If justice is transitive, it applies to all alike, and we should critically engage the grave double standard the United States applies to extradition requests it issues, while requests submitted to it for criminals, terrorists and stooges of corrupt regimes are ignored or drowned in court and bureaucratic proceedings. In fact, its own reticence in a number of key cases should be of most import when considering the Snowden affair. Especially considering the severity of accusations lodged against Mr Snowden, it behooves us to apply the same logic we find in U.S. policy to the developing affair, if only as an illuminating thought experiment.
Consider, for example, the case of Luis Posada Carriles. Posada, formerly a CIA informant and participant in the Iran-Contra horrors (1), is referred to by a fellow at the National Security Archive as “one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history,” and who today lives in Miami, in impunity. Posada, who was trained by the US Army in Ft. Benning “in explosives and sabatoge”(2) between 1963-4(3), was involved in organizing the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs 1961, an event with which Posada sympathized as the result of his misgivings about the Cuban revolution. It was here that Posada made contacts with the Cuban dissident movement, including Jorge Canoso, the future head of the Cuban American National Foundation, a deeply controversial organization, which, among others, has been accused of openly supporting terrorism.
Posada’s purpose over the years was, in various forms, to destroy and sabotage the Cuban revolution, an end he sought to realize with resort to some of the most horrific methods known to man. Posada self-described as the “principal agent” in the CIA’s Operation 40, whose activities included the Bay of Pigs invasion. In 1965, Posada became involved in insurrections in Guatemala, a country whose young democracy the U.S. had helped to destroy just 11 years prior, leading to instability and violence that spread out over the rest of the century. Johnson, President at the time, was insistent in finding links which would show the Guatemalan regime as being a Cuban “puppet state”, and demanded his CIA director find these links. The latter was unable to do so, and the initiative wasn’t pursued.
Relations between the CIA and Posada frayed, with accusations made of “unreported association with gangster elements”. Posada eventually relocated to Venezuela, where, after his dismissal from government service, his next plot took form. His official business was operating a private investigation unit, but he simultaneously, along with fellow Cuban expatriot Orlando Bosch and several others, founded a group the FBI has referred to as “an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organization.” One of their first victims were 78 civilians aboard a Cuba bound flight, including the Cuban national fencing team, who, on October 16, 1976, were heading back from the Central American and Caribbean Championship in Trinidad, where they had won all the gold medals. Less than ten minutes after takeoff from Barbados, two timed explosives – one in the lavatory, and the other about midway in the passenger cabin – destroyed significant portions of the fuselage, causing rapid descent and a crash into the Atlantic Ocean, 8 km from the airport. The crash killed all on board, including the 24 victorious fencers and 11 Guyanese medical students.
Fredy Lugo and Hernan Lozando, two employees of Posada’s, who had checked their baggage for Cuba, but only flown to Barbados – a stopover –, were later arrested and, along with Posada and Bosch, tried in a military trial in Venezuela. The four were acquitted on technical grounds, and a civilian trial was scheduled. Lozano and Lugo were convicted, but Posada escaped prison while awaiting trial. Incidentally, his escape is something of a mystery, and is said to’ve involved a large bribe and Posada dressing as a priest. Venezuela issued a warrant against Posada, which is still pending (Venezuela isn’t the only state that wants Posada).
The amount of evidence tying Posada to the crime – from the confession of the two bombers to statements from witnesses claiming Posada to’ve said, 3 days before the event, “We are going to hit a Cuban airliner… Orlando has the details”(4), among others – is quite damning. Nevertheless, Posada’s story does not end here. In El Salvador, where he eventually settled after his escape with the help of Canoso, Posada was involved with the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scandal, regarding which, journalist and Cuban expert Ann Louise Bardach reports, Posada was paid $3,000 a month, plus expenses for dropping supplies to the Contras by US Major General Secord, in charge of operations for Oliver North. Incidentally, his formal allegiance at this time was to Felix Rodriguez, a CIA operative who had overseen the capture of Che Guevara.
