2014 Archives

Extradition of US exiles in Cuba unlikely despite restored ties


The following is from the Dec. 18, 2014, edition of Aljazeera. Chris Jenks, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic and an assistant law professor in SMU's Dedman School of Law, provided expertise for this story. Jenks is a former Army JAG who served as chief of the Army's International Law Branch.

December 19, 2014

By Renee Lewis  

Soon after President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with Havana on Wednesday, Cuba watchers began to raise questions over potential extradition orders U.S. exiles in Cuba, specifically regarding rights activist Assata Shakur — who has been living on the island for decades.

Shakur and other black activists, including Black Panther Party (BPP) founder Huey P. Newton, fled from U.S. intelligence and security agencies in the 1960s and 1970s to Cuba, which was sympathetic to socialist ideals. Now supporters of Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, wonder what the future holds for the 67-year-old exile.

Questions have also been raised over Cubans who fled to the United States during the same period, especially those who allegedly took part in organizing the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

But legal experts say extraditions from either country are unlikely to pass muster considering provisions contained in the extradition treaty the United States has with Cuba. . . 

Other experts doubted whether Shakur’s crime would fall under that of a political character.

“Just because one country describes a crime as political doesn’t change the crime,” said Jim Harrington, attorney and director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It’s going to be very political with the police and FBI pushing for it … but it’s difficult to say at this time. I think this is an issue that is a couple years down the line.”

But because Fidel Castro had accepted Shakur’s request for political asylum, that point could become contentious, said Chris Jenks, a former Army attorney who served as a State Department legal adviser and now teaches at Southern Methodist University's law school.

It is the host country that makes the determination over whether the individual would be prosecuted for political reasons, said Hinds. And Cuba has determined that Shakur is a political refugee, so he believes there is little chance of an extradition. What's more, there is precedent for even a close ally to reject U.S. extradition requests based on determining it was for political reasons, he added.

Hinds cited the case of several members of the BPP who hijacked a passenger plane and diverted it to Algeria in 1972 after releasing the passengers in exchange for $1 million. They soon traveled to France and even though they were arrested for hijacking there, they were given a light sentence and were never extradited to the U.S. because they determined the individuals would face political persecution. 

As for Cubans exiled in the U.S., the political nature of any alleged crimes would be easier to prove, experts said. Among the thousands of Cubans who escaped to the U.S. during the Cold War were a few who assisted the U.S. with its disastrous Bay of Pigs operation.

“Attempting to overthrow a government seems more credible in terms of arguing that it is political than killing a police officer,” Jenks said.

Read the full story.

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