Judge blocks US disclosures in Cuban 5 case

Judge blocks US disclosures in Cuban 5 case

CURT ANDERSON 2009-10-02

MIAMI — A federal judge on Friday halted a U.S. search for national security damage assessments that had been ordered by another judge in the politically charged case of three convicted Cubans who are seeking lenient prison sentences.

Without comment, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard issued a stay sought by federal prosecutors, who want more time to appeal the original order they say was far too broad and improperly required disclosure of top secret government information. Prosecutors also insisted they have found no damage assessments relevant to the so-called Cuban Five case.

“The government has made a diligent and thorough search for the material the defense requested, and this search has yielded no formal damage assessments,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller in a court filing.

The issue of national security damage is key for the three Cubans whose espionage conspiracy sentences in 2001 — life for Antonio Guererro and Ramon Labanino, 19 years for Fernando Gonzalez — were vacated earlier this year by a federal appeals court.

The order requires U.S. officials to search for any national security damage assessments of the Cubans’ actions, which could bear on whether three of the five get a more lenient sentence. If no damage assessment exists, defense attorneys say, the U.S. cannot justify seeking long prison terms for the three.

Lenard is scheduled to re-sentence the three men Oct. 13, but the dispute over damage assessments has thrown that date into doubt.

The appeals judges said there was insufficient evidence that Guererro and Labanino had obtained or transmitted top secret U.S. information to justify their sentences. In Gonzalez’s case, the appeals court ruled he was wrongly labeled as a leader or manager of the Cuban spy ring known as the “Wasp Network.”

Evidence during the 2001 trial in Miami showed that the group attempted to infiltrate U.S. military installations, spy on Cuban exile groups and monitor politicians opposed to the communist Cuban government. At least one Cuban spy was involved in the 1996 downing of three Cuban exile Brothers to the Rescue planes by Cuban fighter, according to trial testimony.

The Cuban government considers the five men heroes and regularly denounces the case as a political show trial. Their U.S.-based advocates claim the men are being unjustly punished because no U.S. secrets were compromised.

Prosecutors have also sought to cast doubt on claims by the defense that U.S. officials have in the past cited national security damage assessments. In her filing, Miller said broadcast comments cited by defense lawyers made by a former chief of Miami’s FBI office, Hector Pasquera, referred not to a post-arrest assessment but rather on the initial evidence against them men.

“He is aware of no damage assessment conducted as a result of this case,” Miller said of Pasquera.

Lenard set an Oct. 16 date for defense lawyers to file more arguments on the damage assessment issue.

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