Additional Controversy Over What Happened to U.S. Diplomats in Cuba 

As discussed in prior posts, at least 24 U.S. diplomats and members of their families while working and living in Havana have suffered various ailments.[1] Controversy over what caused such ailments has surfaced just one day before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee  conducts a hearing on the subject.

One dispute is between Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), the chair of the subcommittee, and another subcommittee member, Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), who as noted in a recent post, after a recent conference in Havana with Cuban officials, announced that both the U.S. and Cuba have no evidence of any  such “attacks.”

On January 7 Senator Rubio disagreed with this assessment with three messages on his Twitter account: “”It is a documented FACT that 24 U.S. govt officials & spouses and their spouses were victims of some kind of sophisticated attack while stationed in Havana.” He added in another tweet, “Any U.S. official briefed on matter knows full well that while method of attack still in question, that attacks & injuries occurred isn’t.” His third tweet said. “It is impossible to conduct 24 separate & sophisticated attacks against US Govt personnel in #Havana without #CastroRegime knowing about it.”[2]

Another dispute on the subject has occurred between the FBI and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.[3]

According to the Associated Press, the FBI’s Operational Technology Division has issued an interim report, dated January 4, that says after months of investigation and four trips to Cuba, there is no evidence that sound waves could have damaged the health of these people, but that the FBI will continue investigating the matter.

On January 5 Tillerson, however, said he’s not convinced that what he calls the “deliberate attacks” are over and that he still  believes that “the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government can bring this to an end.”

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s subcommittee hearing.

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[1] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017”  section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] Rubio Twitter Accountt (Jan. 7, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, Tillerson Tells AP Cuba Still Risky; FBI Doubts Sonic Attack, N.Y. times (Jan. 8, 2018)

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.

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[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).

 

Criticism of U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Agreement 

The head of New Jersey’s state police has criticized the two countries’ law enforcement agreement of January 16, 2017, because, he says, he has read the agreement and it does not require Cuba to extradite Joanne Chesimard (a/k/a Assata Shakur) to the U.S.[1]

After reviewing what we know about this woman, we will examine the police statement and provide commentary.

Chesimard/ Shakur

In the 1960s-1970s Chesimard, a U.S. citizen, was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army in the U.S. In 1977 she was convicted in New Jersey state court for aiding and abetting first-degree murder, assault and battery of a police officer (New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster), assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery during a gunfight on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973.

She was sentenced to life in New Jersey state prison, but in 1979 she escaped and in 1984 traveled to Cuba. At some time thereafter President Fidel Castro granted her asylum, and she has been living there under the name Assata Shakur. She is now around 70 years old. The FBI has listed her as one of its “Most Wanted” and offered a reward of $1 million for her apprehension; the New Jersey Attorney General has offered to match that reward.

Since at least 1997 there have been various unsuccessful attempts by the U.S. government and others to obtain her extradition to the U.S.

Statement by New Jersey State Police Superintendent

The Superintendent Rick Fuentes’ January 18 statement reads as follows:

  • “On Monday, January 16, 2017, the White House signed a law enforcement pact with the government of Cuba that included the sharing of national security information on matters related to fighting terrorism and the scourge of the international narcotics trade. I have read this pact with great interest, as any aspect of the continued negotiations to normalize relations with Cuba impacts our continued advocacy to seek the return of Joanne Chesimard. Chesimard executed New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973 and fled to Cuba after escaping a New Jersey prison in 1979. She is most prominent among a rogue’s gallery of cop killers and domestic terrorists that have been given sanctuary by the Castro regime these past thirty years.”
  • With a continued sense of bewilderment and confusion not uncommon to the course of these negotiations, the pact does not address the return of: Joanne Chesimard; Victor Manuel Gerena, a member of Los Macheteros who was removed from the FBI Top Ten list one month ago; Charlie Hill, a member of the Republic of New Afrika, alleged to have killed a New Mexico state trooper in 1971; or, William Guillermo Morales, the murderous bomb-maker for the Puerto Rican separatist group, FALN.”
  • “Their omission from this agreement and from the negotiations-at-large is so glaring as to signal a clear intent by the Obama Administration to ignore these fugitives. By burning the last bridge to this Administration’s opportunity to gain their negotiated return, families who have long suffered the consequences of their terrorist acts and law enforcement everywhere in this country have been shown the back of the hand. An ignominious torch has been passed to the next president.”
  • “We are not deterred. I can say, unequivocally, that Governor Chris Christie, State Attorney General Chris Porrino and I remain resolute in our efforts to follow every political course leading to the return of Joanne Chesimard and the other remaining terrorist fugitives. We approach the next presidential administration with a renewed sense of optimism and moral superiority that justice will prevail.”

