Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Real Story of the Cuban 5
What Lies Across the Water
I am a late-comer to the case of the Cuban Five. I stumbled on the story a few years ago while researching a novel—a love story—set partly in Cuba.
During a trip to Havana in the spring of 2009, I struck up a friendship with a guide who was showing me the city I wouldn’t see as a tourist. Partly to make conversation and partly because I was curious, I asked him what he thought of the prospects for improved relations between Havana and Washington now that Barak Obama was in the White House.
He didn’t hesitate. “Forget Obama,” he said. “Nothing will change until the case of the Five is resolved.”
The Cuban Five? I’d barely heard of them.
So he gave me a history lesson—about how a group of Cuban intelligence agents had uncovered a plot to be blow up an airplane; about how author Gabriel Garcia Marquez had carried a secret message from Fidel Castro to Bill Clinton with details of the plot; about how a delegation from the FBI had gone to Havana to meet with their counterparts in Cuban State Security to discuss it; and how, less than three months later, the FBI had arrested not the Miami-based terrorists who were planning to blow up the plane but the Cuban intelligence agents who were trying to stop them.
You can look it up, he said.
I did. I found a Fidel Castro speech on the Internet that outlined the Cuban version of events. Castro even read into the record the entire 4,000-word text of a previously secret report Garcia Marquez had written to Castro following his meeting with White House officials in Washington.
I was hooked. I put the novel on hold and began researching the nonfiction story of the Cuban Five.
I came at it as a “story” rather than a “cause,” and I think that’s important. Too often there is a sense of rote in our rhetoric about the Five. They are the “five heroes” who were “unjustly accused,” “unfairly tried and convicted” and then “punitively punished” simply for being “anti-terrorist fighters.”
It’s all true, of course, but it doesn’t help convince those who aren’t already convinced. Many Americans, I don’t have to tell you, are prepared to believe the worst about Cuba, and especially about Cuban government agents.
My goal was to tell the story—and it is a fascinating story—as a nonfiction narrative.
It begins in 1990 when a civilian Cuban pilot named René González “stole” a plane in Havana and flew it to Key West where he “defected.” González, in fact, was the first of the five Cuban intelligence agents sent to set up shop in Florida.
He arrived soon after a debate about the fate of Orlando Bosch had raged in the Miami media. Bosch—a well known anti-Cuban terrorist considered one of the masterminds behind a 1976 explosion aboard a Cubana Airlines plane that killed 73 people—had applied for residency in the U.S.. The justice department (though not necessarily the White House) opposed his application; Miami’s exile community supported Bosch. Guess who won?
I wanted to incorporate into the unfolding narrative details about what the various Miami exile groups were actually plotting (a lot), what the U.S. government was doing to stop them (precious little) and what the Cuban intelligence agents were learning about what the exiles were really up to (plenty).
As part of my research, I read the 20,000-plus pages of transcript from the trial of the Five, examined the binders-full of even more thousands of pages of decoded documents and correspondence between the Cuban agents and their bosses back in Havana.
I began a still-ongoing, still un-won battle with the FBI for documents relating to what I believe is a critically important meeting between the FBI and Cuban State Security in Havana in June 1998. After two years of appeals, I have only finally gotten the FBI to admit there are documents. But I’m still waiting to see them.
I also, of course, interviewed key figures in Havana, Miami and Washington—none of them more intriguing than Percy Alvarado.
Though not one of the Five, Alvarado too was a Cuban intelligence agent who operated in Miami around the same time as the Five. He claims he infiltrated the powerful Cuban American National Foundation. Key members of the Foundation recruited him to plant bombs in Cuba, he says. And Luis Posada himself—an acknowledged anti-Castro terrorist—trained him how to assemble the bombs he was supposed to sneak into Cuba.
Now let’s be clear. Everyone in this business lies. It is the nature of the clandestine world, and you should never take it on faith that anyone—American or Cuban—is telling the whole truth. That said, I was struck by the fact that what Alvarado publicly alleged in 1999 was later corroborated—inadvertently—by a senior official of CANF who just happened to be suing his former comrades in arms.
