NLG Applauds Release of Remaining Cuban Five; Urges US to Respect Political Asylum Status of Assata Shakur in Light of Plans for Renewed US-Cuba Relations

Press Release- National Lawyers Guild

December 19, 2014

Contact: Tasha Moro
Communications Coordinator
212-679-5100, ext. 15

NEW YORK — The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) welcomes the December 17 release of the remaining members of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero after serving 16 years in US prisons. The other members of the Five, René González and Fernando González, completed their full sentences, minus good time, and returned to Cuba after serving about 15 years each in US custody. The NLG, including its International Committee and Cuba Subcommittee, has long campaigned for the release of the Cuban Five, passing internal resolutions, issuing letters to federal officials, submitting friend of the court briefs, and urging an international investigation of their case, which led to the International Commission of Inquiry in London this past March.

For more than 30 years after Fidel Castro took power, over 3,400 Cubans have died and over 2,000 have been wounded in terrorist attacks by extremist anti-Castro exile groups based in South Florida. In 1990, the Cuban government sent the five men to Miami to monitor and disrupt such groups and prevent future attacks. The Cuban Five remained nonviolent throughout their mission.

While the US media has repeatedly portrayed the Five as convicted Cuban spies, none were even charged with espionage. Hernández, Labañino, and Guerrero had originally received life sentences after a Miami jury falsely convicted them of conspiracy to commit espionage. The most serious charge against the other two men was working for Cuba without registering as foreign agents, and each was initially sentenced to some 15 years in prison.

Although President Obama has signaled a new direction in US-Cuba relations it is unclear whether Obama has ordered an end to US attempts to topple the Cuban government that have endured since the 1960 State Department memo calling for the US to “bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” Under the current administration, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had secretly attempted to build an opposition movement in Cuba which it acknowledged had no significant support from within the island. These covert actions as documented by the Associated Press include: (1) sending undercover Latin American youth to Cuba posing as health workers; (2) establishing a fake “Cuban Twitter” program, collecting the data of 50,000 unsuspecting Cubans; and (3) infiltrating the underground hip-hop scene and co-opting artists. As NLG member and Cuba Subcommittee Chair Art Heitzer explained, “Rather than achieving their stated goals of sparking an opposition movement, these programs deceived and co-opted Cuban citizens, while discrediting their attempts to express legitimate grievances.” These do not include the classified actions of the CIA and NSA.

The NLG calls on President Obama to: (1) use the full measure of his executive authority to encourage above-board travel and interaction between the peoples of the US and Cuba; (2) immediately remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism; (3) end all efforts to promote defections of Cuban internationalist doctors and medics and offer cooperation in countering Ebola and other preventable diseases; (4) grant Cuban applicants the same broad approval of visas to visit the US as Cuba does for US travelers; and (5) take all steps possible to end the intensifying effect of the US economic blockade of Cuba, which has for 23 consecutive years been condemned by a world consensus, most recently by a vote of 188-2 in the UN General Assembly.

The US must also respect the political asylum status of Assata Shakur in accordance with international law and not use the prospects of normalized relations as a means to seek her extradition.

After a century of occupation and decades of misuse and abuse, the US should also promptly return the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty.

The Guild congratulates those who have tirelessly advocated for the Cuban Five and brought awareness to the hostile US policies towards Cuba: the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, the US National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, 11 Nobel Prize laureates, participants in the International Commission of Inquiry, and most of all, the Cuban people.

The National Lawyers Guild was formed in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.

Body Cams- Are they in the public’s best interest?

By Angela Gonzalez

Communications Assistant at the Silverman Law Group

The first duty police officers agree to uphold is to serve and protect the community. In the year of 2013-2014, reportedly 1,000 people were killed by police officers in the United States. That’s nearly 3 people per day. Many of these incidents may have gone unmentioned without media attention or everyday citizens filming the episodes.

