40 Pages of Ideological Prejudice


Attorney Leonard Weinglass:

 

"There are 40 pages of ideological prejudice in the new ruling from Atlanta"

 

BY ARLEEN RODRIGUEZ DERIVET

 

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals of Atlanta upheld Wednesday the guilty verdicts of the Cuban Five, prisoners in the United States since 1998. It also vacated the sentences of three of the men, ordering a new sentencing in Miami. The sentences of Rene Gonzalez (15 years) and Gerardo Hernandez (two life terms plus 15 years) were maintained. In the case of Hernandez, the panel voted 2-1. A 16-page [minority] opinion of Judge Phyllis Kravitch states that the government did not present sufficient evidence to prove Gerardo_s guilt in the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

 

The cases of Ramon Labanino (life sentence plus 18 years), Fernando Gonzalez (19 years) and Antonio Guerrero (life sentence plus 10 years) were sent to the Florida Court for re-sentencing. It will be Judge Joan Lenard who will announce a hearing to issue the new sentencing. Lenard was the presiding judge who, in 2001, issued the harsh sentences to the Cuban Five. The 99-page ruling of the Appeals Court of Atlanta, which explicitly favors the government position, was drafted in a politically charged language unusual for legal texts. It states that the defense arguments in their appeal "are meritless."

 

On Thursday June 5 an interview by Arleen Rodriguez with attorney Leonard Weinglass was broadcast on the Round Table program. Weinglass represents Antonio Guerrero and is a member of the Cuban Five defense team. A translation of the text in Spanish follows (Weinglass' answers were originally in English and translated into Spanish):

 

Arleen Rodriguez: Weinglass, help us understand. Give us a summary of the 99-page ruling from the Court of Appeals of Atlanta.

 

Leonard Weinglass: What it means in brief is that the life sentences of two, Antonio and Ramon, were removed and there is a program for their re-sentencing in Miami before Judge Lenard. The sentence of Fernando is going to be reduced.

 

AR: But Ramon and Antonio have different charges than Fernando. What does it mean that the three be returned to Miami and what can we expect?

 

LW: When the Cuban Five were arrested in 1998, the Pentagon and the Justice Department issued a statement saying that the national security of the United States was not affected. Now, after 10 years in prison, we have a statement from a high level court that there was no espionage and that no top secret information was obtained or transmitted. That was the court's finding, but nonetheless they returned the cases for re-sentencing and we are not sure what the new sentence will be; but it won't be, in this case, life imprisonment, and they could even return home.

 

AR: Why isn't Gerardo included in the revision?

LW: All the lawyers coincide that Gerardo's case was easier and could have been thrown out. However, even though the case is easy from a legal point of view, from a political viewpoint it's the most difficult, because of the political climate that exists in Miami. The court didn't have the nerve to drop a sentence for conspiracy to murder when four Miami residents were the victims.

 

AR: Does the fact that the Court of Appeals of Atlanta decided to return the case of Ramon, Fernando and Antonio to Miami mean they were excessive in sentencing, which is evidence of poor conduct. Isn't it absurd then that they return the case to the same judge that imposed the harsh sentences?

 

LW: It's unfortunate.

 

In this 99-page ruling, they find that Judge Lenard committed errors in sentencing Fernando; committed errors in sentencing Antonio; committed errors in sentencing Ramon; committed errors in the instructions to the jury about Gerardo and, according two of the three judges, committed errors in rejecting a change of venue.

 

Despite those six or seven serious errors, the court returns the case to Judge Lenard.

 

AR: What legal recourse remains?

 

LW: Yes, we still have options available. Firstly, we can immediately, on June 24, ask the three judges to reconsider their decision based on the errors they committed in their ruling, and we are going to do it.

 

If they don't reconsider this reasoning then we have the right to go to the Supreme Court of the United States to reconsider all or some of the issues we have presented, including the venue, the misconduct of the prosecution, the insufficient evidence in the case of Gerardo and other matters that this court has ruled on, including the use of a secret procedure between the judge and prosecution against the Cuban Five and also having maintained secret evidence that could have been delivered to the defense.

 

AR: This ruling comes at a time when the people of the United States are immersed in a presidential election campaign and perhaps are not paying attention to other matters, like the case of the Cuban Five or another, the possibly pardoning of Luis Posada Carriles, who is already free on the streets of Miami. I wonder if the defense team has taken into account the double standard of the US government in relation to terrorism, which is apparent in the handling of the Cuban Five case and the freeing of a confessed terrorist like Luis Posada Carriles. Do the lawyers take that into account in their appeals?

 

LW: In reality, that contradiction, which is very clear in the facts you mention, is not available to us in the texts of the legal case. However, in the original ruling of the first panel that we appealed to, they signed a special footnote, in which they refer to Carriles and call him a terrorist. Unfortunately, in this 99-page opinion there are no such references.

 

AR: The ruling came on June 4, Gerardo's birthday. The fact that the Appeals Court upheld the sentence of one of the weakest charges in the case, that of conspiracy to commit murder, and in general the charges against Gerardo, appears to be a deliberate act of cruelty against this young anti-terrorist fighter. How do you see it?

 

LW: Perhaps this wasn't an accident. People see it as an insensitive intent against a man who honorably served his country. However, when you read the entire ruling they issued, in particular the first 40 pages, it is very clear to us attorneys that there is an ideological prejudice in the writing. And the fact they issued the ruling on Gerardo's birthday could be seen, as you suggest, as intentional.

 

AR: What reasons could a lawyer like yourself give us so we can continue believing that there is a possibility that justice will triumph in the US legal system in the case of the Cuban Five?

 

LW: Unfortunately, this case is one of those situations where I believe that the US government is using the justice system to achieve a foreign policy objective. That's the difference with the case of Posada Carriles, between the case of Posada Carriles and this case.

 

Historically, when this has happened and a political prejudice is revealed, the US people feel a great sense of embarrassment in the laws and the trust they place in their legal system, in the courts.

 

AR: How would you summarize in one sentence the ruling issued on June 4?

 

LW: Gerardo should have been freed of all charges and the rest of the life sentences reversed as an absolute minimum.

 

So, we won a small part of the case at this moment, but the matter of the venue is still alive and we are going to present it again before the Supreme Court, and fortunately, we are going to begin the initial work so that the Cuban Five can return home.

 

We are prepared to continue the struggle and, with luck we will achieve it, like we did before, and like we are going to do and must do in the future.

 

We won the revocation of the life sentences, and that is a significant victory; but we are very disappointed that we didn't win on the prosecution's weakest case, and we should have won it.

 

AR: Which is charge three?

 

LW: Yes, charge three.

 

Any attorney studying the charge, including prosecutors, have concluded that a sentence should not have been issued on the base of the evidence presented. One of the judges wrote a 16-page opinion and very clearly, and in a very strong way, said that Gerardo was innocent of those charges. That's a strong statement and quite unusual for an 85-year-old judge who has been a federal appeals magistrate for nearly a quarter of a century.

 

That was a historic action by the judge, including on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Her position is just below the Supreme Court and she is one of the most recognized leaders of the US justice system.

 

AR: Your talking about Judge Kravitch.

 

LW: Yes, Kravitch.

 

She was appointed by [former US President] Carter, a man who believes more in human rights than most of the other national leaders. He choose her from a very small court in Georgia where she practiced law, despite having graduated at the top of her class at one of the most prestigious law schools in the United States. But she wasn_t working in any law firm because she was a woman. Therefore, she clearly understands the price that people have to pay when they are victims of prejudice, and I believe that she contributes this in her work as a judge.

 

AR: Thank you for speaking with our Round Table.