I also interviewed, by mail and email, members of the Five. I found them to be impressive, courageous figures.
I want to talk today about some of what I learned in that process. It wasn’t always what I expected. Or what I’d been told to expect.
The versions I’d read from some Cuban Five supporters, for instance, made it appear as if the FBI had learned the identities of the Five because of the information Cuban State Security turned over to them at those meetings in June 1998.
That’s not true. The FBI had been following the Cubans since at least 1996.
Which raises an intriguing question. Why did the FBI arrest them when they did?
I’ll come back to that.
The Cubans have also been at pains to argue that their agents were only in Florida to monitor the activities of exile terrorists groups.
Again, not entirely true.
One of the agents, Antonio Guerrero had an almost exclusively military mission. That inconvenient truth—rarely acknowledged by Cuban authorities—has provided anti-Castro mainstream journalists and commentators the opportunity to make it appear as if the Cubans’ primary mission was to “infiltrate” American military bases or steal U.S. secrets.
It wasn’t. The military aspect of their duties was minor—and there is an important context to it. Guerrero’s primary function was to serve as the canary in the coal mine, an early warning system of a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba.
The U.S. has satellites to keep an eye on its enemies—a variation on spying we accept as legitimate. The Cubans can’t afford satellites. They have human observers instead. Like Tony Guerrero.
His job was to pay attention to the comings and goings of military aircraft at the Boca Chica Naval Station. Was there a sudden build up of planes on the runways? What kinds? An unusual number of brass-hat visitors to the base?
The Cubans had legitimate reasons to fear an invasion—and not just because that’s what the influential Miami exile leadership prayed for each night. The Cubans knew what had already happened in Haiti, in Panama.
What did the Cuban agents actually do in Florida?
Most of the time they kept a close watch on exile groups they believed were plotting attacks on their homeland. They knew that those militant exile groups were rarely arrested, even more rarely tried and almost never convicted.
To keep the exiles from succeeding, the agents had to be inventive.
Consider just one example from July of 1998, two months before they were arrested.
Gerardo Hernandez, the controller of the Miami agents, received an urgent coded message from Havana that there was a vaguely identified “boat bomb” filled with weapons and explosives docked in the Miami River. The vessel was destined to be used as a weapon against Cuba.
Hernandez and his team of agents soon tracked down the vessel at a marina near a populated area.
What to do about it?
They certainly didn’t want to allow the vessel to sail, of course, but Hernandez realized the options Havana had suggested—blowing up the vessel, or sinking it—were all too risky, and might endanger innocent civilians.
Instead, Hernandez messaged his bosses, cleverly suggesting someone call the FBI anonymously and tip them off about the boat’s cargo.
A week later, a story appeared in the Miami Herald. The headline: ANTI TERRORISM RAID COMES UP EMPTY. The story detailed how members of Miami’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, acting on an anonymous tip, had raided vessels in a Miami River marina. They were looking for explosives and guns destined for a “third country.” But the raid was a “bust,” according to an FBI spokesman. They didn’t find anything.
How hard were they looking? The FBI agent in charge was a guy named George Kisynzki. Two weeks earlier, in the pages of the New York Times, Luis Posada himself had described the agent as a “very good friend.”
What was going on? “Law enforcement veterans saw the search as an FBI hint… to cancel any conspiracies,” the Miami Herald reported. “That’s a common practice in South Florida… known as ‘admonishing’ or ‘demobilizing’ an operation.”
We later learned more about this particular incident. The boat’s owner was a man named Enrique Bassas. Bassas, a wealthy Miami businessman, had been one of the co-founders of a sixties-era terrorist umbrella group called CORU, which had been responsible for blowing up that Cuban plane in 1976. More recently, Cuban intelligence had identified Bassas as one of the financiers of a new mercenary, anti-Castro army being organized in Miami.