In the city of Austin, police have quietly been experimenting with dash cams and body cams and are reportedly hoping to be fully outfitted by 2015. Nationwide, departments are testing cameras. In one small town, officers reported that a camera “may not capture what caused an officer to use force”. But why would an officer accompanied by unarmed individuals have a need to use force? Doesn’t weaponry already put citizens at a disadvantage? The officials also stated that the use of body cams may pose an invasion of privacy should officers wish to film inside an individual’s home.

The Los Angeles Police Department has tested body cams and reported that they have the potential to fall off. Officers have the added responsibility of deciding when to record, giving them the authority to decide what to show jurors in an altercation. The Austin Police Department has admitted errors in syncing between audio and video tape, including that cameras pick up the sound of the wind, obstructing audio.

Citizens are guaranteed the right to film under the first and fourth amendment. Despite the fact that new technology like smart phones with video capability challenge law makers to interpret laws to protect these rights, the founding fathers defined the freedom to film at the inception of the nation.

Citizens also have roles to uphold. Individuals nationwide are taking note of the police state. The Peaceful Street Project is one organization that encourages individuals to exercise their right to film and to take a stand against police brutality. The organization promotes the idea of bystander empathy- an idea which embraces the idea that safety is everybody’s responsibility, where if one person is in trouble, everyone must unite to defend that person.

President Obama recently signed a law ordering $75 million dollars in spending for police cameras. Though this executive measure was surely meant to protect citizens from police violence, allowing officers to patrol with cameras presents the possibility for the obstruction of justice. When an officer commits a wrongful act, they may place black tape over the body camera. Tapes with evidence may mysteriously disappear. Evidence submitted to juries may only be presented from one angle.

If the executive branch were truly concerned about how to protect and serve the community, they might begin by removing mass weaponry from the hands of local police, militarizing communities. They might remove Tasers from local schools. They might use this heavy investment to create better schools or pay teacher salaries to prevent people from turning to crime or even to innovate existing schools.

As a people it is time to begin questioning why- why such an emphasis on weaponry? Why such a great expansion of defense? Is an increase of law enforcement officials really necessary? Is that the nation’s first priority? As a nation, we may be troubled by these questions, or we may already be out of breath.


More Than 1,000 People Have Been Killed by Police in 2014 Truth-Out

Body Cams coming to Austin but police watchdogs want them sooner KXAN

Body cams the next level of evidence collection Lafayette Journal and Courier

LAPD body cameras: Tests show they fall off 89.3 KPCC

Peaceful Streets Project

Obama to announce $75 million for body cameras MSN

Ferguson Protestors Score First Amendment Victory

Protesters scored a first amendment victory calling for stricter guidelines for officers using tear gas and other brutal measures in the case of Alexis Templeton et. al. Plaintiffs vs. Sam Dotson, Chief of Police, City of St. Louis, et. al.. The judge granted a temporary restraint order against officers intimidating those protesting the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager from Ferguson, MO who was killed by a local officer.

The defendants in the law suit were members of a task force entitled “Unified Command”, which was created under the governor’s declaration of emergency in response to Brown’s death. The order authorized officials to use tear gas and smoke canisters against non-violent protestors. The officials named in the suit provided no warning regarding the use of gas to allow for peaceful protestors to disperse and avoid injury. The Judge granted a temporary restraining order to the protestors and provided stricter guidelines for the use of chemicals against protestors.


Across the nation, there has been an outpouring of responses to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, a father whom was placed in a chokehold by officers and died grasping for air yelling, “I can’t breathe”. Garner’s last words have become a battle cry for protestors. Responses have ranged from Congressional members  holding hands up in the air, local protests, die-ins at universities and NBA players wearing shirts stating “I can’t breathe” in honor of Brown and Garner. Brown’s rallying cry is “Hands up, don’t shoot”. 9 shots were fired against the unarmed Brown.

According to a website known as, 1,000 people have been killed by officers this year. Brown’s parents recently testified against the militarization of police before United Nations.

