Eight months later, two employees of Posada's private security firm boarded a flight from Caracas to Barbados with a suitcase loaded with explosives. The men disembarked in Barbados and the flight continued to Havana. The bomb detonated shortly after take off, killing all the passengers, including11 Guyanese and five North Koreans. The two men were arrested, as were Posada and an associate, Orlando Bosch. According to the documents posted by the National Security Archive, a reliable source "all but admitted" Posada's involvement to the FBI.*
But Posada had friends in the right places. To appease the Cuban government, Venezuelan officials detained Posada for eight years without announcing a verdict. To appease Washington, they finally put him in a military court, despite the fact that none of the people involved were military officers. The four men were acquitted, but the case was sent to a civilian court where Bosch was acquitted, while Posada and the two subordinates were convicted.
Before Posada could be sentenced he escaped prison, helped by a hefty bribe supplied by supporters in Miami. Posada made his way to Central America, where he joined the Reagan administration's secret campaign to evade contra rebels fighting a leftist government in Nicaragua. Soon he was earning $6,000 - $7,000 a month, paid by White House and former CIA officials seeking to evade a congressional ban on aid to the contras.
After the wars of Central America ended in the early 1990s. Posada settled In El Salvador where, as he later told Ana Louise Bardach of the New York Times in a tape-recorded interview, he planned a series of bombings of Havana hotels designed to discourage tourism to Cuba. His role went undetected and he moved on to other targets.
In 2000 Posada was arrested in Panama for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro during a visit there by the Cuban president. Posada and two associates were convicted of conspiring to bomb a crowded auditorium where Castro was scheduled to speak. Posada was pardoned by the president of Panama. After being released in 2004, he snuck back into the United States in 2005, seeking political asylum and apparently not fearing criminal charges.
The Bush administration initially seemed to ignore his presence in the United States and then charged him with immigration violations. Venezuela's request that he be extradited was rebuffed, and a U.S. court ruled he could not be deported to Venezuela either, saying he might be tortured -- a charge Venezuela's defenders reject. The Obama Justice Department, perhaps seeking to rescue U.S. credibility on terrorism policy, amplified the immigration charges to include perjury and obstruction of counts related to the hotel bombing. The jury didn't buy it.
"We created a Frankenstein," said Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive during the trial. But as a creature of U.S. policy, Posada benefited from official secrecy and circuitous charges. The jury didn't see Posada as monster. If they agreed with the defendant's case, they saw him as an American sympathizer who deserved his freedom.
*The story originally stated that Posada himself "all but admitted" his involvement and said that he was held for eight years in Venezuela without being charged. The story also originally listed Posada as being arrested in 2004. We regret the errors.