Perhaps most significantly, the month before the raid, Bassas had been in Guatemala City meeting with Luis Posada. They were, according to a later report, trying to figure out how to sneak weapons and explosives into the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic? That just happened to be where Fidel Castro was scheduled to speak the following month.
The Miami Herald later reported on this botched assassination plot and came up with its own—close to the money—explanation for what had gone wrong. Cuban intelligence agents, explained the Herald, “presumed by most law enforcement and exile experts to have penetrated many exile organizations, tipped the FBI to protect Castro’s life during the visit to the Dominican Republic.”
There are a lot of episodes like that in the trial records. It’s also clear from those records the Cuban agents weren’t interested in using violence to achieve their objective of preventing exile attacks on their homeland.
Which is more than can be said for the exiles.
But what then are we to make of the most damaging charge—conspiracy to commit murder—against Gerardo Hernandez?
That charge relates to the February 1996 shootdown of two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in the Straits of Florida that killed four civilians.
There’s no doubt that charge—filed seven months after the arrests—affected the cases of all five defendants and unduly influenced the harsh sentences they all received. Including, of course, Hernandez himself, who is currently serving two life sentences plus 15 years in prison for his supposed role in the shootdown.
And the allegation continues to resonate today. Whenever the question of pardoning the Five, or swapping them for the American Alan Gross is raised, the inevitable answer is that the U.S. could never consider such a deal because the Five were responsible for the deaths of four innocent men.
I spent a lot of time focusing on that allegation. I read the transcript. I studied the court documents. I read the International Civil Aviation report on the incident.
The reality is that there is not a shred of compelling evidence to suggest Gerardo Hernandez knew about the plan to shoot down the planes, or that he had any control over, or role in what happened.
Indeed the evidence paints a very different picture of what Hernandez really knew.
Cuban State Security is famed for its compartmentalization. I tell another story in the book about two agents who’d infiltrated the same exile group and the efforts Havana undertook to make sure neither man knew the other was actually working for the same side.
The back-and-forth memos between Havana and its field officers in the lead-up to the shootdown make it clear everything was on a need-to-know basis—and Gerardo Hernandez didn’t need to know what the Cuban military was considering.
There are, of course, plenty of other unresolved issues about the shootdown.
Were the Brothers’ planes in international waters as the Americans claim, or in Cuban airspace as Havana argues? The best answer to that question could come from U.S. satellite images taken by any one of more than a half-dozen satellites the American government and its agencies had tracking events that day, but Washington so far refuses to release them.
More importantly, was shooting down the planes a reasonable response to the Brothers’ provocation?
Those provocations had been going on for seven intense months prior to the shootdown. The Cubans had complained. Washington had tried—and failed—to prevent the continuing overflights. And the Cubans had sent several clear messages to Washington that it would take action if there were any more illegal incursions into their territory.
To make matters worse, the Cubans knew—thanks to their agents—that Brothers to the Rescue were test firing air-to-ground weapons they could conceivably decide to use against Cuba. They were more than a nuisance; they were a threat.
That said, I don’t believe the shootdown was the most reasonable response. There were alternatives, including forcing the planes down and putting the pilots on trial.
But my view doesn’t change the only important reality: Gerardo Hernandez was not involved in shooting down the planes and he should never have been charged.
Which leads to yet another question: should the Five themselves have ever been charged with anything?
Well, they did commit crimes. They failed to register as foreign agents, and three of them carried false identity documents. Those are minor, commonplace crimes in the world of intelligence; American agents operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Moscow and elsewhere commit them everyday.
But there is no evidence the Cuban agents stole military secrets or threatened American security. That’s why they were never charged with actual espionage—just “conspiracy to commit espionage.” A thought crime versus an actual crime.
The other point that’s worth making is that the FBI knew exactly who the Cuban agents were and what they were doing in Florida. They’d been following them for at least two years. They’d broken into their apartments, stolen their computer disks, decoded them. They knew what they did each day, even about their love lives.
