It's Time to Remove Cuba From the State-Sponsor-of-Terrorism List

It's been curious to me for some time that Cuba, a country that does not sponsor terror groups, is listed by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terror. Cuba's inclusion (there are three other countries on the list, Iran, Syria and Sudan) undermines the seriousness of the list. Cuba is on the list, of course, because Castro-haters in the U.S. want it to be on the list, but it is not intellectually or analytically honest to include Havana. The State Department realizes this, of course, which is why its description of Cuba's "terrorist" activities is written the way it is. From my Bloomberg View column this week:

According to the State Department's 2010 report on state sponsors of terrorism, "Cuba continued to denounce U.S. counterterrorism efforts throughout the world, portraying them as a pretext to extend U.S. influence and power."

Cuba is a sponsor of terrorism, in other words, because it is critical of America's war on terrorism. By this definition, many of America's elected officials are sponsors of terrorism.
The report goes on, "Cuba has been used as a transit point by third-country nationals looking to enter illegally into the United States." By this definition, Canada is also a sponsor of terrorism.

And what are the Cubans doing about this problem? "The Government of Cuba is aware of the border integrity and transnational security concerns posed by such transit and investigated third country migrant smuggling and related criminal activities."

Oh, and by the way, the Cubans also "allowed representatives of the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a series of airport security visits throughout the island." A very clever cooptation by a terrorist state, apparently.

The department's 2009 report acknowledged that Cuba "publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa'ida and its affiliates," but still made the point that the government in Havana was "critical of the U.S. approach to combating international terrorism."

When I asked a senior government official about Cuba's inclusion, the official seemed to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation: "We've heard the criticisms about particular countries that are on the list and shouldn't be and others that aren't but should be." The official went on, "At the end of the day, though, the fact that the United States has a list that underscores that some countries rely on terrorism as an instrument of policy  is critically important. Maybe there could be more effective ways of focusing our condemnation, but for dealing with the real malefactors - think Iran or Syria - that designation is important and helps galvanize the international community to action. It also helps create a bar for those who would still like to conduct business as usual with them."

In other words, Cuba is a fake malefactor. Our relationship with Cuba is dysfunctional already; this list just makes it worse, and it undermines our claim to seriousness in the fight against actual terrorism.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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