Mar 1 1989

U.S. Media on a Terrorist Tirade

No sooner was it established that Pan Am Flight 103 had been destroyed by a bomb than the U.S. media went into its predictable ritual. Journalists prepared President Reagan and President-elect Bush with all the usual questions: How can we bring terrorists to justice? Will we retaliate against any country harboring those responsible for bombing passenger planes? Reagan and Bush responded with the expected tough-sounding rhetoric, Reagan: “We’re going to make every effort to find out who was guilty of this savage thing and bring them to justice.” Bush pledged to “seek hard and punish firmly, decisively, those who did this, if you could ever find them.”

What’s wrong with this all-too-familiar script? In a word, hypocrisy.

As many in the media know, the U.S. government has harbored an accused jet-bombing terrorist without doing anything to bring him to justice. Such was the case of Luis Posada, a right-wing Cuban exile who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for many years after the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Trained by the CIA in the use of explosives, Posada was the reputed mastermind of the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana airlines passenger jet that killed all 73 people aboard (New York Times,  10/12/86).

Posada and other members of the rightwing Cuban terror group, Command of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), were charged in Venezuela with the crime. The two men who admitted planting the bomb identified Posada as a mastermind of the plot.

In 1985 Posada escaped from a high-security Venezuelan prison. Instead of hunting him down, U.S. government agents offered Posada a job at Ilopango Air Base in El Salvador. There he played a key role in overseeing efforts to resupply the Nicaraguan contras (Miami Herald, 10/21/86). In May 1986 a Venezuelan TV reporter interviewed Posada from “somewhere in Central America.” “I feel good here,” Posada exclaimed, “because I am involved once again in a fight against international communism.”

While based at Ilopango, Posada served as the righthand man of longtime CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, who reported directly to Vice President Bush’s office. During this period, Rodriguez met with Bush on several occasions and reportedly briefed him on the contra  supply operation (CBS Evening News, 1/25/88).

What did the U.S. government do after leading U.S. dailies exposed Posada as a contra operative in El Salvador? Not much. He was allowed to disappear  and his current whereabouts are unknown. And the media quietly dropped the issue.

Instead of clamoring for hypothetical responses to still unidentified terrorists behind the Pan Am explosion, journalists would do better to ask Bush such probing questions. Why has the U.S. protected Posada and his friends? If it’s terrorism to blow  up innocent civilians in the fight against “Western Satanism” and “international Zionism,” isn’t it also terrorism to do the same in the struggle against “international Communism?”

And if it’s justified for the U.S. to retaliate against a foreign country linked to the Pan Am terrorists, does Cuba have the right to launch an air strike against Washington because of U.S. relations with Posada and his colleagues? If U.S. officials are serious about punishing terrorists, they should start with their own.

CBS Pumps Pentagon Propaganda

Stories about Posada and the CIA’s historic links to right-wing terrorist groups overseas have been largely ignored by the U.S. media, which seem intent on promoting a simplistic view of the world where Americans in white hats police the globe of black hats–usually worn by Arab terrorists. By applying the terrorism label only to anti-Western political violence, the media foster the illusion that “terrorism is alien to American patterns of conduct in the world, that it is done to us, and that what we do violently to others is legitimate counter-terrorism,” says Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton University (Revolutionaries and Functionaries, Dutton).

The U.S. government’s selective definition of terrorism is echoed throughout the media. In January the Pentagon released a slick, 130-page report–with photos and bar charts–called Terrorist Group Profiles. Praising it as “an effort to raise public awareness,” CBS correspondent Terrance Smith noted that the Pentagon spent $71,000 to produce and distribute the report. “Cheap by Pentagon standards,” Smith concluded, “and few are likely to question its value” (CBS Evening News, 1/10/89).

The CBS segment featured a soundbite from “terrorism expert” Ray Cline, who endorsed the Pentagon’s “consciousness raising among our own people.” Cline, a former CIA operative, is a close associate of the World Anti-Communist League, whose Latin American affiliates include unsavory characters linked to death squads and neo-Nazi violence (Anderson, Inside the League, Dodd Mead).

