Testing the definition of terrorism

George W. Bush won the 2004 election on the empty promise that he would win the “War on Terrorism.” Supporters voted for him mostly on that promise, an ambiguous promise that can’t be kept.

This is a war that can’t be won objectively. Everyone has a different view of terrorism. The current wrangling over the fate of Luis Posada Carriles serves as a perfect litmus test for the government’s true intentions in this ambiguous war.

Posada, a Venezuelan-born Cuban, is currently wanted for the 1977 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. He faced trial in Venezuela, but escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 while his case was on appeal. Currently, he is believed to be in the United States seeking asylum. According to his lawyer, the paperwork has already been processed.

Did I mention that Posada used to be on the payroll of the CIA? He also was convicted in a separate murder attempt on Fidel Castro but was pardoned last year.

Despite all this, the U.S. is debating whether to extradite him to Cuba, where he may not get a fair trial, or Venezuela, a country run by Hugo Chavez, a Castro supporter. The U.S. has been enemies with Cuba since the Cold War, and because Posada was a member of the CIA the U.S. is hesitant to send him back there.

Venezuela is a populist republic, which is perhaps slightly more agreeable to the U.S. government. Although the crime occurred in Cuba, his trial was in Venezuela. Despite that government’s strong alliance with Cuba, the U.S. is more likely to send Posada back to Venezuela. Keeping Posada here would mean that he wouldn’t be prosecuted for the crimes. It’s almost like being in the Witness Protection Program.

The case asks the simple question: will the U.S. overlook other areas of its agenda to fight against terrorism?

Technically, Posada’s crime fits the description given for a terrorist act. The only way we could prove that we are serious about the war on terrorism is if we ensure that Posada is tried for his actions. If we ignore the crime and grant Posada asylum here, we would show that we have our own agenda toward fighting terrorism – one that only benefits us.

The United States should extradite Posada to Venezuela, if not just to save face. We are completely alienating countries that don’t fit the Western political stereotype while assisting the countries that will further our own selfish agenda.

Posada’s situation also asks for a more rigid definition of terrorism. Do we still consider Castro a terrorist? If so, would his murder be accepted as a victory in the war on terrorism? Our government’s behavior certainly makes it look like would we favor a violent coup against Castro rather than the prosecution of his adversaries.

This case also will go a long way towards answering the question of how far our government will go to protect itself. The U.S. is hard-pressed to release a former CIA agent, hailed as our own form of vigilante terrorism. This could be the most controversial of the reasons for not deporting Posada, and the one that is frequently ignored.

This controversy could ruin our reputation (if we have one) as a democratic nation fighting an impartial war against all forms of terrorism. It isn’t a losing battle.

If we try an olive branch approach of extraditing Posada, it might look like we were honestly helping other countries in their wars on terrorism. If we don’t extradite him, even our own allies in the war could think that we wouldn’t help them if they were in the same situation.

It is time to wage a real war on terrorism as a planet, not just one country. This is the best place to start.

Britt Baca-Hochhausler can be reached at [email protected]