Let me give you just one example of how closely the FBI followed the Cuban agents. In April 1998, one of the Five traveled to New York to meet—supposedly secretly—with an intelligence officer from the Cuban Mission there. The FBI knew about the rendezvous—at a Wendy’s on the Hempstead Turnpike—far enough in advance that they were not able to have seven video cameras and countless still cameras recording the meeting but they were also able to plant of their own 35 agents at the fast food restaurant that day. It must have been a surprisingly good day for the operators of that Wendy’s!
So let’s consider the situation from the point of view of the FBI. You have complete access to a Cuban intelligence network and, better, the Cubans don’t know you do. You know that they’re not doing anything to threaten U.S. security; in fact, much of what they’re doing—monitoring compliance with the U.S. Neutrality Act—is your job.
So why arrest them?
The moment you arrest them, you lose access to this unfolding intelligence gold mine. And, worse, you know these captured agents will simply be replaced by another group of agents—and then you’ll have to discover the new guys and start all over again.
So why arrest the Five when they did?
There are things we don’t know about that. But there are some things we do.
In May 1998, the FBI appointed a new Special Agent in Charge of its Miami Field Office. His name was Hector Pesquera, the first Hispanic to head up that very important, very political FBI field office in the heartland of Cuban America.
We know Pesquera quickly made friends with key leaders in the Miami Cuban exile community, including a convicted felon who’d been a former police officer in Batista’s pre-Castro Cuba—not to forget a number of high-profile exile leaders Cuban intelligence had identified as terrorists.
It was just a month after Pesquera arrived on the scene, of course, that the FBI delegation flew to Havana to meet with their Cuban counterparts. That’s when the Cubans gave the FBI documents fingering some of Pesquera’s new friends as terrorists.
The Cubans would later say they believed the agents who came to Havana treated the information they turned over to them seriously, and genuinely intended to follow up.
And yet, three months later, FBI swat teams swooped in and arrested the Five, ignoring the exile plotters entirely.
We know Pesquera made that decision. We know because he said so. After he’d initially been appointed, Pesquera told a Spanish language radio station following the arrests, “I was updated on everything there was. We then began to concentrate on this investigation. As far as intelligence[-gathering] is concerned, [I decided] it shouldn’t be there anymore; it should change course and become a criminal investigation.”
We know his agents on the ground objected.
We also know—because Pesquera himself bragged about it—that he lobbied all the way to the top of the FBI food chain in Washington for authorization to make the arrests. He later told the Miami Herald the case “never would have made it to court” if he hadn’t lobbied FBI Director Louis Freeh directly. “To this day there are people in my headquarters who are not completely sold.”
No kidding.
I’ve tried to interview Pesquera, who retired from the FBI in 2003—after authorizing the destruction of the FBI’s files on Luis Posada—but he continues to give me the runaround.
Late last month, however, Pesquera popped up in the news again; he’s just been appointed the chief of police in his native Puerto Rico.
The universe continues to unfold…
And the Cuban Five remain stuck in the United States, four still in prison, one in the prison of parole.

It will not be easy to right this injustice, not in a country where in the past week the manager of a Miami baseball team was forced to make a groveling apology for offering the mildest of praise for Fidel Castro, and where the owner of a Miami restaurant faced anonymous threats because her restaurant just happened to be located on the ground floor of a building whose roof featured (however briefly) a billboard calling for Freedom for the Five.
Those prejudices and fears will be difficult to overcome. But they must be. And that’s why it’s especially important to make the case based on the facts.
I hope my forthcoming book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, will contribute to that conversation.
We hear a lot these days about Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor who is currently serving 15 years in a Cuban prison for smuggling illegal communications equipment into Cuba.
His supporters, like those of the Five, are demanding his release.

While the two cases are different in many important ways, the key reality is that the Cuban government is unlikely to consider releasing Alan Gross unless the U.S. government reciprocates by releasing the Cuban Five. And the U.S. government won’t release the Five without considerable public pressure.
That’s why those who are arguing Alan Gross’ case need to know about the Cuban Five.
