It was “the first time the case of Luis Posada has been heard before Congress,” said Jose Pertierra, the Washington lawyer representing Venezuela in its request for Posada’s extradition. He was referring to the hearing Nov. 15 called by Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), chair of a House foreign affairs subcommittee.

Reached by telephone in Caracas, Venezuela, Pertierra claimed the inquiry, carried out under a congressional mandate to review the functioning of the executive branch, “put a magnifying glass on the conduct” of the Bush administration. “Rather than prosecuting [Posada],” he declared, “the government has protected him.”

Posada, a Cuban exile, organized the bombing of Havana hotels in 1997 and plotted to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000. Arriving in Florida in March 2005, he was held on immigration charges from March 17 until May 8, 2007, when a federal judge, canceling his trial, freed him. He now walks the streets of Miami as a free man.

Together with fellow exile Orlando Bosch, Posada engineered the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. Opening the hearing, Delahunt designated that crime, which caused the deaths of 73 people, as “the worst single act of international terrorism in this hemisphere prior to 9/11.”

Although Posada was arrested and faced trial in Venezuela for the crime, he escaped from jail there in 1985 with CIA help.

The hearing elicited comprehensive, compelling testimony as to Posada’s criminality and U.S. complicity.

Roseanne Persaud Nenninger set the stage. “I am here today,” she said, “to put a human face to the untimely end to my brother’s life,” killed in the 1976 airliner bombing while en route to Cuba to study medicine. “My father borrowed 80 chairs from the church to accommodate all the guests at Raymond’s farewell party … the same chairs used for his wake and memorial service.”

Citing President Bush’s promise “to bringing to justice those who are involved in acts of terrorism,” Nenninger suggested that “in [Posada’s] case, there seems to be some sort of exception.”

Reviewing declassified U.S. intelligence documents, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives demonstrated Posada’s prior knowledge of bombing plans, possession of a list of Cuban sites targeted for attacks, and his employment of two Venezuelans convicted of placing bombs on the plane.

Documents revealed that one of his employees called Posada immediately after the bombing and that U.S. intelligence sources identified Posada and Bosch as authors of the attack.

Ann Louise Bardach summarized information gathered from interviews with Posada she used in five New York Times articles appearing in 1998. Posada told her that Cuban exile groups in Florida and New Jersey had supplied money for him to arrange bombings of Havana hotels the year before.

Bardach reminded the committee that in 2003 the Miami FBI office closed its investigation of Posada, destroying relevant files and potential evidence in the process. Posada at the time was in jail in Panama for his part in plotting to kill Castro.

Freelance journalist Blake Fleetwood told about a long interview with Posada and Orlando Bosch recorded in 1977 inside their Venezuelan prison. Fleetwood said Posada told him: “I was on a CIA draw of $300 plus all expenses. The CIA helped me set up my detective agency from which we planned actions.” Posada boasted about murdering Cuban diplomats, bombing embassies and airline offices, and destroying the Cuban airliner, Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood reported that on learning of the interview, the CIA in Caracas set the Venezuelan secret police after him, necessitating a quick, surreptitious exit from the country. In September 2005, he offered prosecutors “this information, notes and tapes,” plus testimony — without a response.

Delahunt’s subcommittee heard from Posada’s lawyer Arturo Hernandez, who declared that Posada’s “singular mission [was] to combat Castro’s violent revolutionary communism … wherever it has reared its ugly head” and “to avoid the Sovietization of Latin America.”

In his opening statement, Delahunt insisted, “America cannot have two rules for terrorists. There are no good terrorists or bad terrorists. There are only terrorists.” That Delahunt’s interest in Posada is not new is apparent from his pressure on the Justice Department shortly after Posada’s unacknowledged arrival in Florida to investigate “media reports of his presence.”

Delahunt anticipates more hearings on administration tolerance of terrorism, although no dates are set, according to Mark Forest, his chief of staff. Testimony is expected from the two men who placed the bombs on board the doomed Cuban airliner.