Radio Havana Cuba interview with Richard Klugh, one of the defence team of the Cuban Five on the conditions of supervised release imposed on René Gonzalez, one of the Five who was released from Marianna Prison in Florida on the 7th October having served his full sentence of fifteen years.
Bernie Dwyer interviewed Richard Klugh, by telephone to his office in Miami on Friday, 14th October 2011
“There is, to my knowledge, no prior case in the history of the United States in which someone who has foreign nationality, as René has, whose family lives in a foreign country and whose wife cannot travel to the United States, has been barred from re-uniting with his family -family being so important to the very purpose of supervised release”.
Bernie Dwyer (BD): Before addressing René’s probation conditions, maybe we could clear up a couple of misunderstandings. Some media reports seem to suggest that the probation period that René is serving in Florida was additional to his original sentence and that it was slapped on him without much notice. Could you clear that up, please?
Richard Klugh (RK): The supervised release or probation term was part of the original sentence. It’s part of every sentence. What was decided at the last moment was that unlike other foreign nationals whose families live outside of the United States, René would not be permitted to join his family.
BD: Is this because he is a US citizen?
RK: The explanation given — and this is a unique case, and when I say unique it is the only time that it has ever occurred — is that because the court has the power to keep him in the United States, the court is going to keep him in the United States. There was not a mention of his US citizenship in any order although presumably if he were not a United States citizen, the US government could punish him in a different way by putting him through further and lengthy incarceration in order to process the deportation proceedings.
BD: It has also been suggested that René was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and that he served his full term. On the other hand he was released after 13 years. Could you comment on that?
RK: The law in the United States, as I think is true generally in other countries, is that in order to provide an incentive to good conduct, prisoners are given credit towards the completion of their sentence by exhibiting good conduct. The credit in the United States is very small, slightly more than 10% but René’s conduct was, of course, exemplary and he had no problems whatsoever. He completed his fifteen year sentence in just slightly more than thirteen years.
BD: The night before his release, René Gonzalez was held in the isolation cell in Marianna Prison known as “The Hole”. Is this a normal procedure?
RK: To my knowledge, that is unusual, and the reasons for that have not been made clear to me. I have not previously encountered that occurring in any other situation.
BD: Can we draw anything from that?
RK: I don’t know what we can draw from it. The truth is that René was kept in a prison setting that was too high for his status. Again, if he is being treated as a United States citizen, then of course, he should have several years ago been allowed to go to a prison camp rather than have been held in a prison. But the treatment of René was extraordinarily harsh despite his perfect conduct.
BD: Let’s talk now about René’s conditions of probation. Can you outline the regime he has to follow?
RK: He has to meet the standard conditions of supervised release. The purpose of supervised release is to reorient and reintegrate somebody into society and to do the normal things in society. One of the primary purposes is family support, going to work to support your family but of course in his situation, the entire function of supervised release appears to be to separate him from his family and make it even more difficult for him to support his family.
So it’s very difficult to reconcile the letter of the law with what the effect of it is. But he cannot violate any laws and he must report to the probation officer once a month and he must maintain a residence. Essentially those are the standard conditions. The judge added a condition in his case that was noted from the beginning as being unusual-that he was barred from associating with terrorist associations. Presumably that was to do with the fact that he was investigating the Brothers to the Rescue organization, that violated Cuban territory and that Cuba regarded as a terrorist organization. So it’s always been perplexing as to what the meaning of that part of the order was unless it meant he was to cease investigating acts of terrorism against Cuba.
BD: Is he allowed to move outside the State of Florida or must he stay within any geographical limits?
RK: His movements outside of the Southern Florida area are regulated by the court and the probation office so that he has to obtain permission.
BD: In other words, he needs to have residence there in Miami?
RK: He can theoretically petition to change his residence to a different area. However that is not automatically permitted and in a case of this type where supervised release is being used essentially as a means to further punish him it seems unlikely that he will be able to do that. But again, the irony of this case is that the supervised release is being used to prevent him from reuniting with his family, to prevent him from providing emotional and other support to his daughters and his wife and to continue to enforce the unnecessary separation of husband and wife, of father and daughters.
BD: Would you say that the regime that has been imposed on René Gonzalez is equal to that of most prisoners, and we are not talking about hardened criminals here, who come out of prison and are under supervised conditions? Would you say that what René is going through is more or less equal to that?
RK: The difference between what René is experiencing and what other prisoners have experienced is that in every other case the defendant is allowed to rejoin his family. So the unique harshness that has happened to Rene is this case is that the fundamental purpose of a supervised release, which is to help somebody to reestablish their connection to their family, to re-establish their lives, is being completely undermined by the supervised release itself. Hence the fact that the United States has used it as a negotiating tactic makes it quite clear that its purpose is to inflict some form of harm or punishment that is not inflicted in any other case.
So that while in a technical sense, ordinarily someone would come back to live in the district and would be subject to supervision. There is, to my knowledge, no prior case in the history of the United States in which someone who has foreign nationality, as René has, whose family lives in a foreign country and whose wife cannot travel to the United States, has been barred from re-uniting with his family -family being so important to the very purpose of supervised release.
BD: And René Gonzalez himself, what form is he in with this new imposition that he has to suffer?
RK: René is a very strong individual. Obviously he has indicated in an expressive way how strongly he feels that the mission that he was on had no intent at all to harm the United States and that he harbors no ill-will towards the United States in that regard. So he’s a strong individual who will be able to withstand whatever form of punishment he faces. And it’s unfortunate that processes that are meant for other purposes are being used to serve political ends in a completely disproportionate and unjust way.
BD: Will the other four, Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino, who are still serving out their long, long sentences, have to do their probation in the United States?
RK: Theoretically by having United States citizenship another of the Five could face the same possibilities. One would hope that when they are released they would face a more reasonable government approach.
BD: So we are talking about Antonio here. This won’t apply to Gerardo, Ramon and Fernando?
RK: That’s correct.
BD: What is the current legal position at present of the other four?
RK: They are all pursuing relief from extraordinary violations of fundamental rights to a fair trial. They are pursuing what every day is revealed more clearly to have been an illegitimate effort by the United States to create an environment that was so hostile and prejudicial to the Five that they could not possibly receive a fair trial. We are litigating point by point the fallacy of the government arguments, the presentation of false evidence, and the misuse of evidence in order to convict not just Gerardo but all of the Five, further pointing out how coordinated an effort the political and prosecutorial misconduct was in this case – again, an extraordinary and unjust way to gain these unjust convictions and sentences.
BD: Has there been any response from the US legal system?
RK: We are waiting a further response by the United States regarding the petitions filed by Ramon and Fernando and it is anticipated that they will file their response at the end of November.
This interview was broadcast by radio Havana Cuba on the 17th October 2011