They need to look beyond the rhetoric, both from supporters of the Five but also—and more importantly—from an American government that disingenuously insists the Five were somehow threatening U.S. security and responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians.
I will close with a quote from Jane Franklin, a widely respected expert on Cuban-American relations. She was responding to a recent column in the Washington Post in which Alan Gross’ wife, Judith, drew heartfelt but false parallels between her husband’s situation and that of the Five.
If she were Judith Gross, Franklin wrote, “I would study the cases of the Cuban Five to find out exactly how they came to be arrested, tried in Miami, convicted, and sent to separate prisons around the United States. Having come to grips with the outrageous injustice of their imprisonment, I would then commit my life to a campaign for releasing the Cuban Five in exchange for my husband Alan Gross.”
This essay is an abridged version of a talk by Stephen Kimber about his forthcoming book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, on April 18, 2012 at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.. 
STEPHEN KIMBER, a Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster. He is the author of one novel — Reparations — and seven non-fiction books.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

An Envoi for Christopher HitchensAt the Pearly Gates
On April 20 there’s a memorial for Christopher Hitchens at the Cooper Union in Manhattan. There’s a PEN tribute, also in Manhattan, on April 30.  Here’s my own little envoi. The regular Diary, tumbrils and all, will resume next week.

Antechamber to Heaven, a large reception room in the Baroque style. A door opens and an angel ushers in Christopher Hitchens, dressed in hospital clothing. The angel gestures for CH to take a seat. He is about to do so when he espies a familiar figure reading some newspapers.

CH   Dr. Kissinger! The very last person I would have expected to encounter here. All the more so, since I don’t recall any recent reports of your demise.
HK   You will no doubt be cast down by the news that I am indeed alive. This is a secret trip, to spy out the terrain diplomatically, assess the odds.
CH   You think you have the slightest chance of entering the celestial sphere?
HK   Everything is open to negotiation.
CH   Have you threatened to bomb Heaven — secretly of course?
HK   Very funny. As a matter of fact, Woytila — Pope John Paul II, I should say — has kindly offered to intercede at the highest level. And talking of negotiation, perhaps we could have a quiet word.
CH   What about?
HK   That worthless book you wrote about me — The Trial of Henry Kissinger. John Paul says that the prosecutors here have been using it in drawing up preliminary drafts of their case against me. Now, he also says it would be extraordinarily helpful if you would sign this affidavit — my lawyers have already prepared it — saying that you unconditionally withdraw the slurs and allegations, the baseless charges of war criminality, and attest under eternal pain of perjury that these were forced on you by your Harper’s editors.
CH   Dr Kissinger! Your idea is outrageous. I stand behind every word I wrote!
HK   Hmm. Too bad. After all, you certainly have experience in, how shall we say, adjusting sworn affidavits to changing circumstance. I believe Mr. Sidney Blumenthal could comment harshly on the matter.
CH   Dr. Kissinger, let me reiterate…
HK   My dear fellow, spare me your protestations. Let us consider the matter as mature adults — both of us, if I may say, now in potentially challenging circumstances.
CH   Speak for yourself, Dr. Kissinger. I do not recognize this as Heaven’s gate, or you as a genuine physical presence. I do not believe in the afterlife and therefore regard this as some last-second hallucination engendered in my brain in my room in M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, Texas. I may be dying, but I am not dead yet. I have not dropped off the perch.
HK   Off the perch… How very English.  You will dismiss these as a mere last-second hallucination, a terminal orgy of self-flattery on your part, but (flourishes bundle of newspapers) The New York Times certainly thinks you’re dead. The Washington Post thinks you’re dead.
CH   Let me look at those… (snatches the papers from HK’s hand; skims them intently)
HK   Rather too flattering, if I may be frank. But, of course, as you say, all fantasy.
CH   They’re very concrete. Far more amiable than I would have dared to imagine…. I… I… (passes hand over brow) Is it possible to get a drink in this anteroom?
