January 11, 2002

The Ghost of Terror Past

As the Bush administration tries to push through controversial State Department nominee Otto Reich, critics suggest the White House has a troubling double standard when it comes to fighting evil.

By Jake Tapper

Jan. 11, 2002 | WASHINGTON -- The pilot was understandably panicked. Nine minutes after takeoff, a nitroglycerin bomb placed by terrorists had detonated in one of the plane's lavatories.

"We have an explosion aboard, we are descending immediately!" he yelled to the control tower. "We have fire on board! We are requesting immediate landing! We have a total emergency!"

The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. A Barbados newspaper later offered witness descriptions of the plane going down, "bouncing on the water first, then flipping over as a wing dipped into the ocean and plunging deep into some 1,800 ft. of water."

All 73 passengers and crew died. Local fisherman zoomed to the site and plucked body parts from the surf. Surely no one at the time could have imagined that a U.S. State Department nominee would eventually stand accused of having tried to help the alleged mastermind of the terrorist act.

But 25 years later, the details of the explosion have come back to haunt the Bush administration, creating the present firestorm over the nomination of Cuban exile Otto Reich as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere. The plane in question wasn't American or Delta or United Airlines -- it was Cubana de Aviacion Flight 455, on its way from Bridgetown, Barbados, to Havana Oct. 6, 1976. None of the passengers was American. Some Cuban government officials perished in the plane, but most of the dead were civilians, including some North Koreans, Guyanese, and 24 Cubans -- many of whom were teenagers -- who belonged to the national fencing team.

It was the worst terrorist attack ever committed against Cuba. Some might use "terror" to describe Communist dictator Fidel Castro's oppression of the Cuban people, of course, but that doesn't fit the definition of terrorism that's prevailed since Sept. 11. The current definition would, however, apply to Dr. Orlando Bosch, a longtime Castro opponent and the alleged mastermind of the bombing of Flight 455. Now 75 years old and living freely in Miami, Bosch has reemerged to highlight a nasty irony in U.S. policy making: that while some kinds of terror provoke the United States to war, as in Afghanistan, others appear to be tacitly accepted by many American leaders, especially those trolling for votes in South Florida.

The controversy over Bosch revolves around allegations that Bush appointee Otto Reich tried to help him enter the U.S. after he was freed from a Venezuela prison for his involvement in the bombing of Flight 455. Then Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Venezuela, Reich tried to use his office, Democratic critics charge, to at the very least help obtain a visa for Bosch to enter the U.S., despite State Department objections.

To be fair, it should be noted that Democrats have opposed the Reich appointment since Bush made it last July, mostly based on Reich's role in the Iran-Contra scandal, as well as for concerns outlined by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee, who recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Reich "lacks good management skills, sound judgment, appropriate sensitivity to potential conflicts of interest, the confidence of other governments in the region, and the ability to bridge partisan divisions in the Congress." A Journal editorial accused the liberal Dodd of drumming up nonsensical charges against the conservative nominee to serve his penchant for "refighting Cold War battles." Dodd had even refused to allow Reich a hearing. But after Sept. 11, Reich's opponents had a new weapon: The U.S. campaign against terrorism, Dodd and liberal foreign policy groups now argue, should prevent the appointment of a man widely believed to have abetted a terrorist.

Now, the Bush administration appears to be playing hardball. This month, before Congress reconvenes, the White House may make Reich a "recess appointment," doing an end run around the usual Senate confirmation process. The administration disputes the charges against Reich, and accuses Dodd of denying the appointee his right to answer his critics in a confirmation hearing.

"It isn't fair to Ambassador Reich -- who is leaving the private sector once again to serve his country -- to not even receive a hearing," says State Department spokesman Frederick Jones. The accusations against the appointee can be answered in a hearing, Jones says, and the Bush administration is confident that Reich's answers will clear up any of the charges.

As is customary for administration nominees, Reich has not responded to media inquiries about the controversy, including a request from Salon. Bosch could not be reached for comment.

Certainly, Reich has many critics. Wayne Smith, perhaps the State Department's leading Cuba expert from 1958 until 1982, through Democratic and Republican administrations, says Reich did indeed try to help Bosch, and that should disqualify him from service in the State Department today. Smith says there's evidence that after Bosch was released from a Venezuelan prison -- where he'd been for 11 years while the government tried him for his alleged role in the 1976 bombing -- then-U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Reich tried to obtain a visa for Bosch to enter the U.S.

