(Check out the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five website for more information: http://www.freethefive.org)
June 7, 2008
Attorney Leonard Weinglass:
“There are 40 pages of ideological prejudice in the new ruling from
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
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
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
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
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.