suárez. On May 2, 2008, there was another gala fundraiser in honor of Luis Posada at the Big Five Club. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen were both invited.

A few months earlier, a relaxed and expansive Posada attended a tribute for a well-known Cuban dissident. Just a few feet away from him, amid the ding of clinking glasses, were Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen. Should McCain-Palin prevail in November, those pesky, pending indictments against Posada are very likely to get tossed.

Ann Louise Bardach has written the "Interrogations" column for Slate and is the author of Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington,to be published in April, and CubaConfidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana.

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