Tuesday, 17 August 2010

US paid journalists to smear the Five

On 2 June 2010 a press conference in Washington, D.C. revealed damning new evidence of injustice in the case of the Miami 5. Information has been obtained proving that the US government covertly paid tens of thousands of dollars to Miami journalists working for major media outlets during the Five’s politically charged trial in Miami between 2000 and 2001.

The Miami 5, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González are currently serving sentences from between 15 years to double life in US jails. They were charged and unjustly convicted of charges including conspiracy to commit espionage. The five had actually infiltrated right wing Cuban exile groups based in Miami, responsible for terrorist attacks against Cuba. The information they gathered was passed on the FBI, but the US government used to convict them of spying rather than arrest the terrorists.

Speaking at the press conference members of the National Committee to Free the Five and attorneys with the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund said that “the Broadcasting Board of Governers(BBG) and its Office of Cuba Broadcasting are withholding information that will show that they have engaged in activities in violation of federal law, specifically the Smith-Mundt Act, which prohibits the BBG from seeking to propagandize the US public, and may be continuing to do so.”

Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the Cuban Five committee said, "Many of the articles and commentaries by the government-paid journalists were highly prejudicial and biased, with the obvious aim of negatively influencing the Miami public and the jury pool, convicting the Cuban Five, and depriving them of the fundamental right to a fair trial."

In January 2009, the National Committee issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) seeking information on US government payments to supposedly independent journalists. Key information initially released by the BBG to the Committee made clear that the amount of covert government payments to journalists is substantial - however the agency is refusing to hand over critical underlying documents to the National Committee and is fighting to keep this information from becoming subject to public scrutiny.

According to the lawsuit filed by the PCJF attorneys Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo, on behalf of the Cuban Five committee, "The public has an immediate right to know about matters involving improper domestic propaganda as well as whether the US Government compromised the fundamental right to a fair trial of the Cuban Five. These journalists engaged in repeated publications of purportedly independent articles. The articles include many that were highly incendiary, included false information and poisoned domestic public opinion during the prosecution, trial and conviction of the Cuban Five."

Final appeal for Gerardo

On June 14 2010, a collateral appeal (known in the US as habeas corpus) was filed in Miami Federal Court for Gerardo Hernandez. This is the last legal recourse for him within the US legal system.

Gerardo Hernandez was arrested in September 1998 and sentenced in December 2001 to two life plus 15 years in jail. During the last 12 years Gerardo has been in maximum security prisons under a particularly severe regime and has been forbidden to receive visits from his wife, Adriana Perez.

An important aspect of this appeal is the presentation of new evidence including the US government payments to Miami journalists during the trial. The government payoffs were only discovered in 2006, five years after the trial was over.

Leonard Weinglass, lawyer for the Five said: “The trial occurred in the period of 2000 and 2001. No one knew that these journalists were being paid by the government at that time. But in 2006 it was revealed that in fact some of the regular reporting journalists were also on the payroll of the federal government in connection with Radio and TV Martí. Since that was not revealed until 2006, it is newly-discovered evidence. Since it is evidence of the government’s manipulations of attitudes within the community, it is of a constitutional dimension since it violated Gerardo’s constitutional right to a fair trial.”

Also included in the appeal will be the violations committed by the government with the handling and falsification of evidence and, in many cases, its concealment to obstruct justice. Technical aspects in the performance of the defense will also be analysed.

The collateral appeal is in Gerardo’s name alone because his case was closed by the Supreme Court denial of review on 14 June 2009, and therefore he is left with only this extraordinary procedure.

“The filing on June 14 was on behalf of Gerardo Hernández. Gerardo’s case is exemplary because he is serving two life sentences plus 15 years, in a situation in which he is demonstrably innocent of the charges. He is the first person in U.S. history to be charged for the shootdown of an aircraft by the armed forces of another country acting in defense of their airspace,” said Weinglass in an interview to the National Committee for Freedom for the Five in June.

“I spoke to Gerardo two days ago, he called me from his maximum security prison in California. He wanted an update on where the case stood right now. He is a very strong, firm person who believes in his own innocence and his country. He served honourably as a volunteer in Africa in the struggle against apartheid. He has been an exemplary prisoner, not a single violation in his 12 years living under the rigors of maximum-security confinement. He looks to the worldwide community of people concerned with issues of justice to make known their concern. He also feels confident that he will ultimately be vindicated.”

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