HK   Ah, after the soaring eagle of certainty, the fluttering magpie of doubt. I think we can bend the sumptuary laws a little (pulls a large flask from his pocket). Some schnapps?
CH   I would have preferred Johnnie Walker Black, but any port in a storm. (drinks)
HK   Bishop Berkeley, a philosopher, claimed, like you, that the world could be all in one’s imagination. It was your Doctor Samuel Johnson who sought to rebut Berkeley’s idealist theories by kicking a stone. And what did Dr. Johnson say when he kicked that stone?
CH   He said, “Sir, I refute it thus.”
HK   Precisely. Let the schnapps be your empirical stone. Now, if I may, let me continue with my proposition. As you know, you wrote another pamphlet, equally stuffed with lies and foul abuse, called The Missionary Position.
CH   Yes, a fine piece of work about that old slag, Mother Teresa.
HK   The “old slag”, as you ungallantly term the woman, is now part of an extremely influential faction in Heaven, including Pope John Paul II. Mother Teresa remains vexed by your portrait. She says it is in libraries and all over the Internet.  She, like me, would dearly love to see you make an unqualified retraction of your slurs.
CH   And that, of course, I will not do!
HK   You’re aware of the fate of Giordano Bruno?
CH   Certainly. One of reason’s noblest martyrs. Burned at the stake in the Campo de Fiore in Rome in 1600 for heresy. He insisted, with Copernicus, that the earth revolves around the sun and that the universe is infinite.
HK   Quite so. A noble end, but an extremely painful one. Perhaps, with Satanic assistance, I can remind you of it.
He claps his hands, and two fallen angels in black robes draw open a pair of heavy red velvet curtains at the far end of the room. HK makes a theatrical bow and motions CH forward. The latter edges near the space are now suffused with leaping flames. For a brief moment there’s a ghastly wailing, and CH leaps back into the room.
CH   Great God!
HK   You seem to have reverted to religious belief with startling speed.
CH   No, no. It was purely a façon de parler. Not a pretty sight.
HK   But in your view, a pure hallucination, nein? No need to kick the stone, like Dr. Johnson.
Before CH can answer, the fallen angels seize him and start dragging him toward the open curtains. They are about to hurl him into the pit, when…
ST. MICHAEL (suddenly appearing through the gates of Heaven)   Stop!
He hands CH and HK tickets.
These are one-day passes to Heaven. In Mr. Hitchens’ case, for purposes of interrogation by the Board of Inquiry and Final Judgment.
Exeunt St. Michael, HK and CH through ornate gilded doors to Heaven. 

Heaven. A vast Baroque gallery, in which an animated throng is enjoying itself in something closely resembling a cocktail party.
ST. MICHAEL   We’ve just remodeled. Before, we had something in the Gothic style, but the feeling was that in keeping with the times there should be more gold, more sense of extravagant illusion. And that of course brought us to the Baroque. You will no doubt detect many echoes of the Palazzo Colonna in Rome.
HK   I think I see His Holiness John Paul II, over there. With your permission, I might have a word?
ST. MICHAEL   Of course. And Mr. Hitchens, before we get to the Board of Inquiry, I’m sure there are some immortals you’d like to tip your hat to.
CH   The hat is all very well, but….
ST. MICHAEL   How forgetful of me! In general we’re an abstemious crowd here, but there’s no ban on moderate enjoyment.
A cherub swoops down, proffering a well-stocked tray.
CH   (gulping down one glass quickly and taking another)  Angel!
POPE PIUS V (joining the group)  Michael, I couldn’t help overhearing your reference to the Palazzo Colonna, built in the late seventeenth century, and of course memorable for the marvelous depictions on the ceiling of its Grand Gallery of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, our Holy League’s historic defeat of the Ottomans.
CH   Ha! The wily Turk, lurking like a cobra ’midst the fairest flowers of God’s creation, lies ever ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting traveler and bugg…
PIUS V   I don’t believe I’ve had the honor.
ST. MICHAEL   This is Mr. Hitchens, a British-American writer here on a possibly brief visit. And (to CH) this is St. Pius V, who indeed occupied the Holy See at the time of Lepanto.
