The Case of the Five
On June 16-17, 1998, the Cuban government invited two important FBI officials to give them numerous documents proving the dangerousness of 40 people deeply involved in terrorist activities who live in Florida. To this day, in spite of having enough evidence, the US authorities have done nothing in regards to these people.
Three months later, on September 12, 1998, the FBI arrested five Cuban: René González Sehweret, Ramón Labañino Salazar, Fernando González Llort, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez and Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, who, risking their own lives, had managed to prevent the carrying out of almost 170 terrorist attacks against Cuba by warning the Cuban government in advance.
An Iniquitous Trial
The Five were accused of espionage. However, they did not receive any formal notification of the accusation until four days after their arrest and after an aggressive media campaign had been launched condemning them before the judicial process had even started.
On September 14, 1998, the Grand Jury of Florida accused them of having infiltrated terrorist groups. Later, as it was an untenable charge from the legal point of view, the Jury changed its methods and accused the Five of 26 charges, the most serious of which was the first one (18 usc 371) that involved them of conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States. The second charge is about espionage. The third one accuses Gerardo Hernández of voluntary homicide, linking him to the events on February 24th, 1996, when a plane with four members of the terrorist organization Brothers to the Rescue was shot down after having violated the Cuban airspace on several occasions. The prosecutor could not present any evidence to support these three charges. The other 23 had to do with minor offenses including the use of false documentation and not being registered as agents of a foreign power. These accusations were not rejected by the defense.
Since the day they were arrested until February 3rd, 2000, that is, for 17 long months, the Five were kept in solitary confinement, without any communication with other inmates or with the outside.
Faced by the impossibility of proving that the Five had committed any act of espionage, the government accused them of conspiracy to commit espionage.
A Biased Court
During the trial, the prosecutor invoked the law of procedure for classified information that allows evidence to remain secret and not to make it available for the defense, even when it is being used against the defendants. Aware that the accusation was inconsistent, the attorney repeated three times, with disproportionate vehemence, that the Five had come to Miami “to destroy the United States”.
The arguments proving that the Five had not committed espionage were not presented by the defense but by high-ranking US military officials: Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, of the US Navy; Major General Edwards Breed Atkinson, of the US Army; and Lieutenant General James R. Clapper, of the US Air Force.
In order to justify the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage, the government used the fact that Antonio Guerrero worked in a metal workshop in the Army’s training base of Boca Chica. The defense questioned the high-ranking military official:
Question for Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll about Boca Chica: “What information about the tactics and training of the US Navy could be useful for the Cuban Army?”
Answer: “To my knowledge, none”.
Questions for General Atkinson: “Are there any differences between our relations with the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and our relation with Cuba?”
Answer: “Yes, there are differences.”
Question: “What are these differences?”
Answer: “The Cubans are not a threat for us.” (Let us remember the attorney’s hysteria: “They came to destroy the United States”).
Question: “What is the relation between the fear of being attacked and the search for information?”
Answer: “I believe they use their intelligence services to find out if we are really getting ready to attack them.”
Question: “When you examined the documents, did you find any document classified as secret?”
Question: “Did you find instructions ordering the agents to look for documents that could harm the United States?”
Questions for General Clapper: “Would you agree on saying that having access to public information is not an act of espionage?”
Question: “Would you, with your experience in intelligence matters, describe Cuba as a military threat for the United States?”
Answer: “Absolutely not. Cuba does not represent a threat.”
Question: “Did you find any evidence indicating that Gerardo Hernández was trying to obtain secret information?”
Answer: “No, not that I remember.”
As for Gerardo Hernández, accused of murder, the prosecutor acknowledged that “considering the evidence presented during the process, proving Gerardo Hernández’s involvement constitutes an insurmountable obstacle for the United States”. However, the jury found Gerardo Hernández guilty of murder, although the prosecutor himself had expressed his incapacity to prove that charge. There is no precedent for this behavior in the history of US justice. The Five were condemned to long sentences in spite of the fact that none of the charges against them was proven. Actually, it was a political trial.
Extremely Long Sentences
Gerardo Hernández Nordelo was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years. Ramón Labañino Salazar was sentenced to a life term plus 18 years in prison. Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez was sentenced to a life term plus 10 years. These three people would have to die in prison and then be born again in order to fulfill their sentences, except for Gerardo Hernández who would need three lives to be at peace with US justice. As for Fernando Hernández Llort and René González Sehwert they were sentenced to 19 and 15 years, respectively. In all, the Five were sentenced to four life terms plus 77 years.
Numerous Legal Violations Were Committed During the Process
The legal violations committed against the Five are numerous:
They had no immediate access to a lawyer after their arrest.
They had to wait more than two days before they had a legal representation.
They were interrogated for many hours without the presence of their defense attorneys.
They were kept in isolation cells for 17 months, a violation of penitentiary regulations that stipulate that the isolation regime should be applied only for murders and for a maximum of 60 days.
Some 20,000 pages of evidence presented against them were kept secret.
They were not able to have contacts with their attorneys to prepare their defense.
Several witnesses for the prosecution were threatened that they could be accused of being accomplices if they revealed any information to the defense.
The process took place in Miami, in spite of the extremely politicized environment that exists in that city when it comes to any Cuba-related issue.
Before the trial started, an aggressive propaganda campaign was launched accusing the Five of espionage. According to a survey carried out at that time, 79% of the people admitted to be biased against the defendants.
The members of the jury were threatened with death if they acquitted the defendants, as was shown in several articles in the local press .
They jury proved to be biased. It comprised of 12 members. The president of the jury had declared that he was against “Fidel Castro’s dictatorship”. The other 11 had similar opinions.
