The People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo has reported recently on the grim circumstances confronted by five Cuban men convicted of spying and imprisoned in the United States. (See PWW Feb. 22 and March 15.) Their trial and sentencing marked them as political prisoners, a status now confirmed by cruel treatment at the hands of U.S. prison authorities – weeks of solitary confinement.

On March 16, appeals attorney Leonard Weinglass visited Gerardo Hernández at the Lompoc, Calif., federal prison. Hernandez’ bed was concrete, and lights in his cell burned continually. Deprived of clothes and shoes, he was reduced to underwear. No visitors, reading material, or telephones were allowed. Weinglass designated the windowless cell with a length of three steps as a punishment cell.

Weinglass reports that Antonio Guerrero, whom he visited on March 19, arrived in “leg irons and handcuffed … The visiting facility … was a very small cubby with a thick glass between us and a telephone, which we had to use to communicate … There was no slot for passing documents … The visiting conditions were much worse than those I experienced with Mumia [whom Weinglass represented] on death row.”

Interviewed in Miami on March 25, Weinglass stated that an anti-terrorism regulation established after Sept. 11 had been used to authorize solitary confinement. It requires that an intelligence chief certify that the prisoners threaten national security. An appeals court hears the prisoners’ case on April 7. Their contacts with attorneys have been cut back markedly. Sharon Lee of Amnesty International recently charged that the U.S. government was interfering with the appeals process. In a March 14 letter to the head of federal prisons she also reminded the jailers that, according to international accords, “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”.

Their long sentences identify the Cuban men as political prisoners. Hernandez is serving two life sentences, two others are each serving a single life sentence, and two are serving terms of 15 and 19 years each. By contrast, Ana Morales last year was sentenced to 25 years, even though she was convicted of spying at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The Cuban men had infiltrated private, non-governmental organizations. When they were arrested in 1998, five other Cubans were prosecuted for espionage, along with the prisoners. Through plea bargaining, those men will serve only four to six years.

The Cuban political prisoners’ prosecution and trial were grievously flawed. Their homes had been wiretapped and searched without warrant. They were held three days without charges, arraignment, or legal representation. They languished for 17 months in solitary confinement before their trial. One thousand four hundred pages of information used by the prosecution were never made available to defense attorneys. Jurors faced intimidation from the media and courthouse crowd. The prosecutors interfered with the appeals process by depriving the Atlanta appeals court of essential materials.

The five prisoners were defending their nation against assaults by Cuban counter-revolutionaries living in Florida. The U.S. government knew about the attacks and condoned them. Government complicity gave federal trial officials a stake in the trial’s outcome. At issue was the toleration of terror matched up against the prisoners’ patriotic duty. It was a political trial with competing defendants.

Unspoken charges against the U.S. government added a political dimension to the trial and contributed mightily to converting the five Cuban men into political prisoners. For decades Cuba has endured cannons and bazookas fired at ships and buildings, 100 other bombings – with at least six dead in the United States, cattle poisoned, hotels bombed, fires set, and buses destroyed. The mastermind responsible for 73 deaths in 1973 from an airplane bombing lives comfortably in Miami. Cuban air space has been repeatedly violated. In recent years two assassination attempts have been directed against Cuban President Fidel Castro as he visited foreign countries.

Yes, the “Miami five” are political prisoners. They offended Washington sensibilities by defending both their nation and the Cuban revolution. They are as innocent of criminality as children dying from U.S. bombs in Iraq. They and the children too are victims of an imperial war, and a worldwide, anti- imperialist resistance movement is coming to their rescue.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a part-time pediatrician in rural Maine. He can be reached at pww@pww.org