CH  (theatrical bow)  The honor is mine.
PIUS V   Those were the days, when the wind was truly at our backs!  210 ships of the Ottoman armada — almost their entire fleet — sent to the bottom of the Gulf of Patras; the Counter Reformation in full spate; the Council of Trent a magnificent success; heresy confronted and extirpated by our Inquisitors.
CH   The screams of their victims no doubt inaudible amid the general brays of triumph.
PIUS V   Speaking as a former Inquisitor, let me say that by modern standards of bloodshed consequent upon religious or ideological conflicts, the number of those who perished by reason of their adamant heresy was startlingly small. Have you kept up with recent scholarship on the topic? I thought not. Out of 62,000 cases judged by the Inquisition in Italy after 1542, only 1,250 ended with death sentences. The Spanish Inquisition held an average of 350 trials a year between 1560-1700 and executed between 3,000 and 5,000 people.
CH (snatching two more glasses from the tray of a passing cherub)  I do not propose to stand silently here, your so-called Holiness, and endure from a dotard in a white petticoat filthy apologias for atrocious barbarism in the name of his so-called God.
ST. MICHAEL   Mr. Hitchens! I suggest you moderate your language immediately.
PIUS V (walking away)  Brutto insolente, ignorante, ubriacone pieno di merda!
MOTHER TERESA (approaching, with Pope John Paul II; HK lurking discreetly)  Brutto insolente, indeed! Mr. Hitchens, I understand from Dr. Kissinger that you are prepared to repudiate your libels upon me.
CH   Certainly not.
JOHN PAUL II   But why not? After all, your arguments against the Blessed Teresa were either trivial or absurd, and in all instances morally odious. To focus on the latter: by 1996, the Blessed Teresa was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries. And you, what were you doing for the poor? Would a starving person near death be more likely to get a bowl of soup or shelter from the Blessed Teresa or from Christopher Hitchens?
CH   I have never had pretensions to be in the professional charity business.
MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE   If I may intrude. Of course, as a great admirer of Mother Teresa, I was in receipt of Mr. Hitchens’ barbs, so I do speak as a biased witness. I regard it as truly extraordinary that while Mr. Hitchens was blithely ladling his sewage over our heads, he was — as a sometime US correspondent, I have followed these matters closely from here in Heaven — a fierce and influential advocate of one of the most violent onslaughts on the poor in recent historical memory: first, the sanctions on Iraq, which caused untold misery to Iraq’s poorest citizens; then the actual attack of 2003, which eventually prompted the deaths of over a million Iraqis and a crisis that still virtually paralyses that wretched nation.
CH   I would not change a syllable of what I wrote.
MM   Worse still — I speak also as someone who reported from the Soviet Union during Stalin’s rule — Mr. Hitchens displayed himself as a craven apparatchik of the Bush White House, actually going to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the night before the invasion to give a pep talk to the President’s staff about their noble mission.
Since Beatrice Webb was my wife’s aunt, I am intimately familiar with the follies of socialists. You, in your contempt for  “lesser” cultures, remind me of the German social democrat Eduard Bernstein, who argued that to oppose Rhodes’s suppression of the Matabele uprising was to oppose “the spread of civilization”, and that “the higher culture always has the greater right on its side over the lower; if necessary it has the historical right, yea, the duty, to subjugate it.”
CH   The mission to Baghdad was noble: the eviction of a filthy tyrant…
MM   …was worth the denial of medicine and medical equipment for babies, the forcing of hundreds of thousands of poor Iraqis into near starvation, the creation of millions of internal refugees plus those who managed to flee the country, the unleashing of sectarian bloodshed on an unparalleled scale? Just so that your hero, Tony Blair, and your supreme leader, Mr. Bush, could boast, “Mission Accomplished”?
CH   Since His Holiness St. Pius V, who has departed the field of disputation, was invoking the Battle of Lepanto, I’m surprised not to hear any parallels drawn between that engagement and the Crusade against Islam, of which the war in Iraq — and the terror axis of Hussein and Osama — was a significant element.
