Largest ever number of Supreme Court briefs submitted on behalf of the Miami 5

Campaign News | Friday, 20 February 2009

UK input significant in worldwide pressure urging the US Supreme Court to review the convictions of the Five

Monday 6 March 2009

As part of a worldwide effort for justice for the Miami Five 129 MPs, MSPs, MEPs and other prominent political and legal figures have added their names to an appeal to the US Supreme Court calling for a new trial.

Throughout February, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign worked with unions, lawyers, local groups and supporters to gather the signatures which were included in a record number of twelve "friends of the the court" (amicus curiae) briefs that were submitted to the US court today.

Among the UK names calling for a new trial were former Cabinet members Peter Hain, Clare Short and Tony Benn. Others to sign the briefs include former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone; Glenys Kinnock MEP, George Galloway MP and Jon Cruddas MP.

The support of unions Unite and Unison, the TUC and TULO was vital in securing influential names from both the UK and Irish political spheres, where some of these unions also work. As well as a number of Irish parliamentarians this support also secured the important signature of Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and later UN Commissioner on Human Rights.

Ian Gibson MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cuba said:

"The fact that over 100 parliamentarians from the House of Commons and other parliamentary assemblies have signed the legal brief for the Miami 5 demonstrates clearly the strength of international opinion on this case."

Rob Miller, Director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign:

"We are proud to see that so many people have added their names to this appeal for justice for the Miami 5. This has only been made possible due to the tireless work of CSC's staff, union affiliates, supporters and members the length and breadth of the country. A big thanks to all those that were involved and all members and supporters who also wrote to their elected representatives to make this possible. We once again urge the US Supreme Court to hear this case again in the name of justice."

CSC also worked with law firms Thompsons Solicitors and OH Parsons to encourage the support of 14 professors of law and 18 prominent barristers and solicitors. Michael Mansfield and Baroness Helena Kennedy were just 2 of those adding their weight to this worldwide appeal.


More reports on the Supreme Court Appeal

In a previously unheard-of twelve separate briefs, an array of supporters worldwide - including ten Nobel Prize winners who have championed human rights (including East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta and Irish peacemaker Máiread Corrigan Maguire); the Mexican Senate; and Mary Robinson, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland - today filed amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs imploring the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Miami convictions of five Cuban government agents, the so-called "Cuban Five." (known as the Miami 5 in the UK)

Those participants in the briefs were joined by hundreds of parliamentarians from the European Parliament and other parliaments around the world, including two former Presidents and three current Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, as well as numerous U.S. and foreign bar associations and human rights organizations.

This is the largest number of amicus briefs ever to have urged the Supreme Court to review a criminal conviction.

This extraordinary support for the Cuban Five's case arises from widespread concern in the United States and around the world that their trial was conducted in an atmosphere tainted by prejudice against agents of the Cuban government and fear of retaliation, which amici say prevented the jury from fairly evaluating the charges against the Five.

Among others, the United Nations Human Rights Commission has condemned the Miami trial of the Cuban agents, marking the first and only time in history that that body has condemned a U.S. judicial proceeding. Citing a "climate of bias and prejudice" in Miami, the Commission's Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions concluded that the "trial did not take place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality that is required to conform to the standards of a fair trial."

The amicus briefs filed today ask the Supreme Court to review the fairness of trying the Cuban agents to a Miami jury. "The trial and conviction of the Cuban 5 is a national embarrassment," explained Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the Nobelists in filing their amicus brief.

"Our clients, ten Nobel Prize winners, acclaimed for their efforts to advance human rights, believe the trial was an international embarrassment as well. This was a trial that should have never occurred in Miami. There was no way a jury from that Miami, with its history of violence and intimidation against supporters of the Cuban government, could have reached a verdict free from retaliation by the anti-Castro community."

Several of the amicus briefs filed by U.S. organizations also ask the Supreme Court to review the prosecution's striking of African-Americans from the jury. The prosecutor used seven of its eleven "peremptory challenges" (where no explanation need be given to strike a juror) to strike prospective black jurors. The Court of Appeals ruled that no inquiry into the prosecutor's motives was required because three other black jurors, a minority on the twelveperson jury, were seated. Amici maintain that this holding allows prosecutors to mask their manipulation of the racial make-up of a jury.

The U.S. government's brief in opposition is presently due April 6. The Court is likely to decide whether to grant review before its summer recess in June.

The briefs, along with a complete list of the signers, can be read below.

Additional background on the case:

The United States indicted the five Cubans in Miami in 1998. The indictment focused on the charge that they were unregistered Cuban agents and had infiltrated various anti-Castro organizations in South Florida.

One of the Five, Gerardo Hernandez, was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder for providing information to Havana on flights in which the anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue ("BTTR") would routinely invade Cuban airspace. On February 24, 1996, two BTTR planes were destroyed after both Cuban and American officials had repeatedly warned the Miami-based group to cease its illegal incursions into Cuban territory. Cuba maintains that it shot the planes down in its territory; the U.S. has maintained that the shootdown occurred a few miles into international airspace, after the planes entered and exited Cuban airspace.

The Cuban Five asked the trial judge to move the trial out of Miami to a new venue some thirty miles away, which is home to a massive Cuban-American exile community that, beyond its ordinary hostility towards the Castro regime, had been whipped into a frenzy of anti-Castro sentiment by the Elian Gonzalez debacle that took place just as the Cuban Five's trial got underway. Judge Lenard rejected that request, and a Miami jury convicted Hernandez and the others of all charges. Judge Lenard imposed the maximum possible sentences on the Five, including life imprisonment for Hernandez.

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the federal Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial because, the court held, a "perfect storm" of community prejudice and pre-trial publicity, exacerbated by the federal prosecutor's inflammatory statements to the jury, deprived Hernandez and the other Cubans of a fair trial.

The entire Court of Appeals, however, vacated the panel's decision, finding no error in the government trying the case to a Miami jury. It returned the case to a panel to evaluate the remaining issues in the appeal.

In another key ruling, two of the three judges on the panel refused to reverse the Miami jury's conviction of Hernandez. Judge Kravitch dissented, finding a complete absence of any evidence that Hernandez knew there would be a shootdown, let alone an unlawful shootdown in international airspace.


U.N. General Assembly President Demands Freedom for the Five at Human Rights Council

In Geneva this week, U.N. General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua spoke before the U.N. Human Rights Council. In addition to denouncing U.S. atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, d'Escoto made a strong plea for freedom for the Cuban Five:

"And last but not least, dear brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the plight of the five Cuban heroes who are still being held in preposterous conditions and serving unheard-of jail sentences for having denounced and provided pertinent information concerning terrorist activities being planned in the U.S. by Cuban expatriates against their former Motherland with the support of U.S. authorities. We are very hopeful about meaningful and credible change being brought by the new U.S. Administration. The immediate exincarceration of the five Cuban heroes would help strengthen our confidence that the promised change is for real."

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