home Congress, Cuba, Current Events An American Is Rotting Away in Cuban Jail, Obama Does Nothing (and you Still Want to Visit Cuba?)

An American Is Rotting Away in Cuban Jail, Obama Does Nothing (and you Still Want to Visit Cuba?)

The lawyers for an American being unlawfully held in Cuba are suing the U.S., and a government contractor, for $60 million in damages arising from the imprisonment of Mr. Alan Gross by the Cuban regime. The case is likely worth every penny. And then some. If you’re not familiar with the matter of Mr. Gross, and how that Cuban regime locked him up, the family has created a good summary and posted it on a website, Bring Alan Home.

Alan Gross traveled to Cuba four times in five months in 2009. From the best I can tell from the public record, he did so just about every time pursuant to a U.S. government contract awarded to a Maryland-based company called Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI). Mr. Gross was trying to, among other (legal) things, help the island’s dwindling Jewish population connect to the Internet. Doing so is a crime in Cuba. By the way, Google should keep this case in mind as it continues to expand its business ties to the island.

Mr. Gross’s trial was anything close to what you or I would call transparent judicial process. It was farcical. A trial in name only. He is rotting away, abandoned by his country, and the contractor who sent him to Cuba, in a Cuban prison. His American legal team, under intense pressure by the Obama Administration and certain Senators, tried to defend the case in Cuban courts. Big mistake. Mr. Gross was going to lose no matter what. As a matter of law, it would’ve been best that the U.S. legal team not show up for the proceedings. Doing so only gave an aura of legitimacy to an illegitimate judicial system.

Mr. Gross’s case always was, and always will be as far as Cuba is concerned, political. Gross was unlawfully arrested to make a political point as well as seek concessions from the U.S. that include, but are not limited to: (1) Easing economic sanctions, especially access to credit, increased travel by American and debt or certified claim forgiveness; (2) securing the release Cuban spies from federal prison; and (3) removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list.

The Obama Administration and certain Members of Congress that want to coddle the Cuban regime, opted to play nice with Cuba on this matter. They have left Mr. Gross and his legal team few viable options. And, as a result, Mr. Gross is now serving a 15-year prison sentence.

Someone must be held accountable for putting Mr. Gross in this predicament. Of course, that would be the Cuban regime; however, the United States also bears some responsibility for the government contracting breakdowns. Mr. Gross is not a spy. Nor was he working for the CIA. And if you believe that he was, then you’re just as confused as the regime.

The Gross family has been busy trying to secure Mr. Gross’s release since 2009. They have retained lawyers to help with many matters related to his case in the United States. I’m not familiar with all the litigation history, however, this particular case seeks damages from the United States and Development Alternatives Inc. to the tune of $60 million.

The case is now under review by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. According to the Associated Press, during court last week the government lawyer argued that Mr. Gross could not sue Uncle Sam because the injuries sustained took place in a foreign country. That’s rich, considering that Mr. Gross was acting on behalf of the U.S. government as a USAID subcontractor.

If they win a judgment, Congress should pass a law that would make Cuba ultimately responsible for any monetary damages that are paid out from the U.S. Treasury in this case. Cuba needs to know that there will be a price to pay if it continues to use Americans as political pawns in a chess game that they are, ultimately, going to lose.

I know where the government is headed with this line of reasoning (the injury sustained in Cuba argument), especially if the case is based on the Federal Tort Claims Act, but even it if is not, or even if the case is based on another legal theory, I pray that the judges find for these folks. The judges have more than enough legal bases, and precedent, to do so. It would also set the stage to do a series of things that could help in the release of Mr. Gross without compromising U.S. national interests.

On the issue of precedent, when the Brothers to the Rescue pilots – 3 Americans and 1 U.S. resident – were shot down, murdered by the Cuban Air Force in 1996, the United States paid the family members an unknown amount of money for their pain and suffering. This incident happened over international waters, not in the United States. There have been other cases as well. In my book, the Alan Gross case is just as strong, or stronger, legally, for the type of compensation sought in the case. I also believe that the Brother to the Rescue families should be allowed to bring more cases against the Castro regime, but that is a topic for another day.

The Gross family not only needs the economic help, but the sad fact is that the United States and, possibly, Development Alternatives Inc., completely bungled this matter, and someone needs to be held accountable so that things like this do not happen again in the future. One of the best ways to do so is with money damages and public scrutiny. The bungling started way before Mr. Gross was dispatched to Cuba. That is why a very thorough Inspector General audit of what happened in this case, and others like it, is also long overdue. We can do better in Cuba and that starts with removing the problems out of the system and the programs out of the limelight (read on).

I’m a big supporter of USAID programs in Cuba and elsewhere. In the case of Cuba, some have worked and continue to do so. Yet during the course of the last few years, including during the Bush Administration, I’ve seen way too many people travel to Cuba who should have never been allowed to travel to a Communist island with a repressive machine that rivals that of the East German Stasi.

What happened to Mr. Gross was, unfortunately, bound to happen because, and again this is a personal opinion, U.S.-Cuba programs are not taken as seriously as they should be taken. There are a few gems, but there has been a lot of time and money wasted on parochially-driven contracts that do little to advance the stated purpose of the U.S.-Cuba programs.

The Cuban Communist Party is desperate. It will use Americans as political pawns to ensure political survival. It killed Americans in 1996. Now it has imprisoned Mr. Gross for 15 years. The lesson that should’ve been learned in 1996 is that civil society and related Cuba projects should be left to professionals. These programs should’ve also been classified, decades ago. The recent move to place these programs at the State Department is not a solution; it just moves them to another box in the federal bureaucracy.

Mr. Gross’s release should be priority number one for the Obama Administration. He has no business rotting away in a Cuban jail because of the gross negligence that appears to have been committed in this matter by Uncle Sam and, possibly, the contractor. Rather than, as has been rumored in this town lately, engage in quid pro quos with the regime in exchange for Mr. Gross’s release, squeeze the regime economically. Hard. They will have no choice but to do the right thing.

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