Congressional Proposal for Extradition of U.S. Fugitives in Cuba 

On December 13 U.S. Representative Peter King (Rep., NY) and eight cosponsors filed a proposed House resolution calling for the extradition of U.S. citizens in Cuba who are fugitives from the U.S. That proposal will be summarized and analyzed below.

Contents of the Proposed Resolution[1]

The preamble of the proposed resolution, which was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, recited that  “more than 70 fugitives from the United States, charged with offenses ranging from hijacking to kidnapping to drug offenses to murder, are believed to be receiving safe harbor in Cuba,” including William Morales and Joanne Chesimard. It also mentioned that the U.S. and Cuba have a bilateral extradition treaty from 1905 and 1926 and that “it is imperative that Cuba abide by its extradition treaty with the United States and immediately extradite or render to the United States those legally indicted or convicted of serious criminal offenses in the United States.”

Therefore, the proposed resolution called for the following:

  • “the immediate extradition or rendering to the United States of convicted felon William Morales and all other fugitives from justice who are receiving safe harbor in Cuba in order to escape prosecution or confinement for criminal offenses committed in the United States;”
  • the U.S. urging “the international community to continue to press for the immediate extradition or rendering of all fugitives from justice that are receiving safe harbor in Cuba;” and
  • “the Secretary of State and the Attorney General to continue to press for the immediate extradition or rendering of all fugitives from United States justice so that they may be tried and, if convicted, serve out their sentences.”

Analysis of the Proposed Resolution

The resolution may make for good publicity for these representatives, but it is a waste of time because the terms of the U.S.-Cuba extradition treaty bar such extraditions, because the U.S. repeatedly has called for Cuba to make these extraditions and because Cuba repeatedly has denied such requests under the very terms of the extradition treaties recited in this resolution.

  1. The Legalities of Extradition[2]

First, extradition is the legal process “by which one country (the requesting country) may seek from another country (the requested country) the surrender of a person who is wanted for prosecution, or to serve a sentence following conviction, for a criminal offense.

In the U.S., international extradition is treaty-based, meaning that the U.S. must have an extradition treaty with the requested country in order for the latter to consider the request for extradition. U.S. extradition practice is based almost entirely on individually negotiated bilateral treaties, which the U.S. brings into force following Senate advice and consent to ratification. The U.S. is currently a party to 109 such treaties. While most of these treaties currently in force have been negotiated in the last 30-40 years, many of the treaties still in force are quite old, in some cases dating back to the 19th Century.

For many reasons, however, not every request for extradition results in a fugitive being delivered to the requesting country. Sometimes the requesting state doesn’t know where a fugitive is located and makes multiple contingency requests for provisional arrest and extradition. In other cases, fugitives learn they are being sought and flee or go into hiding. Even following a fugitive’s arrest, court proceedings and appeals can last a very long time and can be delayed by fugitives’ exercising all possible rights to challenge extradition.

In addition, most such treaties provide specific bases on which extraditions can be delayed or denied. The obligation to extradite under a bilateral extradition treaty is not absolute and protections are included in the treaty to accommodate both U.S. and foreign interests. While the exact terms of such treaties result from country-specific negotiations and thus vary somewhat among the treaties, there are the following typical types of qualifications on the obligation to extradite:

