Court hears appeal in case of Cuban Five
by Cheryl Goertz and Sam Manuel
Sept. 10, 2007
Reprinted from The Militant
ATLANTA—Attorneys for five Cuban revolutionaries being held in U.S. prisons argued at a federal appeals hearing that the convictions of the five men should be thrown out because of misconduct by the prosecutors and insufficient evidence for the charges of “conspiracy” to commit espionage and murder. They also argued that the sentences, which range from 15 years to life in prison, were unusually harsh given the weakness of the evidence.
The courtroom was packed with supporters of the five.
Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González have been locked up in U.S. prisons since 1998. A federal court convicted and sentenced them on frame-up charges in a 2001 trial in Miami. The five were in this country monitoring counterrevolutionary Cuban-American groups in Florida that have carried out violent attacks in Cuba with complicity of the U.S. government.
In August 2005 a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta threw out the convictions on the basis that the five men could not get a fair trial in Miami. A year later the full 12-judge court overturned that ruling, while allowing for appeal on other points.
Addressing another three-judge panel of the same court, defense attorney Richard Klugh noted that the government never proved their charges of espionage. One key claim was that they sought to infiltrate the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami. But the five never set foot there; the most the prosecution could claim was that they had “staked out” the building.
Another accusation was that they were guilty of counting planes flying into MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Of the 20,000 documents seized from the computers of the five men, not one was classified.
One of the men was convicted for reporting things “that could have been published in the Miami Herald,” Klugh said.
Gerardo Hernández was convicted of “conspiracy to commit murder.” Prosecutors claimed he sent information the Cuban authorities used in 1996 to shoot down planes piloted by the Brothers to the Rescue, a rightist outfit in Miami with a record of violent attacks. The hostile planes had violated Cuban airspace and been warned to turn back. The defense pointed out that no evidence was presented in the trial showing that Hernández had knowledge of Cuba’s plans for the shootdown.
Defense attorney Brenda Bryn said prosecution misconduct at the trial violated court rules and demanded that the five be granted a new trial. She noted that 28 of 34 objections lodged against prosecutors during closing arguments were sustained. “I find that number troubling,” Judge Phyllis Kravitch told U.S. attorney Carolyn Miller.
As an example of improper efforts to prejudice the outcome of the trial, Bryn noted that in its closing arguments the government insisted that the five Cubans were “bent on the destruction of the United States, paid for by the American taxpayer.”
At a reception the previous day attended by more than 70 supporters of the campaign to free the five, one of the lawyers for the five, Leonard Weinglass, commented on the severity of the sentences. He said three of the five Cubans received the same life sentence as Robert Hansen, Aldrich Ames, and Robert Walker. The latter three worked for the FBI, CIA, and Navy, respectively and were convicted of turning over hundreds of pages of classified documents to a foreign government. In the case of the Cuban Five “there is not one piece of classified paper,” Weinglass said.
Attorneys said it could be months before there is a ruling by the appeals court.
Supporters of the international campaign to free the Cuban Five are planning a month-long series of public events starting September 12, the ninth anniversary of their arrest. For more information contact the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five (www.freethefive.org) or local distributors of the Militant.