A.M. Rosenthal touted the Pentagon report as a compilation of “all known terrorist groups” in his New York Times column (2/18/89). But a cursory glance at the report’s table of contents should have been enough to expose the Pentagon’s bias. The section on African terrorism lists only one organization: the anti-apartheid African National Congress. Latin American terrorists are all left-wing revolutionaries; right-wing death squads aren’t mentioned. The roster from Western Europe features the defunct Direct Action from France, while omitting any reference to numerous neo-Nazi terror gangs that are still active on the Continent. And Al Fatah, the main PLO function, is included among the Mideast terror groups, despite Yasir Arafat’s denunciation of terrorism.

Down the Memory Hole

In December, when the media finally recognized Arafat’s recognition of Israel and his willingness to negotiate for a Palestinian state, numerous commentators expressed doubt as to whether the PLO chief’s peace overtures were genuine. “Has Arafat really renounced terrorism?” was the common refrain. No national media outlet pointed out a salient fact that had been reported years earlier in a Wall Street Journal front page (2/10/83) by David Ignatius.

In November 1973 Arafat entered into a secret agreement with the CIA whereby the PLO vowed to protect U.S. embassy personnel from attacks by Arab extremists. Arafat’s security chief, Ali Hassan Salameh, began warning the CIA of plots by rival Palestinian groups. Salameh (later murdered by Israeli intelligence) also shared information with Western European governments concerning links between their own domestic terrorists and Arab hardliners.

In other words, Arafat was helping the U.S. defend itself against Arab terrorists. This arrangement continued until Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and destroyed the PLO infrastructure in Beirut. With the PLO no longer a military factor, U.S. embassy personnel in Beirut were henceforth more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as evidenced by the wave of suicide bombings by Islamic fundamentalists following the PLO’s departure.

Libyan Rerun

The latest tiff with Qadaffir, in which U.S. jets shot down two Libyan MiGs over the Gulf of Sidra, prompted a spate of news reports that mentioned the U.S. attack on Tripoli in the wake of the 1986 La Belle disco bombing. Time (1/16/89) stated matter-of-factly that “Libyan-backed terrorists bombed a disco in West Berlin,” thereby provoking the U.S. “retaliatory” bombing. This was the official line put out by the White House, though the “irrefutable” evidence supporting the claim never materialized.

A recent Associated Press dispatch disclosed that West Berlin authorities have ended their investigation of the La Belle disco bombing. The 5-paragraph version of the AP dispatch that ran in the New York Times (12/22/88) neglected to mention that West German officials found no proof of a Libyan connection. There was never any evidence to begin with, according to Manfred Ganschow, director of the Staatsschutz (the West Berlin equivalent of the FBI). “I have no more evidence that Libya was connected to the bombing than I had…two days after the act. Which is none,” Ganschow told Stars and Stripes (4/28/86) weeks after the fatal blast.

SIDEBAR: Great Britain: Terrorism Heaven

In a New York Times op-ed (12/16/88), Robert Kupperman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Jeff Kamen of Independent Network News charged that “the unprincipled men who run the government of Greece are consorting with terrorists.” The authors complained that Greece refused to extradite an imprisoned Arab terrorist wanted in Italy for allegedly participating in a 1982 attack on a Roman synagogue.

In August 1980, neo-Nazi terrorists bombed the Bologna train station in Italy, killing 95 people and wounding over 200. One of the terrorists indicted for the Bologna massacre, Roberto Fiore, fled to Great Britain shortly after the blast. Convicted in absentia by an Italian court, Fiore currently walks the streets of London a free man thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s government, which denied Italy’s extradition request (Mother Jones, 5/87).

Thus far, no media-ordained “terrorism expert” has condemned Great Britain for harboring terrorists. And last year’s trial of those charged with the Bologna bombing–one of the worst terrorist attacks in postwar Europe–received hardly any attention in the U.S. media. Would the media have shown so little interest if the Bologna bombers had been Arabs or leftists?