The first indictment in September 1998 charged the Cuban Five of being unregistered Cuban agents and of other minor violations. The government also charged three of them–Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio–with “conspiracy to commit espionage” (Count Two of the indictment)
Prosecutors didn’t accuse any of them of actual espionage for a very simple reason: there was not such a thing and thus it could never be proven. The prosecutors went even farther. At their opening statement they warned the jury not to expect them to present any secrets or anything of that sort. The only thing the prosecution needed was to “convince” the jurors that the defendants were really bad people capable of conceiving an attempt to endanger the national security of the United States sometime in a hypothetical future. And, they argued, the defendants had to get the most severe punishment possible because they were the really bad guys disrupting the peace and tranquility in Miami. Remember Elian?
In order to achieve that goal the prosecutors, notwithstanding what their own indictment said, made the most inflammatory kinds of statements at trial, accusing the Five of no less than trying “to destroy the United States” and reminding the scared jurors that if they failed to condemn them they will “betray the community”.
The media did the rest of the job. They have always portrayed the Cuban Five as “spies” or as people accused of being “spies”. The media went into overdrive in performing their task. They keep repeating the same tune even after the en banc Court of Appeals unanimously determined in September 2008 that there was no evidence that the accused had “gathered or transmitted top secret information” or that they had damaged the national security of the United States and thus it decided that the sentences for Charge 2 (conspiracy to commit espionage) were erroneous, it vacated them and remanded Ramon and Antonio for resentencing (Eleventh Circuit Appeals Court, No. 01-17176, D.C Docket No. 98-00721-CR-JAL, pages 70-81). Nevertheless, even though it acknowledged that the same procedure should be applied to Gerardo, in an astounding act of judicial discrimination, the court refused to do so adducing that a life sentence was already weighing against him.
As a matter of fact, it was very easy to realize that in this case no secret or military information was involved and that the national security of the US was never affected. That was what the Pentagon said, in clear, plain language before the trial started. That was the testimony, under oath, by Admiral (R) Eugene Carroll (official transcripts pages 8196-8301), Army General (R) Edward Breed Atkeson (Idem pages 11049-11199), General and former Commander of Southern Command Charles Elliot Wilhelm (Idem pages 11491-11547), Air Force Lieutenant General (R) James R. Clapper (Idem pages 13089-13235).
Their testimonies were not secret, but were made voluntarily in open court. Probably such a parade of distinguished and decorated military chiefs sustaining the innocence of some young Cuban revolutionaries has not happen before a US Court of law. This didn’t make the news out of Miami, but the official transcripts of the trial are there for anybody to read.
Since the Cuban Five were condemned there have been other cases whose results sharply contrast with theirs. Let’s very briefly consider a few of them.
Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi, accused of being an unregistered agent of the Saddam Hussein Government, was sentenced in April 2004, in the middle of the US war with Iraq, to 3 years and 10 months in prison.
Leandro Aragoncillo was found guilty in July 2007 of transmitting secret national defense information of the United States (around 800 classified documents) obtained from his office in the White House, where he worked as military assistant to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Mister Aragoncillo was sentenced to 10 years in prison while his co-conspirator Michael Ray Aquino got 6 years and 4 months.
Gregg W. Bergersen, a Defense Department analyst was found guilty in July 2008 of providing national defense information to unauthorized persons in exchange for money and gifts and was sentenced to 4 years and 9 months in prison.
Lawrence Anthony Franklyn, a US Air Force Reserves colonel, working in the Defense Department was found guilty of giving classified and national defense information, including military secrets, to representatives of a foreign government and was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months. But he never entered a federal prison. He was free while appealing and last May the Justice Department dropped the charges that sustained his case.
It goes without saying that none of the cases referred to above were tried in Southern Florida or involved any attempts to frustrate criminal plans.
The Cuban Five got, together, 4 life terms plus 77 years. They didn’t work at the White House, or the Pentagon, or the State Department. They never had or sought access to any secret information. But they did something unforgivable. They fought anti-Cuban terrorism and they did it in Miami.
RICARDO ALARCÓN de QUESADA is president of the Cuban National Assembly.