Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Last chance for justice for the Miami Five?

Fourteen years ago today, five Cubans were unjustly imprisoned in US jails for trying to stop violent attacks against their country.

The Miami Five, who were infiltrating US-based terrorist groups when seized on September 12 1998, have since won the support of human rights, legal and religious organisations - but they have received scant justice from the US legal system.

And Martin Garbus - lawyer for one of the five, Gerardo Hernandez - says far more than their freedom is at stake if the latest appeal on their behalf fails.

Numerous previous appeals have failed and it had seemed that their only hope was a presidential pardon. But new information, not available at the time of the trial, provides a last opportunity to take their fight for justice back to the courts.

In an affidavit filed on August 31 the renowned lawyer argues that the US government's unprecendented payments to journalists during the original trial threatens not only the integrity of the case against the five, but the integrity of the US legal system itself.

Sixty-six pages of evidence calls for Hernandez's conviction to be set aside - or if this is refused for the US government to at least disclose information it is withholding from the defence team and for an oral hearing.

Evidence in the affidavit demonstrates that a US government agency deliberately hired and paid secret propagandists to influence the jury to convict Hernandez, who faces the harshest prison sentence of the group - double life plus 15 years - and the real prospect of never leaving prison unless his conviction is overturned.

"The government's successful subversion of the Miami print, radio and television media to pursue a conviction is nearly incomprehensible. It is unprecedented," the submission states.

As Cuba's National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon pointed out recently, this would mean the US government had conspired with the media to "condemn the accused beforehand and render a fair trial impossible" - a serious violation of the US constitution.

"The nature of the conspiracy was to use the media to unleash an unprecedented propaganda campaign of hatred and hostility," Alarcon says.

"To this end they used a large group of 'journalists' - in fact government cover agents - who published articles and comments time and again, day and night, to produce a flood of misinformation."

In just one example of this relentless media onslaught, the affidavit shows that between November 27 2000, when the trial started, and July 8 2001, when the five were found guilty, the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald alone had published 1,111 articles on them - an average of more than five a day.

"It was impossible to escape the permanent flow of propaganda anywhere in south Florida," Alarcon adds. "If all this were not enough, the 'journalists' also harassed witnesses and jurors. The latter complained to the judge that they were frightened because they were followed with cameras and microphones."

Ironically, it was a journalist from one of the biggest offenders, the Miami Herald, who first exposed the illegal payments in 2006.

This action was not without consequences for the reporter, Oscar Corral. Shortly after his article was published his editors were forced to move him and his family to a safe house after he was, in his own words, "subject to a campaign orchestrated to intimidate, harass and silence. It was heavy artillery fire.

"Some threats were very specific and mentioned my family."

But Corral's exposé was just the tip of the iceberg. Subsequent freedom of information requests have brought new names to light, but the full numbers are still unknown.

The affidavit argues that the US government should release a complete list of payments and contracts, a request that has unsurprisingly been vehemently resisted so far.

The names uncovered to date have dubious journalistic credentials to say the least.

According to Alarcon, "all of them, without exception, were members of or had close links with organisations in Miami that cultivate violence and terrorism. Some of them are themselves convicted and confessed terrorists."

Hundreds of thousands of dollars of US taxpayers' money paid for these people to write hate-fuelled propaganda about the five and Cuba before and during their trial. The US public was kept in the dark.

Such secret propaganda is forbidden by the country's constitution and for this reason Alarcon stresses that the recent affidavit is of "exceptional importance - especially for true journalists, those who perform with honesty a profession some others corrupted and turned into an instrument to kidnap five innocent men."

The affidavit concludes: "Every dollar for every article, image, radio or television show that was spent on this secret programme violated the integrity of the trial.

"Every person who decided to pay, paid, took funds or covered up those payments in this secret programme violated the integrity of the trial."

Alarcon notes that the media's role in the case of the Miami Five was the "great irony" of their predicament.

"In Miami the media was a decisive tool to condemn them. Outside Miami, they are punished with silence."

Help us break the silence on the Miami Five

To help break this silence in Britain and mark the 14th anniversary of the arrest of the Miami Five, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign is organising a candle-lit vigil outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square on Tuesday September 18 from 6pm.

Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che, will speak alongside leaders from the British trade union and labour movement.

Aleida will also speak on the Five as part of CSC's Remembering Che tour, which begins with a public meeting at the House of Commons on Monday September 17 at 7pm and goes on to Nottingham, Derby, Newcastle, Glasgow, and Oxford. Full details here

This article originally appeared in the Morning Star

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