"He was clearly initiating the process of getting a visa for Orlando Bosch, and Orlando Bosch is a terrorist -- there's no question that he was responsible for downing that plane," says Smith, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. "How can you be taken seriously in terms of a position against terrorism when you're appointing people like that?"

While the evidence against Reich is intriguing, it is so far inconclusive. Declassified State Department records showed the Venezuelan ambassador was actively interested in the Bosch case, taking steps that could allow Bosch into the United States, but never, on the record, advocating for that course. (Many more cables from Reich remain classified for security reasons.) In confidential questions and answers between the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Reich obtained by Salon, the embattled nominee defended his efforts in the Bosch case as "standard operating procedure" in a high-profile legal matter that was crucial to U.S.- Venezuelan relations.

Even assuming Reich did try to aid Bosch -- they certainly shared a fierce hatred of Castro and a desire to see him overthrown -- the Cuban exile turned American diplomat had only a bit part in the series of events that led the 75-year-old terrorist to be able to enjoy his golden years with other retirees in Miami. Whatever Reich's role in Bosch's life, the more troubling and perplexing question is why he is today essentially a free man. The short answer is that he owes his freedom to President George H.W. Bush, who apparently overruled his own Justice Department to let Bosch stay in the United States under house arrest, despite a clear history of terrorist activities -- activities that seem to continue today.

Now, in his stucco Miami home, Bosch brazenly tells the press about the myriad ways he violates his parole, including by providing arms for possible terrorist acts in Cuba. It is the grandest of hypocrisies, especially since it occurs right in our own hemisphere -- the one Reich would supervise were he to become assistant secretary of state. Still, Reich was just one small cog in the wheel that allows Bosch to continue his struggle against Castro in Miami; to blame Reich alone for having a double standard on terrorism would be unfair.

On the other hand, critics say, they have to start somewhere. And what better place than the appointment, at the height of a bloody war provoked by a vicious air terror attack on innocent civilians, of a man who supported the mastermind of another air terror attack on innocent civilians -- albeit ones who happened to live in a country ruled by a U.S. enemy.

Of course, the U.S. overtly and covertly supported efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro in the 1960s, including some that might today be considered "terrorism." But since those days, the American government has tried to keep some distance between itself and violent anti-Castro extremists, occasionally prosecuting some of them, and trying to direct their ire into lawful political activism. By most accounts, Bosch has resisted such entreaties, maintaining his ties with terror even while residing in the U.S.

But the State Department flatly denies that Reich helped Bosch. Secretary of State Colin Powell himself told the Senate in October that Reich is getting a bum rap

"I went over all of his past history," Powell said. "I looked at the documentation. I looked at some of the accusations that were made against him. I note that he has never been charged with anything -- lots of speculation and rumors."

Yet at the end of December, Dodd and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., wrote to the White House and urged Bush not to make the recess appointment. "Many of our colleagues have quietly supported our efforts to prevent this nomination from moving forward," they wrote. "To appoint an individual who does not have the support of the Senate for such an important post would seriously set back progress that has been made on hemispheric issues."

Reich began his government career in Latin America, as a young U.S. Army officer serving his adopted country in the Panama Canal Zone from 1967 until 1969. During that time, his fellow Cuban exile, the Miami-based Bosch, was involved in a different type of gun-toting operation: terrorism.

According to law enforcement authorities, Bosch and Accion Cubana, the group he founded, were responsible in 1968 for more than 50 bombings in the United States, of foreign ships and freighters headed to Cuba, and businesses sending medical supplies there as well. In October 1968, Bosch was convicted of both conspiring to plant mines on foreign vessels and of standing at the Port of Miami and firing a bazooka at a Cuba-bound Polish freighter. Sentenced to 10 years at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, he was paroled four years later.

Around that time, a renewed round of terrorist activities began against Cuban targets. In testimony before the Senate's internal security subcommittee in 1976, Lt. Thomas Lyons, chief of the anti-terrorist squad in Miami-Dade County, discussed "a small number of individuals whose hatred of Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro and Communism has led them to engage in extralegal actions and to violate the laws of the country which gave them sanctuary." These individuals, Lyons said, "use Dade County as a base for international terrorism." Some of these terrorists, including Bosch, had been trained by the CIA in the 1960s to conduct anti-Castro operations.

Bosch fled the United States in 1974 after he was subpoenaed in the murder investigation of another anti-Castro militant, with whom he'd had a falling out. He hopped around Latin America, working with other anti-Castro terrorist groups and allegedly committing dozens of terrorist acts against Cuban targets, though he was never formally charged with any crime in those years.