Recently, and more damning, Posada was, by his own admitting, implicated in the bombings of several hotels in Cuba in 1997, intended to diminish increased tourism in Cuba in the wake of reforms. The bombing achieved this end – at least for a window of time – and killed one Italian-Canadian tourist in the process, whom Posada, in an interview with the New York Times is recorded as saying, rather irreverantly, “was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time”, and, regarding whether his conscience was not troubled by the violence, responded “I sleep like a baby”.
To give a bit of a picture of how dangerous various governments see Posada as being, it should be quite troubling to learn that “The State Department sought to deport him elsewhere, but at least seven friendly nations have declined to take in the renowned militant.” This man, and, until his death, Bosch, is allowed to live comfortably in Miami, where he even meets support of local representatives (5), while Edward Snowden is confined to the transit section of the international terminal in Moscow for telling the simple truth about a state agency whose activities clearly go beyond reasonable limits, and whose government has gone to great lengths over the past century and a quarter to deter democracy and inhibit basic human rights, when their expression goes contrary with established norms and policies of the master.
If the distinction that Augustine made in observing that the difference between the crimes of the powerless and the crimes of emperors are “unjust”, then it should certainly be applied here. Doubtless, men like Posada, as well as Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, former President of Bolivia, whose extradition on the basis of charges among which are crimes against humanity(6) that country has requested, and which has been met with reticence and rejection on the part of the US, should be treated with far more scrutiny than the Snowden affair, as these two individuals arguably have caused far more suffering to human beings than did Snowden by his revelations, or, for that matter, than did Bradley Manning, Aaron Schwartz, or John Kiriakou, the latter currently serving a 30 month prison term for revealing the use of torture on U.S. detainees (it was Kirkiakou, a third generation Greek American, who confirmed the use of waterboarding), a noble act. In fact, on a purely objective basis, Henry Kissinger did far more harm and caused more human suffering than any of those mentioned above, including Posada. And, compared with a request for Kissinger’s extradition by Uruguay filed as recently as 2007 (7), and a request for questioning in both Argentina (8) and Chile (9) for his role in orchestrating the 1973 coup, the U.S.’s request for a Defense Department contractor who blew the whistle on a secret government surveillance program with overbroad reach seems almost insulting (it’s only “almost” insulting because we know such doublespeak to be the modus operandi of the world’s ruling hegemon, and, thus, unsurprising.)
The difference between Kissinger’s, Lozada’s, and Posada’s crimes and Snowden, et alia’s, is that the former were grave, horrific and morally outraging, leading to many deaths, whereas the “crimes” of the latter group are victimless, political acts, which may indeed have served the public good rather than doing harm, in any sense. Therefore, the same – if not a higher – stamp of priority should be placed on bringing men like Posada and Lozado, as well as Kissinger, to justice. Whether one can expect Air Force One to be brought down over Bermuda in the coming months in order to undergo a “routine search” for Kissinger is, with reason, doubtful. When it comes to it, Augustine’s observation is valid, that only the crimes of the less powerful are viewed as such, while the crimes of history’s behemoths are disregarded or washed over.
Certainly, there is a case to be made for shifting the dialog on the basis of Edward Snowden’s revelations, and time will tell whether the issue is the deciding straw in a long history of sacrificing the freedoms of ordinary citizens to the interests of an elite strata. Such issues have a tendency to galvanize populations with a history of incursions on basic freedoms, but, in a country like the US, where the perception, at least, is of freedoms and liberties, the battle will be a bit harder fought (one is reminded of the frog in the boiling water metaphor, certainly relevant here). And, one sees attempts already to shape the ensuing discourse by interested groups and parties, like DoD and the Security State. Director of the NSA, Keith Alexander, for instance, referred to Snowden’s actions as causing “grave and irreparable harm” to security interests. They are without a doubt not that, but we shall see whether the colors the empire applies prevail.