  • An almost universal treaty exception, known in international extradition law as the “non bis in idem” doctrine, is similar to the double jeopardy doctrine under U.S. domestic law. It provides that extradition will be denied when the person has already been either acquitted or convicted for the same offense in the country from which extradition is requested, or, in some instances, in a third country.
  • A similarly widely adopted exception is where the crime at issue is a “political offense” (a term which can cover treason, sedition or other crime against the state without the elements of any ordinary crime, or which under U.S. law can cover ordinary crimes committed incidental to or in furtherance of a violent political uprising such as a war, revolution or rebellion, especially when such crimes do not target civilian victims) or a “military offense” (a crime subject to military law that is not criminalized under normal penal law).
  • U.S. treaties also typically provide that extradition may be denied if the request is found to be politically motivated. Some of our treaties provide that extradition may be denied if the request was made for the primary purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person sought on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.
  • Perhaps the highest profile exceptions to the obligation to extradite are bars or limitations in some countries on the extradition of their own nationals.   The U.S., however, makes no distinction between extraditing its own nationals and those of other countries and advocates that all countries adopt the U.S. policy due to the ease of flight and the increasingly transnational nature of crime.
  • Some U.S. treaties provide that if the offense for which surrender is sought is punishable by death under the laws in the country requesting extradition but not in the country holding the fugitive, extradition may be refused unless the requesting country provides assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if imposed, will not be carried out. Sometimes these provisions are included in the treaty at the insistence of our treaty partner, because many countries in Europe and elsewhere oppose the death penalty. Sometimes the U.S. insists on such provisions in order to retain sufficient flexibility to ensure that the U.S. is not obliged to surrender persons for execution for relatively less serious crimes.

Older U.S. treaties that were negotiated before the late 1970’s contained a list of offenses that would be covered. In newer U.S. treaties, however, this list approach has been replaced by the concept of “dual criminality,” usually providing that offenses covered by the treaty include all those made punishable under the laws of both parties by imprisonment or other form of detention for more than one year, or by a more severe penalty (such as capital punishment). Such a formulation obviates the need to renegotiate the treaty to provide coverage for new offenses, strikingly exemplified by the currently evolving area of cyber-crime. Indeed, to avoid having the dual criminality analysis applied too narrowly, most treaties provide further guidance, including that an offense is extraditable whether or not the laws in the two countries place the offense within the same category or describe it by the same terminology. A major goal in the U.S. current ambitious treaty-negotiating program is to negotiate new, modern treaties that eliminate the “list” approach in favor of dual criminality treaties.

U.S.-Cuba Extradition Treaties[3]

The issues posed by the new proposed House resolution are governed by the “Treaty between the United States and Cuba for the mutual extradition of fugitives from justice,” which entered into force on March 2, 1905. Under this treaty, as amended, each country shall grant extradition of persons covered by Article I for crimes covered by Article II, as amended and expanded by Articles I and II of the Additional Extradition Treaty between the parties, which entered into force on June 18, 1926 (44 Stat. 2392; TS 737).

The persons covered by Article I are “persons who, having been charged as principals, accomplices or accessories with or convicted of any crimes or offenses specified in the following article, and committed within the jurisdiction of one of the high contracting parties, shall seek an asylum or be found within the territories of the other: Provided that this shall only be done upon such evidence of criminality as, according to the laws of the place where the fugitive or person so charged shall be found, would justify his or her apprehension and commitment for trial if the crime or offense had been there committed.”   However, under Article V of the treaty, “Neither of the contracting parties shall be bound to deliver up its own citizens under the stipulations of this Treaty.”

The long list of crimes covered by Article II, as amended, includes the following: (1) “Murder, comprehending the offenses expressed in the Penal Code of Cuba as assassination, parricide, infanticide and poisoning; manslaughter, when voluntary; the attempt to commit any of these crimes.” (2) “Arson.” and (3) “Robbery, defined to be the act of feloniously and forcibly taking from the person of another money, goods, documents, or other property, by violence or putting him in fear; burglary; housebreaking and shopbreaking.”

Under Article VI of the original treaty, however, the requested country is not obligated to extradite someone when the offense is of “a political character.” The exact language of this provision states, “A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offense in respect of which his surrender is demanded be of a political character, or if it is proved that the requisition for his surrender has, in fact, been made with a view to try or punish him for an offense of a political character.” (Emphasis added.)

The only limitation on this exception is in Article VI itself, which states, “An attempt against the life of the head of a foreign government or against that of any member of his family when such attempt comprises the act either of murder, assassination, or poisoning, shall not be considered a political offense or an act connected with such an offense.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, Article VI states, “If any question shall arise as to whether a case comes within the provisions of this article [VI], the decision of the authorities of the government on which the demand for surrender is made, or which may have granted the extradition shall be final. (emphasis added.) [3]

To have a better understanding of this treaty, it would be useful to see all documents regarding (a) the negotiation of the treaty in 1904-1905 and its amendment in 1926; and  (c) previous U.S. and Cuban requests for extradition.

