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JUAN GONZALEZ: Attorneys for the Cuban Five argued this week before a federal appeals court that the jailed men deserve another trial.
Ruben Campa, Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Luis Medina and Antonio Guerrero were arrested in Florida in 1998. They were tried and convicted of spying for the Cuban government three years later. They maintain they were sent to the United States to monitor violent exile groups calling for the overthrow of Fidel Castro.
In August 2005, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta tossed the verdicts, saying the five didn't receive a fair trial because of anti-Castro bias in Miami. But the convictions were reinstated exactly a year later by the full 11th Circuit.
Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark recently spoke out on behalf of the Cuban Five.
RAMSEY CLARK: I think the thing that needs to be recognized here is that if you want to stop terrorism, you don't persecute people who are engaged in trying to prevent terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Weinglass is one of the attorneys for the Cuban Five. He joins us now in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now! Leonard, we don't have much time. If you can explain the case that you made in the Miami courthouse.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: In 2006, the 11th Circuit said it didn't matter that the trial was in Miami; what mattered is what happened inside the courthouse in the courtroom. This appeal that we just argued was a question of what went on during the six-and-a-half-month trial. And what we were able to establish is that the government failed to prove its case of either espionage or conspiracy to commit murder. And furthermore, the government prosecutors, knowing they failed to prove their case, committed grievous prosecutorial misconduct in arguing to the jury. I think we should win on both counts.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On the issue of espionage, explain in terms of the law. They were spying, but they weren’t spying on the US government. They were spying on other Cubans, right? So how does that qualify as espionage by US law?
LEONARD WEINGLASS: This was a very unique case, Juan. This is the first time in our history that there's been an espionage charge, conspiracy to commit espionage. The government admitted they could not prove espionage. But even conspiracy to commit espionage, there wasn't a single page of classified document involved in this case. That never happened before. Furthermore, the defense was able to call General Atkinson, General Wilhelm, Admiral Carol, the advisor to the President of the United States on Cuba, all as witnesses for the defense. That never happened before in an espionage case.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are these men? And explain why they came here.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: These are five Cuban men who were employees of the Cuban government. After a series of bombing attacks on Cuba in the early ’90s -- a hotel was bombed, an Italian tourist was killed. The airport was bombed. Tourist buses were bombed. Cuba protested each and every act. The United States did nothing. Cuba then invited the FBI to come to Havana, and they did go, a delegation. They provided them with names and places and people who were engaged in this kind of violence. Again, the government did nothing. Then Cuba sent the Five to infiltrate these groups, monitor their activities, and warn Cuba.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And when they warned the government, this was in a period of the Clinton administration, right?
LEONARD WEINGLASS: This was during the Clinton administration.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the administration did nothing about it.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: They did nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: And which groups did they infiltrate?
LEONARD WEINGLASS: Well, there is a group called Brothers to the Rescue, another group called Democracía, another group called Alpha 66, a group called F4. These are all former military people who were, and perhaps still are, in the CIA, who were well trained, who were part of the National Guard in Florida. They had military capability, and they did know explosives. They knew weaponry. They put boats off the shore of Havana and fired cannon into the hotels. And, as I said, they planted bombs. So they knew these are very dangerous people.
AMY GOODMAN: The groups did. The groups planted.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: Yes, the groups did.
AMY GOODMAN: So they were getting information about them and sending it back to Cuba. They were arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to…?
LEONARD WEINGLASS: Three of them received life in prison. They were convicted of espionage -- conspiracy to commit espionage.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet, a court reversed the decision.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: All the convictions were reversed. And, unfortunately, Attorney General Gonzales ordered the United States attorney in Florida to file an appeal to the entire 11th Circuit, twelve judges. They reversed the convictions -- the court that reversed the convictions and reinstated the convictions. And what we argued now, just on Monday, was the third appeal. It’s very unusual for a case to have three appeals. The system is having trouble digesting this particular injustice.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Compare the way that these men have been dealt with, with the Luis Posada Carriles case.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: Well, Posada Carriles, who was charged -- and the evidence does indicate his guilt -- with downing a commercial jetliner, which killed seventy-three people in 1976, was released, and he’s walking about Miami now free. These five, who came to Miami in southern Florida in order to end the kind of activity that people like Carriles were involved in, have now been sentenced to life in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you expect they will serve life in prison here?
LEONARD WEINGLASS: It would be a dreadful injustice if that does in fact happen. Under the current federal system, those who are sentenced to life actually do their entire lives in prison. They are not paroled. They are not released before their deaths. For men who acquired no secrets of the United States, on the day that they were arrested, both the Justice Department and the Pentagon released a statement saying that national security was never compromised. They got no secrets of the United States. Yet these five are doing the same time as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanson and John Walker, the most notorious spies in history.
AMY GOODMAN: When do you expect the judgment to come down?
LEONARD WEINGLASS: It’s difficult to say. Last time we argued the case before this panel took sixteen months. I don’t think it’s going to take sixteen months, but it’s going to be more than weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Leonard Weinglass, lawyer for the Cuban Five.