Justice for the Cuban Five

On August 9, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Appellate Court threw out the convictions of the Cuban Five, a stunning acknowledgement of injustice committed in the administration’s troubled fight against terrorism. The Five were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage by attempting to infiltrate Miami-based anti-Castro networks in an effort to stem blatant terrorist attacks against Cuba. The Appellate Court cited the politically-charged location of the original trial, fiercely anti-Castro Miami-Dade County-where the facts of the case were no match for the nationality and pro-Castro affiliations of the five defendants, ruling out the possibility of a fair trial. On the other hand, in sharp contrast to the treatment suffered by the Cuban Five, the U.S. is using a raft of pretexts to build a case against extraditing the infamous anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner that killed all 73 aboard. By harboring an ideological contract killer who shares Washington’s anti-Castro mentality while engaging in venomous tactics against those who support Havana, the White House is losing much of the moral credibility of its self-proclaimed war on terrorism. At the very least, the Cuban Five deserve a fair trial; better yet, deportation back to Cuba is called for, because otherwise, they are guilty of nothing more than immigrating illegally to the U.S., as are ten million other migrants that go unpunished for their “crime.”

In the late 1990s, the Cuban Five infiltrated radical anti-Castro groups in Miami in an attempt to curb a rash of terrorist attacks against Cuba. The Five were arrested after FBI officials accepted an invitation to visit Cuba under the pretext of acquiring useful intelligence to halt anti-Cuba acts of terrorism originating in the Miami-based Cuban exile community. Instead, the U.S. used the information it acquired to arrest the five Cuban operatives working in Miami. While the government charged the Cubans with conspiracy to commit espionage, the accused responded that they were merely trying to protect their homeland from a terrorist threat that was being tolerated, if not abetted, by U.S. authorities. The Cuban Five, who willingly confessed their roles, were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years to life.

Putting aside the overblown and sensationalized nature of the charges against the Cubans as well as the unduly harsh sentences, the men were accorded arrantly prejudiced treatment under which there was no possibility for a fair trial, such was the partisan nature of the populace and the judicial system at the trial’s Miami-Dade County venue. The county is the stronghold of the extremist wing of the Cuban exile community, but the trial judge refused to grant a change of location. A UN Working Group reviewing the case noted that, “the trial did not take place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality which is required in order to conclude on the observance of the standards of a fair trial.” The UN report also charges that after their arrest, the Cuban Five were wrongfully held for 17 months in solitary confinement, and that their lawyers were deprived of the opportunity to examine all of the available evidence before the government invoked the Classified
Information Protection Act.

Melodramatically accused of being Cuban spies and of posing an intolerable danger to the U.S., the Cuban Five (all of whom were amateurs) were guilty only of attempting, perhaps misguidedly, to protect a country that they loved but which Washington despises, with their antics less akin to an M15 mission than a Ghostbuster operation. Though irremediably tainted, the original decision would have been a trifle more respectable if in the parallel case of anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, the White House had not decided to use a series of subterfuges to shield him from prosecution. The decision to protect Carriles, but unfairly try the Cuban Five in the U.S., illustrates that Washington is willing to manipulate its anti-terrorism laws in the service of its political ideology, forgoing true justice.