Hours after the explosion of Flight 455 in October 1976, authorities arrested Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo, two Venezuelan men who had boarded the plane in Trinidad and checked their baggage to Cuba, but had exited the plane at a stop in Barbados and flown back to Trinidad. Lugo and Ricardo confessed, and their testimony, along with other evidence, implicated Bosch and another man, Luis Posada Carilles. Evidence supposedly implicated Bosch as the mastermind of the attacks.

At the end of October, legal representatives from Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, met in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to discuss where the anti-Castro terrorists should be tried. The United States on Oct. 15 had asked the authorities in Venezuela, where Bosch was known to have relocated, to put him on a plane to the United States for violating the terms of his 1974 parole. The U.S. was notably not invited to the conference. Castro announced that Cuba was withdrawing from its one agreement with the United States, a February 1973 accord in which Cuba agreed to stop harboring hijackers in exchange for a U.S. promise to keep anti-Castro militants in the United States in check. The United States hadn't kept up its end of the bargain, the dictator charged.

Bosch was arrested by Venezuelan authorities in November 1976 in his suite at the Hotel Anauco Hilton in Caracas, Venezuela. He, Carrilles, Ricardo and Lugo were indicted for "qualified homicide and manufacture and use of war weapons." Anti-Castro terrorists began bombing Venezuelan establishments.

Though Bosch applauded the plane's bombing, he denied any involvement in the matter. "You have to fight violence with violence," Bosch told U.S. government officials. "At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people." He was detained in prison while his case was tried and appeals were filed.

In September 1980, a Venezuelan military judge acquitted all four men. But the decision wasn't ratified by a higher court, so the case was sent to a Venezuelan civilian court for retrial.

Freeing Bosch became a cause clbre in some corners of the Cuban-American community. The city of Miami declared March 25, 1983, "Orlando Bosch Day." In February 1984, an appeals court ordered that new charges be brought against Bosch.

Enter Ambassador Reich.

Reich had been a player in the Reagan administration's controversial anticommunist Central American policies, most notably as the director of the State Department's office of public diplomacy. Just a few weeks after Reich began his work as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela in June 1986, Venezuelan judge Alberto Perez Marcano of the 11th Penal Court acquitted Bosch in the bombing of Flight 455, while convicting Lugo and Ricardo and sentencing them to 20 years in prison. (Carilles escaped from prison in 1985.) A different judge then ordered the case reviewed by a higher court.

"We have bounced from one judge to another, from one court to another, from one jurisdiction to another. I've lost my sense of direction with all these legal decisions," Bosch told reporters. He denied involvement, though he said the terrorist bombing was justified since Flight 455 "was a war plane, because Cuban airlines are not tourist lines. In that plane there were 27 members of the Cuban DGI" -- the Cuban intelligence agency -- "and seven North Korean diplomats."

Reich sent a diplomatic cable back to the U.S. State Department informing it of the developments in the case. "Judge Alberto Perez Marcano has reportedly absolved Orlando Bosch for the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviacion Airliner off the coast of Barbados," he wired the secretary of state. "Bosch's whereabouts remain unclear." Reich then noted of Bosch, "if released and free to travel, could conceivably ... request a visa." He continued:

"Local media would undoubtedly seek mission statement on Bosch's eligibility to travel to the U.S. Post would very much appreciate public affairs guidance from the Department [of State], in coordination with [Department of] Justice, in order to prepare for inquiries by Bosch or host country media. We understand that there are a number of outstanding warrants for Bosch's arrest in the US. We would appreciate an update of his legal status. Reich."

Bosch remained in prison while the final review process was conducted. Reich continued to update the secretary of state on the case. Someone "pulled me aside during a cocktail party honoring the Venezuelan Navy on July 24 and told me that if the court of [appeals] supported the lower court decision to free Orlando Bosch 'This guy has to be taken out of the country in five seconds,'" Reich cabled to the secretary of state. "Fidel Castro would have him assassinated." Later that year, Reich alerted the State Department that he had been told "that a hit team consisting of two men and one woman had arrived in Venezuela from Cuba to assassinate Orlando Bosch."