MM   You mean your precious crusade against so-called “Islamo-fascism”, the bizarre coinage of a Trotskyite, such as you once were? Lepanto at least saw the Ottoman armada, and the unfortunate slaves who rowed their galleys, sent to the bottom of the sea. Your crusade in Iraq saw the triumph of the Shi’a, and a significant victory for Iran. With Vice President Cheney you must be the last two men alive who believe in the Hussein/Osama axis.
JOHN PAUL II   The Holy See strongly opposed the war. Before it began, I sent Cardinal Pio Laghi to tell Bush it would be a disaster and would destroy human life. The war was useless, served no purpose and was a defeat for humanity. Such was my view, which was the recorded opinion of the Holy See.
MM   Surely, a more humane posture than your own hosannas to cluster bombs: “Those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. So they won’t be able to say, ‘Ah, I was bearing a Koran over my heart and, guess what, the missile stopped halfway through.’ No way, ’cause it’ll go straight through that as well. They’ll be dead, in other words.”
CH   Rather well put, if I say so myself.
MM   You are impervious to rebuke, which is not surprising, since if one rebuke is let in the door, it can usher in another, and then some serious inner reflection may become unavoidable. As Cardinal Newman put it, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
CH   Newman, that old queen!
MM   Like St. Pius, I’ll quit the field now, but let me return to something His Holiness John Paul II said. “Would a starving person near death be more likely to get a bowl of soup or shelter from the Blessed Teresa or from Christopher Hitchens?”
What has constantly struck me is the desolate sterility of your atheism. We had atheists in our generation, of course, but they lived in a world and consorted with people for whom religion had profound meaning, often inspiring them to acts of nobility and extraordinary self-sacrifice. In your book, religious people are stupid. But they weren’t stupid, and the atheists — I’m thinking of my dear friend, a man you profess to have admired, Claud Cockburn — didn’t deride them, but cheerfully swapped quotations from the Sermon on the Mount. The context was one of respect and mutual striving for a better world.
What sort of moral leadership did you, the great and ultimately rather wealthy exponent of atheism display? Extreme disloyalty to close friends, constant public drunkenness and brutish rudeness, particularly to women,  and a life, if I may say so, of almost psychotic self-centeredness and exhibitionism. You had your claque — Messrs Amis, Fenton and the others — and their energies in promoting you as a major intellectual and stylist were unceasing, and in their somewhat homoerotic loyalty, rather touching, but I don’t think the verdict of history will be quite so kind.

Antechamber to Heaven.  CH is sitting on a bench. Door opens and St. Michael bids HK a cheerful goodbye.
HK   Mr. Hitchens. You seem somewhat subdued. (proffering flask) A little schnapps?
CH   My dear fellow! (drinks deeply) You arranged your affairs successfully?
HK   Entirely so. In large part owing to you. Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, not to mention St. Pius V, were so shocked by your views and by your language that they entirely discounted the charges you leveled against me, and believe me to have been vilely traduced.
CH   I suppose I should be glad to have been of service. But let me ask a question: since you are Jewish, why would you be taking such trouble to build up contacts in what is clearly a Christian Heaven?
HK   Between ourselves, I am preparing for a final conversion and absolution. Jews are vague about heaven and, after a lifetime’s observation, I am inclined to think that the atmosphere in Gehenna would be extremely acrimonious. Your plans?
CH   Once again, I feel it necessary to insist that I do not recognize myself as being in Heaven, or disputing with a sixteenth-century pope, or indeed being reprimanded by St. Michael and Malcolm Muggeridge. Or talking affably with Henry Kissinger. So, please, regard this as ongoing cerebral activity on the part of C.H. Hitchens, patient at M.D. Anderson.
HK   As you wish. But here, (slips him the flask) just remember Dr. Johnson’s stone. Farewell, my friend.
Lights fade to a dark red.
Alexander Cockburn can be reached at