Protected Terrorist Groups
In addition to being a political action against Cuba, the trial aimed at protecting terrorist organizations, as shown by the surrealist statements made by Judge Joan A. Lenard. The prosecutor proposed to René González, sentenced to 15 years for having infiltrated terrorist groups, that if he gave false testimony against his compatriots he would be freed. But he categorically refused to do that. The judge expressed her “concern that this defendant, after completing his sentence, could resume his activities”. The judge then added to the 15-year sentence a “special additional condition in order to prevent him from associating with terrorist individuals or groups, members of organizations that advocate violence, figures of organized crime or to visit specific places frequented by them”. The court explicitly recognized that Miami is a haven for “terrorist individuals or groups” and that nothing is done in that respect, although President Bush has declared a “war on terror”.
Overturned Sentences and Arbitrary Detentions
In April and May 2003, the defense began the appeal process before the Court of Atlanta. In May 27, 2005, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions declared that the detention of the Five was arbitrary and that it violated international law. On August 9, 2005, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta annulled the trial held in Miami but, since then, the Five have remained not only unjustly but also illegally in prison.
Cases of Moral and Psychological Torture
Several forms of moral and psychological torture have taken place against the families of the Five. Olga Salanueva, wife of René González, and her daughter Ivette, have never been able to visit him in prison. Adriana Pérez O’Connor, wife of Gerardo Hernández, has not been able to visit her husband. These women have not been able to see their husbands for almost eight years. The treatment given to Adriana is a real case of psychological torture. In June 25, 2002, after five years of waiting, she was granted a visa to visit her husband, who was then in prison in Los Angeles. However, upon her arrival in the United States, Adriana was arrested by the FBI, interrogated for 11 hours and expelled to Cuba.
In order to defend this injustice, the US government has declared that Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez cannot be granted visas because they represent a threat to US national security. Even young Ivette, who is eight years old, who still doesn’t know her father, represents a serious threat for the US national security, according to the State Department.
In order to obstruct the Five’s consular visits, they have been placed in prisons located in the five corners of the country: Gerardo Hernández, in California; Antonio Guerrero, in Colorado; Fernando González, in Wisconsin; Ramón Labañino, in Texas, and René González, in South Carolina.
US Legislation and International Law are Trampled On
The trial against the Five violates the Constitution of the United States, the Regulations of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Declaration on the Protection against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Penalties, the Vienna Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on Children’s Rights, the UN Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners and the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Double Standards of the International Media
Washington gives shelter in the US to terrorist groups that carry out an aggressive war against the Cuban Revolution. These fascist groups act openly and with total impunity as the White House has historically supported them. The episode of Luis Posada Carriles, who has been in the United States since last March, in spite of the fact that US courts banned his presence there due to his terrorist activities, has again exposed the lie of the “war on terror”.
However, the double standards that the United States uses in its “war on terror”, which is only a subterfuge that hides its hegemonic aspirations, is also extended to the international media that accept, endorse and implement the doctrine of the “good terrorist and bad terrorist”. Thus, the international media acts as an accomplice of the global maneuver and in fact confirms the US’s imperialist plans.
This media plot is obvious. How is it possible that, at the peak of the “war on terror”, information transnationals do not talk about the case of Cuba, a country that has been, and still is, the victim of the longest and most fierce terrorist campaign in modern history?
In the name of what ideological amnesia has the international media, after the September 11 attacks, abstained from mentioning the bloody terrorist attack perpetrated on October 6, 1976, against a Cuban airliner off the coast of Barbados considering that it was one of the first cases of air terrorism attacks in history? How come, when the United is sheltering and protecting Luis Posada Carriles, international media prefers to give ample coverage to a meeting of a small group of Cuban “dissidents”, paid and controlled by Washington as shown by documents from the US State Department?
The media treatment of the terrorism issue confirms not only the current double talk but also the lie of the “war on terror”. If the “war on terror” had any foundation, the international media would denounce the aggressive terrorist campaign that all US administrations have carried out against the Cuban people since 1959. The censure of terrorism against Cuba, apparently the most sophisticated, clearly illustrates the duplicity of western media.
The proven selectivity of these media only further highlights the doctrinal atmosphere that prevails in editorial departments around the world. The scandal of the five Cuban citizens incarcerated in the United States is an example. If western societies were intellectually free, they would denounce the cruel and inhuman treatment given to the Five. However, this legal scandal has been completely ignored by the mainstream media.
The news has to go through an ideological filter that shows how deeply rooted are the basics of authoritarianism in the structures of the international media. Actually, the media, that is supposed to be a reliable source of information, is only an instrument to control thoughts and ideas as it systematically rules out important debates such as the foundation and the legitimacy of a terrorist war waged against a nation that decided to choose the path of independence and self-determination. The basic issues, such as Cuba’s right to defend itself against constant aggressions, are simply ignored.
The French media took indecency to its limit describing Luis Posada Carriles as an “anti-Castro militant”, “accused of terrorism” or, what is the height of hypocrisy, an “ex-terrorist”. Is that what terrorist crimes prescribe? Nobody denounced this semantic crime, which shows that doctrinal barriers work perfectly. What would happen if Osama Bin Laden were described as an “anti-Bush militant”, “accused of terrorism”, or an “ex terrorist”? The scandal that such words would cause would only equal the complicity of the media in the case of Posada Carriles.
In a certain way, the mainstream media are accomplices of terrorism considering that, for them, the attacks against Cuba are not important. Whenever possible, crimes committed in the name of an anti-revolutionary aversion are kept silent. And when it is impossible to keep on hiding them, they are minimized and the culprits are acquitted by the media with total impunity, as is shown by their description of the worst terrorist in the western hemisphere.