U.S. Fugitives In Cuba

According to U.S. Department of State annual reports purportedly justifying the previous designations of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” there have been or still are over 70 individuals living in Cuba who are fugitives from criminal charges in U.S. relating to violent acts in the 1970’s purportedly committed to advance political causes. Pursuant to a 2005 Cuban government statement, however, these U.S. reports also say no additional U.S. fugitives have been permitted on the island and in a few instances Cuba has extradited such fugitives to the U.S.

However, a U.S. newspaper recently asserted, “The U.S. has no idea how many fugitives Cuba’s harboring,” And on January 23, 2015, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and two other Republican Senators (David Vitter (LA) and Ted Cruz (TX)) asked the F.B.I. to submit a complete list of such fugitives with copies of their U.S. indictments, but a FBI response to this request has not been located.

In any event, one of the most notable U.S. fugitives still on the island is JoAnne Chesimard (a/k/a Assata Shakur), a political radical and former member of the Black Panther Party and the militant Black Liberation Army, who in 1979 broke out of a New Jersey state prison where she was serving a life sentence for assault, armed robbery and aiding and abetting the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. After hiding in the New York area, she fled to Cuba in 1984, where she was granted political asylum that same year and has lived ever since. According to her U.S. attorney, she “has maintained from the time she was arrested that she was a victim of a counter intelligence program by the FBI and that she was stopped on the New Jersey turnpike as result of her being targeted by FBI.” In May 2013 the FBI added her name to its “Most Wanted” list.

Cuba, however, before the December 2014 rapprochement had rejected U.S. requests for her extradition on the ground that Cuba had determined she was being sought on “political” grounds and, therefore, had decided to grant her asylum. In addition, there are also some indications that Chesimard/Shakur has been granted Cuban citizenship, which would provide Cuba with another reason under the treaty to deny a U.S. request for her extradition. It would be useful to know the details of all prior U.S. requests for her extradition.

After the announcement of  rapprochement, the two countries have discussed various extradition issues, including at least some of the U.S. nationals in Cuba who are mentioned in the new proposed resolution in the House of Representatives, including Chesimard/Shakur.[4]

However, after a bilateral negotiation session in Washington, D.C. in February 2015 Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead diplomat for these negotiations, said the issue of extraditing people between Cuba and the U.S. had been discussed many times in the past and that the two countries had signed a treaty on the topic in 1906 which has a clause such that it would not apply in cases involving political activities. “Therefore, Cuba has legitimately given political asylum to a small group of U.S. citizens, because we have reason to believe that they deserve this and that is how far we’ve gone. And when one grants political asylum, then you cannot get into these types of discussions.” She added that after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 the U.S. had not honored the treaty when Cuba asked the U.S. to extradite “members of the Cuban dictatorship who were responsible for terrible crimes.”

In June 2016, the two countries held another negotiating session in Havana focused on counterterrorism cooperation Afterwards the State Department merely stated that the U.S. “continues to seek the return by Cuba of fugitives from US justice” and that the Department “brings out the cases of fugitives to the Cuban Government to be settled and will continue to do so at every appropriate opportunity.”

Conclusion

As a result, the new proposed Resolution does not deserve to be adopted, and if adopted, it will not have any practical effect.

=============================

[1]  H.Res. 664, Calling for the immediate extradition or rendering to the United States of convicted felons William Morales, Joanne Chesimard, and all other fugitives from justice who are receiving safe harbor in Cuba in order to escape prosecution or confinement for criminal offenses committed in the United States (115th Cong. (Dec. 13, 2017). The co-sponsors are Representatives Leonard Lance (Rep., NJ), Bill Pascrell (Dem., NJ), Frank LoBiondo (Rep., NJ), Ron De Santis (Rep., FL), Albio Sires (Dem., NJ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) and Carlos Curbelo (Rep., FL).

[2] Extradition Has Become a Hot Topic for the United States, dwkcommentaries.com (July 26, 2016).

[3]  Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015).

[4] Criticism of U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 21, 2017).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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