An agency of the UN Human Rights Commission recently criticized the U.S. government’s handling of the case of the Cuban Five, five men arrested in Miami in September 1998 on various charges, including, in three cases, conspiracy to commit espionage. At the time of their arrest, the five were working to foil Florida-based, right-wing acts of terrorism committed against Cuba.

The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions found that Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, René González and Fernando González were denied fair treatment at the hands of U.S. authorities. It noted:

• After their arrests, the five were kept in solitary confinement for 17 months and their lawyers were often blocked from visiting them.

• The five lacked access to important U.S. government documents that would have contributed evidence favorable to their defense, something Washington has never denied. This undermined the balance between the prosecution and defense efforts that is essential to a fair trial.

• The setting of the trial in Miami subjected the accused to an atmosphere of bias and prejudice that made its outcome a foregone conclusion.

The UN group said the circumstances of the trial, the nature of the charges and the unduly severe sentences — three received life sentences — leads to the conclusion that the trial was not fair by international standards. It asked the U.S. government to remedy the situation of the five prisoners “in conformity with the principles stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” to which the U.S. is a signatory.