Last week the Federal Court for the District of Colombia ruled that the U.S. State Department must respond to a Freedom of Information Request asking for information on the possibly illegal, under the table payment of Miami area journalists covering the trial of the Cuban 5.
The Cuban 5 are Cubans who were doing surveillance of extremist right-wing Cuban exiles in the Miami, Florida area. Their motive was to detect and thus prevent terrorist acts that such groups had engaged in for decades, and which had cost many Cuban and other lives, including those of 78 passengers and crew of a Cuban airliner that was bombed in midair in 1976 just after taking off from Barbados. Evidence later emerged that two Cuban exiles, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, had planned the bombing.
Bosch is deceased, but Posada Carriles is living in Miami, where he is lionized in right-wing circles. Cuba and Venezuela (where he had got citizenship at one point) are demanding his extradition, but the U.S. government only ever went after him on immigration charges, which they failed to prove.
The Cuban government provided information from the surveillance activities to the FBI, but instead of arresting the terrorists, the FBI used the information to track down and arrest the Five, in September 1998. They were tried in Miami in an atmosphere of anti-Castro hysteria and red-baiting vituperation in the press and media, making a fair trial impossible. The judge in the case refused a request for a change of venue, and all five were found guilty in 2001, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years (for René Gonzalez, who is now free and back in Cuba) to two life sentences (for Gerardo Hernandez, who also faced bogus murder charges).
Subsequently, it was found that the U.S. government was making payments to at least 44 Miami area journalists during the time the trial was going on. The Liberation newspaper filed a Freedom of Information request asking for the names, amounts of money and other details. The government has stonewalled the Freedom of Information request, giving various childish pretexts for not responding within the legally required time limit. So in June of this year, The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund went to the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. to ask that the government (specifically, the State Department) be forced to respond to the Freedom of Information request.
The court responded with an injunction favorable to the plaintiffs on Friday, September 13, with the first batch of responses due in October.
It is illegal for the government to carry out propaganda activities aimed at the domestic U.S. population, under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. If it is revealed that the government indeed tried to prejudice the outcome of the Cuban 5 trial by essentially paying for manipulated journalistic coverage, there could be cause for action on that basis also.
Meanwhile, an international movement to "Free the 5" continues to grow.
Photo: Activists call for freeing the Cuban Five. AP