But while the declassified cables that have been released show Reich's clear interest in the case, they don't seem to reveal any obvious advocacy to get Bosch into the United States. In one cable he reports that he told a Venezuelan government official that the Americans considered the Bosch issue "an internal matter affecting Venezuelan justice and it is not an issue between the two countries." Reich also writes that a man told him that "friends" of Bosch "were making plans to spirit Bosch out of Venezuela." Reich wrote that he responded that "I believe Bosch is wanted in the U.S. for parole violation (sic)." The man said that Bosch could maybe be taken to a third country.

In September 1987, Reich cabled that local newspapers had reported on a letter "ostensibly sent by Orlando Bosch to the sponsors of the Fifth Conference of Cuban Intellectual Dissidents" in which Bosch "thanks his 'compatriot Otto Reich' for his efforts which have the same goals as the Congress. FYI: Amb. Reich and US Embassy have had no contact with Bosch." Reich notes that even though this letter supposedly from Bosch thanked the Conference "for honoring him with an invitation to serve as president of the meeting," before the conference, Reich said, he had been informed that its sponsors wanted nothing to do with Bosch. "From our perspective, looks like a case of Cuban-Soviet disinformation."

To Reich's defenders, the September 1987 cable speaks for itself. To his detractors, it's a matter of Reich covering his ass, trying to obscure evidence of his relationship with his grateful terrorist "compatriot."

After the Venezuelan government declined to appeal the Bosch case any further, in November 1987 Bosch was freed. "Bosch was released under very strange circumstances," says former State Department executive Smith, who says that word in diplomatic circles was that an anti-Castro Cuban-American organization had bribed Venezuelan authorities to obtain Bosch's freedom.

Regardless, there he was. What to do with him? The Venezuelan government wants "to be rid of Bosch as soon as possible," Reich cabled. "There is the possibility that he could be deported from whence he came: the U.S." He asked for "the Department's opinion as to Bosch's eligibility for a visa, should he request one." The media, he said, was reporting that Bosch's family in Miami anticipated that he would soon return to them. In December 1987, Reich cabled Bosch's birth and immigration information to the State Department, presumably so officials could prepare a visa for him.

This is what Dodd characterizes as Reich having "queried Washington on several occasions concerning the eligibility" of Bosch "to enter the U.S. He also forwarded the information in connection with Bosch's immigrant visa application, an essential requirement to his legal reentry and permanent residence in the U.S."

Smith, who left the State Department in 1982 because of disagreement with the Reagan administration's policies in Central America, says that the nonclassified cables are no smoking gun, though they certainly indicate that Reich was proactively trying to obtain a visa for Bosch. "It's just a routine cable to initiate action on a visa," Smith says. But he wonders why Reich was trying to obtain a visa for a terrorist whom the State Department didn't want to let into the U.S.

In the confidential questions and answers between Reich and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Reich said his inquiries on behalf of Bosch were routine. Embassies, he said, are required "to refer all visa applications that could involve ineligibility on the grounds of terrorist activity to the Department for an advisory opinion."

The committee's questions probed further, trying to explore Reich's psyche much in the same way supporters of a Palestinian state are frequently queried about terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. "Do you consider Orlando Bosch to be a terrorist? Do you believe that individuals who hijack commercial flights, including Cuban commercial flights, are terrorists?"

In response, Reich engages in some questionable parsing. "According to Department of State cable traffic," Reich writes, "there is reason to believe that Mr. Bosch has been personally involved in terrorist acts." This is not really an answer, though, because pro-Bosch activists regularly argue that State Department records have been tampered with by pro-Castro elements. "I do not have sufficient knowledge of Mr. Bosch's criminal activities or record of convictions to pass judgment on his legal status," Reich goes on. "I do consider that persons who blow up a civilian aircraft are committing an act of terrorism."

It's evasive language that the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which passionately defends Reich, would assuredly not find acceptable if used to describe al-Qaida.

On Feb. 16, 1988, without a visa, Bosch returned to Miami where he was arrested for parole violations and for entering the country illegally. This is where Reich's role in the Bosch affair ends. But it is the beginning of far more egregious behavior by the U.S. government, which clearly went soft on terrorism when it came to Bosch. Indeed, Reich's actions -- even were you to believe the worst -- are nothing compared to the shameless terrorist-coddling by much more powerful politicians in the Bosch case.

The U.S. government began by taking a strong stand against Bosch, one that reassuringly echoes the rhetoric of the current war on terrorism. He was imprisoned for three months for his parole violations, then detained even further because he was in the country illegally. After a few months of studying the matter, the Justice Department -- led by Acting Associate Attorney General Joe D. Whitley -- moved to deport Bosch during the first months of the administration of President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Reich might want to read Whitley's deportation order if he seriously questions Bosch's terrorist bona fides.

