Since 2001 the US government has consistently compromised the Cuban Five's right to a fair trial
by Faiza Rady
Oct. 1, 2010
Reprinted from Al-Ahram (Egypt)
This September, the Cuban Five mark the 13th year of their incarceration in United States high security jails. The Five are Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzàlez, Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzàles and Antonio Guerrero. Arrested in Miami on 12 September 1998, the Five were charged with and convicted of "conspiracy to commit espionage" and "posing a threat to US national security" in a legally controversial and highly politicised trial in 2001. Their sentences ranged from 15 years, to a double life sentence.
At home, the Five are considered heroes because their job was to help save Cuban lives. In the early 1990s, the Cuban government sent them to Miami to gather information about planned mercenary assaults by Cuban-American rightwing groups against the island. Since the 1959 Revolution, 3,478 people have been killed and 2,099 injured in terrorist attacks in Cuba. In 1997 alone, Cuban-American terrorists placed bombs in no less than 10 Havana hotels and restaurants, in addition to placing a bomb in one of Havana's airports.
During their mission, the Five traced 64 known terrorists residing in the Miami area and provided four hours of film documenting the activities of illegal paramilitary training camps in Florida. "The Cuban government then approached the FBI and gave them names, addresses, videos and documents," says Leonard Weinglass, the distinguished US attorney handling appeals for the Five. "The FBI took the information, said they would get back to them but never did." This was because the FBI is in fact well informed of the activities of the Cuban- American rightwing. Rather than act on the information and arrest their own indigenous terrorists, the Clinton administration turned around and arrested the Five on charges of "conspiracy to commit espionage".
Not one of the thousands of pages seized by the FBI from the Five's dossier on Cuban-American terrorism contains classified government information. What's more, three retired US army generals and a retired US admiral all agreed that the prosecution had failed to produce tangible evidence of espionage. Therefore, the Five weren't found guilty of spying, but of the tenuous charge of "agreement" to spy. "Once such an agreement is established, the crime is complete," explains Weinglass. All the prosecution had to do was to convince the jury that there was an agreement among the Five that they would eventually engage in spying at some point in the future.
To mark the sad anniversary on 12 September, the US-based National Committee to Free the Cuban Five sponsored demonstrations in support of the Five in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York City, Philadelphia and other cities. In San Francisco, political activist Richard Becker emphasised that anti-Cuban terrorists and murderers are protected by the US government and walk free in Miami, while the Five remain in prison.
The city of Miami is home to a number of high-profile anti- Cuba terrorist organisations, which are given free reign to operate with impunity. Most prominent among them is "Alpha-66", an outfit that the Miami Police Department lists as one of the most "virulent and dangerous" of Cuban-American organisations. Since its inception in 1966, Alpha-66 has been part of the autonomous operations of the CIA, used in illegal operations to protect regular CIA agents from potential prosecution. Alpha-66's record includes assassination attempts against former Cuban president Fidel Castro, bomb threats against Cuban offices in Mexico, the US, Ecuador, Brazil, Canada and Puerto Rico, and six armed raids on Cuba between 1992 and 1993. "In accordance with US law, under the Neutrality Acts, no US citizen is permitted to attack a foreign country, and yet this has been done with impunity for the past 40 years," says Weinglass.
"There is a blackout about these facts in the North American press," Cuban Ambassador to Egypt Otto Vaillant told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Besides allowing terrorist organisations to mushroom in Florida and attack the island, the US government also protects convicted terrorists. The saga of Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch provides a notorious example of such protectionism. The two men were tried and convicted in Venezuela on charges of masterminding the downing of Cubana Airline Flight 455, a DC-8 that exploded in mid-air near Barbados on 6 October 1976. All 73 people on board died. Though the Venezuelan government has repeatedly asked for the extradition of Posada and Bosh, the US has ignored the request and both men continue to enjoy their retirement with impunity."
Despite the press blackout in the US, the National Campaign to Free the Cuban Five has raised awareness. City councils in several cities have joined the solidarity campaign. In 2003 Berkely, California passed a resolution supporting the Five. In Detroit Michigan the council did so in 2006. In 2009 Richmond and San Pablo, California unanimously did the same.
International support for the Five has grown from year to year. In 2005, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared the Cubans' sentences illegal because of Miami's "biased political climate" that precluded any chance of a fair trial. This conclusion set a precedent because it was the first time that the UN agency condemned a US judicial proceeding.
Ten Nobel laureates, including East Timor President José Ramos Horte, German novelist Gunther Grass, Nigerian novelist Wole Soyinka, and South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, recently appealed to the US Supreme Court on behalf of the Five arguing that the Five did not receive a fair and impartial trial and that their convictions and sentences were wrongful. There have been 12 such amicus curiae briefs submitted to the Supreme Court, earlier ones submitted by world figures such as former UN high commissioner for human rights and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, the Mexican Senate, and the National Assembly of Panama, in addition to hundreds of human rights activists and intellectuals. This is the largest number of such briefs ever filed with the US Supreme Court.
In 2005, the defence team of the Five requested a retrial from the Atlanta Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that the political climate of the city of Miami wasn't conducive to an impartial trial. And though the lawyers' motion was granted by the court, which considered the Miami court ruling "excessive" and the city riddled by a "perfect storm of prejudice", the ruling was reversed on appeal by the same court following a direct intervention by the Bush administration. The case then went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which denied the motion for retrial without legal explanation, without considering the multiple legal violations of the Miami court's ruling or the amicus briefs. Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the Cuban parliament, believes that the court's decision was political. "In May 2009, the Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to deny review of the case," he said. "And in June, the judges did what the Obama administration requested of them."
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five recently disclosed additional US government manipulation of the case. Initial information released through the Freedom of Information Act by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal government agency, reveals journalists were paid tens of thousands of dollars to write inflammatory articles about the Five and appear on anti-Cuban programmes produced by the BBG's Office of Cuba Broadcasting before and during the Miami trial. "This is a most blatant and outrageous example of government influence destroying the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal," Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee told reporters during a press conference in June. Meanwhile, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is suing the BBG for withholding critical information that may prove the agency's violation of a federal law prohibiting "improper domestic propaganda that compromised the fundamental right to a fair trial".
But then a fair and impartial trial was never in the cards. In Miami, in 2001, the Five were only incidental props to the prosecution; on trial was Fidel and the Cuban Revolution. "If there was justice in the US, the Five would never have been sentenced," Vaillant told the Weekly. "Regardless, with our international friends and our allies in the US we will continue to struggle for their freedom."
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