A Cuban-born ex-CIA operative unexpectedly withdrew his petition for asylum on Wednesday, saying he feared he might be forced to reveal state secrets if he continued testifying.
But Luis Posada Carriles, 77, a U.S. Army-trained explosives expert who helped carry out the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and has been accused of trying to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, will petition to remain in the United States on the basis of his U.S. military service, his lawyer said.
Posada says he would be imprisoned and tortured if returned to his Communist homeland or to Venezuela, where he faces charges of helping in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.
He has denied any part of a plot against Castro and the other charges of arranging bombings.
The asylum hearing in an El Paso court is not a criminal matter, but the case has placed President George W. Bush’s administration in a difficult position as it tries to balance its support among the powerful anti-Castro Cuban-American community with its global campaign against terrorism.
Left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his ally Castro say Posada is a terrorist and accuse Washington of protecting the Cuban exile because of his past with U.S. intelligence agencies.
Judge William Abbott on Wednesday said Posada has made a preliminary showing of a danger of mistreatment in Venezuela during the hearing.
“It appears to my satisfaction that he has a real fear and a clear possibility of torture (in Venezuela),” Abbott said.
The government will have a chance at a September 26 hearing to challenge the assertion that Posada would be in danger in Venezuela, but it has not decided whether to do so. If not, the government would be able to detain Posada for 90 days as it searched for another country to send him to.
Posada, a self-described anti-Castro “freedom fighter,” is a naturalized citizen of Venezuela, and has been involved in U.S. covert operations such as the Iran-Contra affair, according to recently declassified government documents.
His lawyer said that he had decided for the good of U.S. security to stop testifying and end his request for asylum.
“He may step into sensitive areas that could harm the security of the U.S. government or other countries,” attorney Matthew Archambeault told the judge.
After the hearing, Archambeault said Posada “knows a lot and could provide a lot of information … but that has never been his intention — to use his knowledge as a bargaining chip.”
Posada will apply for U.S. citizenship under a law covering aliens who have served honorably in the U.S. military — as Posada did for one year in the early 1960s.
U.S. government attorneys were planning to continue questioning Posada about a 1997 series of nightclub bombings in Havana.
Posada was arrested in May in Miami and moved to El Paso for detention after he illegally entered the United States on the Texas-Mexico border. His attorneys have not contested that Posada entered the United States illegally.
Venezuela’s demand for his extradition from the United States has strained already tense relations between the world’s No. 5 oil exporter and its biggest energy client.
The country has dismissed suggestions Posada could be tortured or handed over to Cuba and promises a far trial.