"Orlando Bosch has for more than 30 years been resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence," Whitley said. "Appeasement of those who would use force will only breed more terrorists. We must look on terrorism as a universal evil, even if it is directed toward those with whom we have no political empathy."

What mattered to Whitley was not the three acquittals Bosch had obtained during his jurisprudential decade in Venezuela; he cited an FBI report that asserted that Bosch "has repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death."

But hard-liners in the increasingly powerful Cuban-American community -- and Republicans pandering to them -- disagreed. Then-Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., called for Bosch's release. "I think Fidel Castro's agents are really responsible for loading up the Bosch file with information," charged then-state Sen. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the GOP candidate for a congressional seat in a special election who made Bosch's freedom one of her signature issues. Her campaign manager was a young real estate developer named Jeb Bush.

Protesters took the street. There was a general strike, marches and rallies. Taped messages of Bosch came from his prison cell. "I have directed and participated -- inside Cuba and out -- in numerous heroic actions against Castroism, in desperate efforts to contribute to the freedom of my country," Bosch said. "We Cubans have always denounced violence. But we have a right to belligerence. We knew we did not kill the beast, but neither did we let it sleep in peace."

Bosch's son William announced that he was going on a hunger strike until he obtained a meeting with Jeb Bush. The future Florida governor met with him; 20 other anti-Castro activists took his place in the hunger strike, this time until Bosch was freed.

"The Republican Party will not abandon Orlando Bosch," David Craig, vice chairman of the Dade Republican Party, told reporters in August 1989. "On the one hand, the United States government supported violence against Castro, things like the Bay of Pigs invasion. Now on the other hand, it says Bosch is a terrorist. It's not right."

U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh disagreed, calling Bosch an "unreformed terrorist." But the politics that were gumming up the Justice Department moves were severely compounded by the international reality that there was nowhere to deport Bosch -- 31 countries told the U.S. that they didn't want him and would not admit him. The one exception was Cuba, which wanted to try Bosch for the 1976 plane explosion.

President George H.W. Bush came to Miami in August 1989 to campaign for Ros-Lehtinen, but he publicly avoided the topic of Bosch, who was facing a federal hearing on his deportation the following month. Still, encouraging signals were sent to the community. Ros-Lehtinen told reporters that Bush was "well abreast" of the topic.

"The president himself brought it up on Air Force One. He's going to be interested in seeing what the decision is going to be." But since the case at the time was before a judge, she said, "it's not really a presidential matter. If and when that time comes, certainly we're going to call on the president to try to help out."

After the judge ruled against Bosch, that call was made. Mack, Ros-Lehtinen and Jeb Bush, who was planning a 1994 run for governor, lobbied the president. And under great political pressure, on July 17, 1990, the Justice Department allowed Bosch to return to his Miami home under house arrest. The decision, a Justice Department spokesman said, was made for "humanitarian reasons."

Bosch agreed to have his whereabouts monitored and his phone tapped, as well as to other conditions placed on his release. He refused to keep a visitors log, which the government required him to do. He called his agreement with the Justice Department "a farce." Though the agreement stipulated that Bosch would refrain from associating with other anti-Castro militants, Bosch said that outside his home he would associate with whomever he desired.

"They purchased the chain but they don't have the monkey," Bosch gloated to reporters.

"Everybody is happy in this community about his release," Thomas Garcia Fuste, news director of the Spanish-language station La Cubanisima, told reporters.

Not everyone felt the same way, of course. "The release from jail of Orlando Bosch, convicted of terrorist violence and officially deemed a most undesirable alien, is a startling example of political justice," wrote the New York Times editorial page. "The Justice Department, under no legal compulsion but conspicuous political pressure, has let him out, winning cheers from local politicians - and squandering American credibility on issues of terrorism ... In the name of fighting terrorism, the United States sent the Air Force to bomb Libya and the Army to invade Panama. Yet now the Bush administration coddles one of the hemisphere's most notorious terrorists. And for what reason? The only one evident is currying favor in South Florida."

Liberal commentators have subsequently characterized the restricted parole of Bosch as a presidential pardon, which is not the case. The move was undoubtedly, however, a complete reversal of Joe Whitley's strong anti-terrorism stance.