Comments

The Superintendent’s statements regarding Chesimard/Shakur are believed to be basically correct, and it is most understandable that the New Jersey State Police want her extradited to the U.S. and returned to New Jersey state prison.

The Superintendent says he has read the recent MOU in question and that it does not require Cuba to make that extradition. I have not been able to locate that MOU so cannot independently verify the validity of his statement. But for present purposes I will assume that his statement about the MOU is basically correct.

I assume, on the other hand, that the MOU does not contain a U.S. agreement to not continue to seek her extradition or a Cuban statement or promise not to extradite her. If it had, I am confident that the Superintendent would have so stated and raised the ante for his protest.

He also asserts that the subject of this requested extradition has not been raised by the U.S. in “the negotiations-at-large.” Although I have not been personally involved in those negotiations, I believe this to be a false statement. As noted in earlier posts, public reports indicate that the two countries’ respective requests for extraditions of criminals or suspects, which I believe includes the U.S. request regarding Chesimard/Shakur, have been the subjects of several such bilateral negotiating sessions since December 17, 2014.

As a result, I conclude that the parties have not been able to come to an agreement about such extraditions or about a judicial procedure for resolving any such disputes. Therefore, there apparently was no mention of the subject in the MOU in question.

Moreover, the Superintendent also fails to recognize a major legal issue regarding the requested Chesimard/Shakur extradition because of an extradition treaty between the two countries. Therefore, we will look at that treaty and the issue it raises regarding this possible extradition.

U.S.-Cuba Extradition Treaty.

As explained in an earlier post,[2] on March 2, 1905, the two countries entered into such a treaty, the “Treaty between the United States and Cuba for the mutual extradition of fugitives from justice.” 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.

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.” This obviously covers Chesimard/Shakur, who does not fall within the exception 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,” unless she has been granted Cuban citizenship.

The long list of crimes covered by Article II, as amended, includes (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.” This obviously covers the requested extradition discussed here.

Under Article VI of the original treaty, however, the requested country (Here, Cuba) 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.” This exception, however, is not applicable to the case under consideration here.

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.) This exception seems to cover Chesimard/Shakur as discussed next.

The Treaty Issue Regarding Chesimard/Shakur

After fleeing to Cuba in 1984, at date unknown the Cuban government apparently granted her political asylum and perhaps Cuban citizenship. Assuming that to be the case, that appears to negate Cuba’s obligation under the treaty to extradite her to the U.S.

It is not known whether the Cuban government has the legal authority to revoke that grant of asylum (and of citizenship?) and whether it would do so in this case. 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.”[3]

In June 2016, the two countries held another negotiating session in Havana focused on counterterrorism cooperation, the subject of the January 16, 2017, MOU. Outsiders speculated that the meeting may have included discussions about a possible high-profile prisoner swap: U.S.-jailed Cuban spy Ana Belén Montes in exchange for Chesimard/Shakur). The State Department, however, has refused to confirm that such an exchange was being discussed. Instead the Department merely stated that the U.S. “continues to seek the return by Cuba of fugitives from US justice” and that the State Department “brings out the cases of fugitives to the Cuban Government to be settled and will continue to do so at every appropriate opportunity.” [4]

Therefore, unless there is some error in my analysis, the strong desire by many in New Jersey and elsewhere in the U.S. for this extradition appears to be a lost cause unless the Cuban government has the authority under its own laws to revoke the grant of asylum (and citizenship?) and chooses to exercise it. Or the Cuban government just decides to extradite her without changing her asylee or citizenship status.

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[1] Assoc. Press, With No Deal on Convicted Killer, Police Slam US-Cuba Pact, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2017),‘Goodbye, Obama! NJ State Police slams president on the way out (Jan. 18?, 2017); New Jersey State Police, Colonel Rick Fuentes’ Response to the Recently Signed U.S./Cuban Law Enforcement Pact (Jan. 18?, 2017).

[2] Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015). Moreover, the “political offense” provision of the U.S.-Cuba treaty is not sui generis, but in fact is a common provision in other U.S. extradition treaties. (Ibid.; Extradition Has Become a Hot Topic for the United States, dwkcommentaries.com (July 25, 2016).

[3] U.S. and Cuba Hold Productive Second Round of Negotiations, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 6, 2015).

[4] U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation, dwkcommentaries.com (June 10, 2016).

