World

4 Cases of the U.S. Sheltering Vicious Criminals that Reveal Total Hypocrisy on Snowden

From a CIA agent to a Cuban terrorist, the U.S. shelters people who are accused of heinous crimes.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong.
Photo Credit: Laura Poitras / Praxis Films

Russia’s decision early this month to grant National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden temporary asylum in the country has led to a chorus of U.S. officials and media personalities denouncing Vladimir Putin.

Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” said Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on August 2. “Putin is acting like a schoolyard bully.” David Satter of the conservative publication National Review used the occasion towrite thatRussia, unlike the U.S., has no rule of law.”

But the cries for Russia to grant the request to extradite Snowden to face certain imprisonment and potential harsh punishment has exposed U.S. hypocrisy. There have been a number of cases in recent years where countries asked the U.S. to extradite suspected criminals back to their countries. But when it comes to those who committed crimes in the service of U.S. policy, America refuses those requests.

As the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald pointed outin a recent column, the U.S. shelters a number of people who are accused of crimes more heinous than Snowden's—even if the country making the request has an extradition treaty with America, which Russia does not have.

Here are four egregious cases where the U.S. has refused extradition requests.

1. Robert Lady

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration granted the Central Intelligence Agency the authority to snatch people off the streets and whisk them to other countries for interrogation and torture. With the help of 54 countries, CIA operatives around the world implemented what was known as Bush’s “extraordinary rendition” program.

Robert Lady is one of those operatives. In 2000, Lady arrived in Milan, Italy to become the CIA’s station chief. Three years later, he oversaw an operation that would become one of the CIA’s worst debacles in recent history.

Lady and his team of operatives began working with Italian intelligence agents on the case of Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric and a former member of a banned Islamist group who had successfully sought asylum in Italy. The U.S. and Italy were gathering intelligence on him because they suspected he had ties to terrorism. But higher-ups at the CIA pressured Lady to spurn his partnership with Italian intelligence and strike out on his own, though Lady tried to convince the CIA that wasn't a good idea.

In 2003, CIA operatives led by Lady kidnapped Omar off the streets of Milan. They whisked the cleric off to Egypt where he faced harsh interrogation and torture. As Amnesty International noted, Omar said that Egyptian security forces hung him “head down, feet up, hands tied behind my back, feet also tied together, and I was exposed to electric shocks all over my body.” He was beaten on his genitals with a stick and kept in a rat- and cockroach-infested cell that reached extreme temperatures. Omar was released in April 2004 only to be re-arrested after telling friends about his ordeal, and was kept in solitary confinement. He was finally released for good in 2007.

The Italian government began an investigation into Omar's extraordinary rendition in 2004. They gathered enough evidence to request that the U.S. extradite Lady for crimes against Omar. (Lady was the only subject of an extradition request because under Italian law, only people facing more than four years of prison can be extradited.)  The U.S. refused, even after an Italian court convicted Lady and others in absentia in 2009. Lady himself has admitted committing a crime, telling an Italian newspaper, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism.”

Robert Lady disappeared from the news until he traveled to Panama last month. He was picked up by Panamanian authorities because of an Interpol arrest warrant. Italy requested Panama hold on to him, but Panama, a pro-American country, instead let Lady go back to the U.S., where he lives today.

2. Luis Posada Carriles

The U.S. has long seen Latin America as its backyard, and has carried out vicious policies aimed at stopping the region from carrying out economic policies that run counter to U.S. elite and corporate interests. And the U.S. government has long used Latin American operatives to do dirty work in the service of U.S. interests.

Luis Posada Carriles is one of those men. Carriles is a Cuban-born Venezuelan citizen and a staunch anti-communist. Trained by the CIA at the infamous School of the Americas in the 1960s, Carrileswent on to carry out spectacular acts of terrorism against Cuba.

Carriles left Cuba after taking part in the ill-fated CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, a plan by the U.S. to use Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro in 1961. In 1968, he became a high-level Venezuelan intelligence official. He left the intelligence service in 1974.

