On August 9, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled by 10 to 2 to uphold the convictions of the "Cuban Five" — a group of men jailed on trumped-up espionage charges after infiltrating Florida-based groups linked to terrorist attacks against Cuba. The decision came a year after a three-judge panel of the court overturned the Cuban Five's original convictions, ruling that the trial — held in Miami, home to a politically influential right-wing Cuban exile community — had not been fair. The five have been in prison since September 1998.
An August 16 statement from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers condemned the ruling as a "travesty of justice ... [the IADL] believes this to be a politically motivated decision designed to appease the Cuban community in Miami. This community has been involved in terrorist acts against the Cuban government and the Cuban people for many years. The work of the Cuban Five was aimed at preventing further actions and to defend Cuba.
"The information that they gathered from public facts and developed was used by the Cuban government to support its protests to the US State Department against illegal overflights by such groups as 'Brothers to the Rescue'. Instead of attempting to curb this illegal activity the FBI turned its spotlight on finding those who were providing the evidence of illegal actions."
Bruce Nestor of the US National Lawyers Guild said that the decision "not only denies justice to the five defendants in this case, but it also has very profound implications for any person seeking a fair trial, particularly a fair trial in the current political climate in this country". He vowed the NLG will "continue to organise support for the Cuban Five in the legal community" including a national speaking tour of law schools "to build support and point out what is wrong with this decision".
At a press conference following the court's decision, Leonard Weinglass, the attorney for Antonio Guerrero, one of the five, said that the ruling "is not the end of the case, far from it". "There are nine additional issues which are still pending in the three-judge panel before the court." Weinglass said that the defence team could petition the US Supreme Court to hear the case, or return to the Circuit Court's original panel to have the nine issues addressed.
Weinglass explained that the court's majority "whitewashed the question of the coercive atmosphere of Miami". "You can read the 68 pages of their opinion and you will find no substantial reference to the pre-existing community prejudice in Miami against anyone associated with the government of Cuba. This curious — what the dissent calls — 'omission of fact' is something that we are very concerned about, and something which we might have to bring to the attention of the US Supreme Court."
The NLG's Peter Erlinder, who has written amicus briefs for the Cuban Five's appeals, told journalists that despite the ruling a "moral victory has already been won". Although the court's decision formally reversed the three-judge panel's decision that the trial had been conducted in a "perfect storm" of bias, the ruling "cannot change the fact that the 'perfect storm' judicial opinion is now part of history and [the] world now knows that the Cuban Five were convicted under conditions that even US federal judges recognize as being fundamentally unfair".
An international campaign for the Cuban Five's release has received widespread support. In May, Zhores Alferov, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2000, became the eighth Nobel laureate to sign an open letter to the US attorney-general calling for the men's release. The other signatories were South Africa's Desmond Tutu and Nadine Gordimer, Germany's Gunter Grass, Rigoberta Menchu from Guatemala, Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, Argentinian human rights campaigner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and Portugese writer Jose Saramago.
[For more information for about the campaign to free the Cuban Five, visit <http://www.freethefive.org>.]