Russian State-Owned Media Support Donald Trump’s Candidacy       

Previous posts have discussed Vladimir Putin’s hatred of Hillary Clinton.[1] That intense personal dislike is now seen as an implicit motivation underlying Russian state-owned media’s coverage of the U.S. presidential election.[2]

According to the Associated Press, Russian television reports about the U.S. election “devote most of their time to elaborating on Donald Trump’s allegations that Hillary Clinton is corrupt and the election is rigged.” For example, a prominent television commentator said, “‘Clinton has a choice. Either she gets the presidency or she goes behind bars.’ Unlike the anti-establishment Trump, he told viewers, Clinton has the full backing of the U.S. security services, ‘oligarchic’ corporations and the media.”

Other reports on the Kremlin-controlled TV have “highlighted concerns about Clinton’s health, linked her to sex scandals and suggested the Democratic Party is ‘panicking’ over recent polls.”

In contrast, says the AP, “negative stories about Trump often get lighthearted coverage,” and “Russian media . . . has concentrated on apparent flaws in the U.S. election process, echoing Trump’s claims that the election is rigged against him.”

Meanwhile, in the U.S. the FBI is investigating possible Russian interference in the U.S. election with alleged hacking of Clinton campaign documents and creation of false documents purportedly authored by U.S. officials.[3]

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[1] An impressionistic view of the Russian Federation, dwkcommentaries (Oct. 22, 2016); Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin’s Hostile Relationship, dwkcommentaries (Nov. 4, 2016).

[2] Assoc. Press, Russian Media Backs Trump, Questions US Democracy, N.Y. Times (Nov. 5, 2016).

[3] E.g., Reuters, FBI Examining Fake Documents Targeting Clinton Campaign: Sources, N.Y. Times (Nov. 4, 2016).

University Students Investigate Jim Crow-Era Killings

Students at Atlanta’s Emory University are investigating Jim Crow-era murders of blacks in Georgia. They then publish their results online. This is the focus of Emory’s “The Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project.” Similar projects exist at least three other universities. Important federal legislation and actions by the U.S. Department of Justice provide important background for such efforts. These subjects will be explored in this post.

Emory’s Project[1]

The Project was started in 2011 as an interdisciplinary Civil Rights Cold Cases class examining incidents that occurred in Georgia. In January 2015, it launched a website, coldcases.emory.edu, that is the joint product of more than fifty students’ work during seven semesters of the course.

The Emory class is taught by Hank Klibanoff, the James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, and by Brett Gadsden, Associate Professor of African American Studies.

Professor Gadsden said the class is run like “a research seminar, with intense focus on individuals’ lives and attention to the historical context in which these folks lived. These stories come alive for students. They aren’t just presenting cases or telling the stories of lowly black victims. They are really trying to understand what happened, what the circumstances were, what happened to the people, how they lived, how they died, who killed them, and why, but understanding these victims’ deaths as a part of the historical record.”

The students prepare both a ten-page academic paper on their topic of choice and a condensed article for publication on the website. Gadsden emphasizes that the students are “writing for the professors, for each other, and also for a public of both academics and non-academics. They are accountable to the descendants of the lost, and that comes with a special responsibility—one that the students embrace.”

The recent Wall Street Journal article about Emory’s project tells the moving story of the students’ investigation of the September 8, 1948, killing by two white men of Isaiah Nixon, a black man who had voted that same day in Georgia’s gubernatorial primary election. One of the white men was charged with murder, but was acquitted in a one-day trial by an all-white jury. Afterwards the accessory-to-murder charge against the other white man was dropped. The Emory students’ investigation led them to conclude that Nixon had been murdered because he had voted in that primary election.

The students also discovered Nixon’s grave in a Georgia cemetery and invited his daughter, Dorothy Nixon Williams, who at age 6 had witnessed the murder of her father, to visit the grave last week with them and her son. Now 73 years old, Dorothy said when seeing the grave, “Lord have mercy,” sobbing into her son’s shoulder. Professor Klibanoff commented, “Isaiah Nixon matters; his life matters and his death and disappearance from history matter. What matters more is his reappearance now and I think that is miraculous.” At the conclusion of the visit, Dorothy said her anger over her father’s murder “now is completely released.”

Other Similar Projects

Similar projects are being conducted by Northeastern University School of Law, Syracuse University College of Law and Louisiana State University.

Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project investigates “the role of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies and courts in protecting activists and their work. [The Project] examines the geo-politics that led to the large-scale breakdown of law enforcement, the wide-spread repression against the movement’s participants, and the reforms that have been initiated to rectify these abuses. The project engages teachers and students across the university and is directed by faculty from the School of Law and the College of Criminal Justice.” [2]

Syracuse’s Cold Case Justice Initiative was established in 2007 by Syracuse law professors Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald to investigate “racially motivated murders that occurred during the Civil Rights era and [to advocate] on behalf of the victims and their families to get justice for the crimes. The program works with law students to conduct research, identify victims and find new information that could assist law enforcement in resolving cases. The Initiative as of has identified [nearly 200] cases from the civil rights era they believe warranted further investigation by federal authorities.”[3]

Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication started its Cold Case Project in 2010 to investigate Civil Rights-era hate murders in Louisiana and southern Mississippi. Since then nearly three-dozen students, comprised mainly of seniors and graduate students, have worked on such cases. Their “primary focus is to bring closure to African-American communities which have lingered decades without fully knowing what federal agents learned about the deaths of family members and friends.” Jay Shelledy, who is in charge of the Project, said FBI agents at the time did their best to solve these vicious killings, but were thwarted by intimidated witnesses, Klan-sympathizing local lawmen and white juries which refused to convict whites of murdering blacks.[4]

In February 2015 the LSU Project launched a searchable website detailing heretofore sealed FBI investigative findings in a dozen such murders. It contains more than 150,000 pages of FBI findings, resulting stories, photographs and letters from the U.S. Department of Justice to the victims’ next of kin. Many thousands of additional pages of FBI case files are pending release under FOIA requests; when released, they will be added to the digital database.

Background for These Projects

These projects have been stimulated and assisted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In 2006, the Department began its Cold Case Initiative—a comprehensive program to identify and investigate racially motivated murders committed decades ago. The effort was reinforced in 2008 with the passage of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act that authorized the Department to investigate unsolved civil rights murders before 1970. This statute had been introduced in 2007 by Congressman John Lewis of Georgia and unanimously passed by both houses of Congress in 2008 and signed into law by President George W. Bush.[5]

As of May 2015, the Department reported to Congress that it had concluded 105 of 113 relevant cold cases involving 126 victims, but that “very few prosecutions have resulted from these exhaustive efforts.” (The single case that went to court involved Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot by Alabama State Trooper James Fowler after a civil rights protest in 1965. In 2010, at age 77, Fowler pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to six months in prison.)[6]

This was due, said the report, for many reasons. Federal statutory law limits the Department’s ability to prosecute civil-rights era cases at the federal level. There is a five-year statute of limitations on federal criminal civil-rights charges that existed prior to 1994. The Fifth Amendment protects against double jeopardy, which prevents the re-trial of someone for an offense for which he or she was previously found not guilty. In addition, cold cases can be difficult to prosecute because “subjects die, witnesses die or can no longer be located, memories become clouded, evidence is destroyed or cannot be located.”

This statute is due to expire in 2017, and efforts are being made to lobby for its extension.

Conclusion

These projects are significant and inspiring. First, they complement and should be coordinated with the amazing justice advocacy of Bryan Stevenson at the Equal Justice Initiative that was discussed in a prior post. Second, these projects are excellent examples of a mode of teaching an important subject that should be included in this blogger’s reflections on modes of teaching and learning as set forth in another earlier post.

We all should give thanks to Emory, Northeastern, Syracuse and Louisiana State University for their leadership in this important work.

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[1] McWhirter, College Class Investigates Jim Crow-Era Killings, W.S. J. (Jan. 24, 2016),; Lameiras, Cold Cases Project helps student uncover history of civil rights era crimes, Emory Mag. (May 25, 2015); Emory Libraries, Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases; Justice, Emory student research debuts on Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases website (Jan. 7, 2015); Emory Univ., Special Topics Seminar: Cold Cases (description of seminar and tentative list of readings).

[2] Northeastern Univ. School of Law, Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project. An earlier version of this post erroneously included Northwestern University College of Law’s important Wrongful Conviction Center, and I thank Professor Hank Klibanoff for pointing out this error.

[3] Joiner, Inside the Effort to Solve Civil Rights Crimes Before It’s Too Late, Time (Oct. 15, 2015).

[4] LSU Manship School of Mass Communication, Cold Case Project; Lemoine, Cold Case, LSU Gold (Fall 2011); LSU Manship School of Mass Communication, Cold Case Project website released (Feb. 25, 2015).

[5] U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Cold Case Initiative.

[6] U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Attorney General’s Sixth Annual Report to Congress Pursuant to the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 (May 2015).