Reached at his private law practice in Atlanta, Whitley, who was appointed a U.S. attorney by the former President Bush in 1990, says he stands by the words in his 1989 deportation order. "I felt like I was carrying out my job and my duties and doing what I needed to do," he says. About subsequent decisions, Whitley would only say that "other people might make another call, and that's just the way it is. I can't speak to other people's decisions."

Shortly after being granted his restricted parole, Bosch took issue with the terrorist label in an interview with the New York Times. "Today some American officials call me a terrorist for what I did to try to liberate my country," he said. "But who are they to judge me? Perhaps I made mistakes. But your country, too, is partly responsible for what happened to Cuba and to our struggle to free it."

In 1992, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya for refusing to hand over the two men accused of the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am flight that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Soon afterwards, Cuba requested a meeting of the Security Council to demand the extradition of Bosch and Carilles. There Cuban Ambassador Ricardo Alarcon accused the U.S. of "moral duplicity"; U.S. Ambassador Edward Perkins denied that the U.S. had anything to do with the explosion of the plane and accused Cuba of wasting the council's time.

But Alarcon said that Bosch and Carilles were being provided with shelter in the United States. He submitted a draft resolution demanding that the United States cooperate with an international investigation into the bombing, which was immediately shelved without a vote; not one of the member countries supported the resolution.

In October 1993, right around the time that Lugo and Ricardo were released from their Venezuelan jail, Bosch announced that he was forming a new organization, Protagonist Party of the People, in order to raise cash to purchase weapons for Castro's Cuba-based opponents. It was a direct violation of the terms of his parole. In 1997, Bosch said that he had raised more than $150,000 for the cause.

He continued to deny involvement in the downing of Flight 455. "It was some other patriot," Bosch told the Palm Beach Post. "It was a legitimate act of war." All 73 people on the flight, including the crew and the teenage fencers, deserved to die, he said. "They were all Communists."

In a December 2001 speech in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion -- where 25 years before, mourners of Flight 455 had gathered -- Castro expressed condolences to the U.S. for the Sept. 11 attacks. "History is capricious and moves through strange labyrinths," he said. "Twenty-five years ago in this very plaza we bid farewell to a small number of coffins. They contained tiny fragments of human remains and personal belongings of some of the 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese -- most of them students on scholarships in Cuba -- and five North Korean cultural officials who were the victims of a brutal and inconceivable act of terrorism." Castro then listed a number of other terrorist attacks against Cuba, ones the U.S. has done little to stop, he claimed.

"On a day like today," Castro asked, "we have the right to ask what will be done about Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, the perpetrators of that monstrous terrorist act."

The tyrannical Castro is, of course, hardly a credible accuser. But he is one voice in a chorus that includes the FBI and a former Republican U.S. attorney general in calling Bosch a terrorist. Clearly Reich's role, if any, in the Bosch affair should be further probed, and a Senate hearing would be an appropriate forum for that.

In that sense, it would almost be a shame for President Bush to use the presidential prerogative to make the one-year recess appointment during these waning days of congressional vacation, as he is reportedly considering doing for both Reich and Eugene Scalia, the son of the Supreme Court justice who is a controversial candidate for Labor Department solicitor general. "We can't wait any longer on either one of them," one anonymous Bush official told the Washington Times on Wednesday. "Scalia and Reich remain under serious consideration" for recess appointments, said another anonymous official.

But the Bosch affair is bigger than Reich, bigger than even the loco politics of South Florida. It touches on not only the United States' historic support of certain terrorists as long as they were enemies of communism -- like the Contras -- but our current willingness to forgive and forget with these terrorists and these terrorists alone. Reich may embody that hypocrisy, but he's a relatively minor player on the U.S. duplicity team.

In Miami last year, the U.S. government prosecuted five admitted Cuban spies. Their defense lawyers argued that Cuba actually needs to spy on anti-Castro militants in the U.S. since the U.S. government is unwilling to do anything about their activities -- Bosch most notoriously. Defense lawyers claimed that Bosch in 1997 told a Cuban intelligence source that he had sent explosives to Cuba for use in anti-Castro activities, though he wasn't sure if they had been used. Cuban intelligence blamed Bosch for a dozen hotel and other tourism-related bombings in Havana that occurred that year -- one of which killed a tourist from Canada, Fabio Di Celmo, 32 -- which Bosch didn't completely deny, telling the Miami Herald that "we had nothing to do with those attempts. Besides, even if we had, we would deny it because it's illegal to [direct bombings] from this country."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Jake Tapper is Salon's Washington correspondent and the author of "Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency."