Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Time for Obama to get Alan Gross out of prison

    Time for Obama to get Alan Gross out of prison
    BY WILLIAM LEOGRANDE AND PETER KORNBLUH WLEOGRANDE@AMERICAN.EDU
    12/04/2014 6:20 PM 12/04/2014 6:20 PM

    As USAID subcontractor Alan Gross begins his sixth year of incarceration
    in Cuba, the Obama administration continues to resist the one obvious
    way to win his freedom — a humanitarian exchange for three Cuban spies
    who have been in U.S. jails for over 16 years.

    “There’s no equivalency,” Secretary of State John Kerry insisted last
    April. “We’re not going to trade as if its spy for spy.” A Department of
    State spokesperson reiterated that position again this week on the fifth
    anniversary of Gross’ arrest.

    With Alan Gross’ life at stake, as well as the ability of the White
    House to advance U.S. interests in better relations with Cuba, President
    Obama should reconsider this self-defeating position.

    To be sure, the missions of Alan Gross and the so-called “Cuban Five”
    (now three, since two were released after completing their
    sentences)were not equivalent. The Cubans were intelligence agents, part
    of an espionage network that targeted Homestead Air Force Base and
    Cuban-American exile groups that Cuba suspected of orchestrating a wave
    of terrorist bombings in Havana tourist hotels.

    By contrast, Alan Gross was not a professional spy, but a USAID
    subcontractor carrying out a democracy promotion program which had the
    explicit goal of undermining the Cuban regime. He was arrested while
    setting up secret, independent, communications networks to enable Cuban
    groups to obtain, receive and disseminate information via encrypted
    satellite links to the Internet. The goal of his mission, according to
    Gross’ own USAID work proposal, was to “identify practical ways to
    develop and reach a larger pro-Democracy constituency.”

    Although Gross and the Cubans had different missions, their cases are
    nevertheless equivalent in other ways. Both Gross and the Cuban spies
    were acting as agents of their respective governments — sent by those
    governments into hostile territory to carry out covert operations in
    violation of the other country’s laws. In both cases, their governments
    bear responsibility for their predicament and have a moral obligation to
    extricate them from it.

    And in both cases, the trials and sentences meted out were less than
    models of due process. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary
    Detention reviewed the two cases separately and found fault with both
    convictions.

    Finally there is a humanitarian equivalence: Alan Gross has been in
    prison for five years, the Cubans for 16. On the anniversary of Gross’
    arrest, the White House called for his release on “humanitarian
    grounds.” The Cuban government has been calling for the humanitarian
    release of its agents, too, suggesting “parallel gestures” in the two cases.

    Should President Obama agree to such “humanitarian gestures” he would
    have the support of history on his side. Despite Secretary Kerry’s
    suggestion that Washington only trades “spies for spies,” U.S.
    presidents have conducted nonequivalent prisoner exchanges with Cuba in
    the past.

    In 1963, for example, the Kennedy administration negotiated the release
    of 27 imprisoned Americans, among them three CIA agents. In return,
    Kennedy ordered the release of four Cubans, one convicted of second
    degree murder for accidentally shooting and killing a nine-year-old girl
    during a brawl with anti-Castro exiles, and other three arrested in
    possession of weapons and explosives, charged with conspiracy to commit
    sabotage.

    In 1979, President Carter granted clemency to four Puerto Rican
    nationalists. Three of them, including Lolita Lebrón, had been convicted
    of attempted murder for an attack inside the House of Representatives in
    1954, wounding five members; the fourth attempted to assassinate
    President Harry Truman in 1950, during which a White House police
    officer was killed. Eleven days after their release, Fidel Castro set
    free four CIA agents imprisoned for plotting to assassinate Cuban
    leaders — completing his side of an informal agreement for a parallel
    humanitarian exchange.

    In their day, the cases of the Cuban saboteurs and Puerto Rican
    nationalists were just as prominent — and just as politically sensitive—
    as the case of the Cuban Five. Yet two U.S. presidents saw the wisdom of
    those exchanges to win the release of U.S. agents jailed in Cuba and
    advance broader U.S. foreign policy interests.

    They set a historical precedent for President Obama to follow. The
    approach President Obama has pursued for five years — insisting that
    Alan Gross did nothing wrong, and that the Cubans release him
    unconditionally — has utterly failed. The Cuban government has proven to
    be just as adamant about winning the release of its people as we are
    about winning the release of ours.

    With Alan Gross increasingly suicidal because his government has done so
    little to free him, time is running out for a positive resolution for
    both countries.

    “They are in prison now because I f—ked up,” President Kennedy famously
    told his aides about the members of Brigade 2506 captured after the Bay
    of Pigs as he authorized efforts to negotiate their release. “I have to
    get them out.” Obama has the same obligations to Alan Gross. It is time
    for the president to get him out.

    WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE AT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY AND PETER KORNBLUH AT THE
    NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE ARE CO-AUTHORS OF THE NEW BOOK, “BACK CHANNEL
    TO CUBA: THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES
    AND CUBA.”

    Source: Time for Obama to get Alan Gross out of prison | The Miami
    Herald – http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article4281649.html