There was no evidence the Cuban Five posed a threat to the U.S., the lead FBI investigator in the case has admitted.

In May 1998 Hector Pesquera led the FBI’s efforts in Miami to formulate a criminal case against the five men, who had infiltrated anti-Cuban paramilitary groups in the U.S. The five — Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, René González and Fernando González — hoped to warn the Cuban government about terrorist plots against it. The FBI arrested the men in September 1998. They were tried and convicted on various charges, including, in three cases, conspiracy to commit espionage.

In January of this year, two of Pesquera’s friends — one said to be an FBI informant, the other reportedly part of a 1997 campaign of bombings in Havana — interviewed him on Radio Marti, the U.S.-funded station that broadcasts right-wing propaganda to Cuba.

They asked the now-retired Pesquera, “Do you believe that at some moment the security of the United States was in danger or that they had access to some intelligence information that could be valuable to the enemies of the United States?”

“No,” he answered. “For example, in the case of Guerrero, a retrospective study of the information that he had taken was made; the investigation was unable to determine if he had such intelligence information.”

The prosecution apparently never shared this information, favorable to the accused, with his defense team.

The extent to which the prosecution failed to share evidence is unknown. But such a failure could constitute prosecutorial abuse, and could lead an appeals court to invalidate the trial, some legal experts suggest.

After 17 months of solitary confinement and a trial rife with judicial flaws, a federal judge gave the five severe sentences, including life for three of them. At the trial, U.S. military officers and security experts testified that the men had done nothing to harm U.S. military preparedness or security interests.

Pescuera told another interviewer in 2003 that just before the arrests, “others in the Justice Department didn’t want to touch this.” He said then-Attorney General Janet Reno, in particular, was reluctant to arrest the men.

Commenting on the revelations, the Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace said, “The world can be thankful that a former FBI official, who was primarily responsible for the arrests, has stated on the record that the Cuban Five posed no threat to the United States. Perhaps this will be an opening for justice for the five anti-terrorists.”

Geoff Bottoms, a leader of the British campaign to free the five Cubans, said, “All along it has been obvious that this was a political trial in which the FBI acted in the interests of the Miami Mafia with the full complicity of Washington.”

“With the appeal judges in Atlanta expected shortly to announce their decision on the case of the five, this further nail in the coffin of the prosecution should bring the day forward when these five Cuban heroes receive justice at last,” he said.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard defense arguments just over a year ago.

A recent Supreme Court decision in Blakely v. Washington put limits on the power of judges to ignore guidelines set up for matching sentences with defendants’ crimes. The ruling may put the brake on judges who extend sentences on their own, as was the case with the Cuban Five.

In a related development, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón announced March 16 that Cuba’s permanent representative to the UN had delivered a letter on the prisoners’ behalf to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Calling the Cuban men innocent, their trial unfair and their sentences cruel, the letter requested UN intervention to secure visiting rights for the prisoners’ family members.

This article is based on a March 15 report by Jean Guy Allard in Granma Internacional.