In 1976, a Cuban commercial airliner exploded, killing 73 people. Carriles, who had been on the CIA’s payroll until three months before the bombing, has been described as being “up to his eyeballs” in planning the attack, in the words of a former FBI agent. He was detained by Venezuela in the aftermath of the attack, but escaped after nine years of imprisonment. Carriles went on to assist the contras, the CIA-financed rebels fighting a brutal war against the Nicaraguan government.

The CIA-financed operative wasn’t done with his exploits against the Cuban government. In 1997, Carrilesorchestrated a bombing in Cuba that killed an Italian man. He admitted his involvement in an interview with a New York Times reporter, telling her “the Italian was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I sleep like a baby.”

But it’s his 1976 bombing of the Cuban airliner the Venezuelan government wants to try him for. Documents obtained by George Washington University’s National Security Archive leave “no doubt that Posada [Carriles] has been one of the world's most unremitting purveyors of terrorist violence,” as Peter Kornbluh, the Cuba documents director at the National Security Archive, put it.

In 2000, Carriles was arrested in Panama with explosives he hoped to use to kill Fidel Castro. While he was detained for four years, the pro-American Panamanian leader let him out in 2004. The next year, he showed up in Miami, home to the most hardline anti-Castro elements. U.S. authorities have prosecuted Carriles, but notably not on terrorism charges. In 2005, he faced trial for entering the U.S. illegally, but charges were dismissed. In 2011, he was again acquitted after going to trial on charges of lying to immigration authorities.

He currently lives in the U.S. Venezuela requested his extradition in 2005 and 2011, but the U.S. has refused to grant it.

3. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada

Up until the indigenous activist Evo Morales rode to power in Bolivia on an agenda for social justice and land redistribution, many leaders of the Latin American country had been U.S. allies. For instance, General Rene Barrientos came to power in a 1964 military coup that was backed by the U.S.

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada is another former Bolivian leader who was a close ally of the U.S. Lozada was president of Bolivia from 1993-'97, and implemented controversial privatization policies. He returned to the presidency in 2002, and served until his resignation in 2003.

During his second term as president, Sanchez de Lozada embarked on his most controversial project yet: awarding contracts to foreign companies to extract and export Bolivia’s natural gas without any congressional oversight. Massive protests broke out as a result, and Bolivian security forces cracked down harshly. In October 2003, Lozada sent security forces to crack down on a demonstration, resulting in the deaths of 67 men, women and children, most of whom were part of the country’s indigenous community. After the protests, Lozada resigned and fled to the U.S.

After Morales came to power, the Bolivian government began proceedings to demand Lozada come back to the country and be tried for crimes. The Bolivian government charged him with genocide in 2007, charges the Bolivian Supreme Court agreed with. In 2008, they requested that the U.S. extradite him.

Morales and his government got their answer in 2011. The Obama administration refused to grant the extradition request. Morales reacted by calling the U.S. a “paradise of impunity” and a “refuge for criminals.”

4. Roberto and William Isaias Dassum

In 1998, Ecuador suffered through a economic crisis. The economic implosion came after a long period of International Monetary Fund-forced measures that led Ecuador to follow the neoliberal policies backed by the U.S. In the 1980s, Ecuador needed a loan from the IMF, and in order to get the money it needed to liberalize its financial system. In practice, this meant the deregulation of Ecuador’s banks, which in turn led to the banks taking on risky practices that contributed to the economic crisis.

By 1998, several major banks, including Filabanco, lacked the proper liquidity and the government was forced to step in and bail them out. While the owners of Filabanco, two brothers named Roberto and William Isaias Dassum, said they delivered a solvent bank to the government, an official investigation found otherwise. The brothers were blamed for over $660 million in losses. The collapse of major Ecuadorian banks cost taxpayers $8 billion.

In 2003, after a criminal investigation against the brothers was opened, they fled Ecuador for Miami. They were accused of embezzling millions of dollars from their bank and bringing the assets to the U.S. They were sentenced in absentia in 2012.

A case brought by Ecuador’s government was filed against the brothers in the U.S., and it went to trial in 2013. But the judge ruled in favor of the brothers. Ecuador was asking for authority to seize $20 million from the Dassums, and the judge ruled the U.S. does not have the authority to confiscate property in the U.S.

After the ruling, Ecuador’s government pressed the U.S. to extradite the brothers to face punishment for their alleged crimes. The U.S. refused the request. 

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.