NLG Defense Team Wins Bond and Release Pending Sentencing for Rasmea Odeh

Press release via

December 10, 2014
Tasha Moro
Communications Coordinator
212-679-5100, ext. 15
DETROIT — Rasmea Odeh, the prominent 67-year-old Palestinian American community leader and former political prisoner, will be released on $50,000 cash bond pending sentencing in March 2015. Ms. Odeh was found guilty this past November 10 of “Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization” – a past conviction on Israeli charges to which she confessed more than 40 years ago, after 45 days of brutal torture and rape by the Israeli military while in Israeli custody.
The Court credited Ms. Odeh’s pretrial testimony about the abuse she had endured in Israeli prisons, but remanded her to custody after trial, as a”flight risk.” Odeh’s defense team of four National Lawyers Guild (NLG) attorneys filed a motion requesting reconsideration, and the NLG filed an amicus brief supporting that motion, with endorsements by Jewish Voice for Peace, Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, National Students for Justice in Palestine, and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Upon posting bond, Odeh will return to Chicago and continue her social work until sentencing.
Odeh’s defense team consists of longtime NLG members Michael Deutsch, Jim Fennerty, Dennis Cunningham, and William Goodman. As amicus curiae, the NLG argued that it would be unfair to rely on Ms. Odeh’s attempt to flee the Israeli prison in light of the brutal treatment she had endured there, to adjudge her as a “flight risk.”  The NLG also argued that Ms. Odeh had an exemplary record as an outstanding and beloved public servant for the 20 years she lived in this country and had risked conviction and incarceration to reject a plea offer that would have required her to leave her work in Chicago helping to empower Arab women immigrants, demonstrating her commitment to remain in this country.
Attorney Barbara Harvey who filed the amicus on behalf of the NLG, added, “No court in the US could lawfully rely on a confession wrung from a defendant by rape and other brutal forms of torture. And yet Ms. Odeh now faces imprisonment and then deportation for failing to ‘confess’ her conviction on such tainted evidence. Society is not well served by removing from its midst a long-term and beloved public servant on such heartless grounds.”
Despite her traumatic past, it was recently learned that Odeh had been arbitrarily held in solitary confinement, without explanation, for more than 12 days while in custody at the St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron, Michigan. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and immediate deportation upon release. The Odeh case is part of the US government’s crackdown on Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim solidarity activism.
The Rasmea Defense Committee is currently raising funds for the $50,000 cash bond required for her release. To contribute, visit
The National Lawyers Guild was formed in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.

Austin Activist Antonio Buehler’s Battle in Court Continues with Surprising Twist

Austin Activist Antonio Buehler has been on the front line of defense regarding citizen’s first amendment right to film police officers, calling for accountability and an end to police brutality.

Buehler, has an outstanding record as a former West point, Harvard, and Stanford graduate. Buehler is also a former U.S. Army Ranger. He advocates for education as the founder of Abrome and police accountability nationwide as the founder of the nationwide movement, Peaceful Streets Project, currently faces four charges for filming police officers.

Currently, he is on trial for the first of four incidents, occurring New Year’s Eve 2012, Buehler and a friend had stopped at a fuel station and saw a young woman being brutally assaulted by police officers. This past week, Buehler stood trial in Austin Court for this misdemeanor case. Many had anticipated a straightforward ending to the trial, but after a juror requested leave yesterday, the prosecutor for the city made a motion for mistrial leaving many observers in shock.

Peaceful Street Project’s analysis of the trial can be found below:

Those who showed up for the Class C Misdemeanor trial against Antonio Buehler on Monday were expecting to hear closing arguments and receive a jury verdict before lunch, but they were surprised to find that the case would not end by lunch. A juror walked in about an hour before the trial was expected to resume and asked the Judge to be excused from duty. The Defense and the Prosecution were both willing to allow the juror to leave for personal reasons; however, the subsequent move for a mistrial by City Prosecutor Matthew McCabe left many scratching their heads as to why the City of Austin was so eager to prevent a jury from making a decision in what has now become a four-day trial (over a seven day period).

Buehler’s defense lawyer Millie Thompson responded by moving to allow five jurors to deliberate in order to prevent forcing multiple witnesses from out of town to attend another trial, and to save the taxpayers the expense of another three- to four-day trial over a Class C Misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine.

Spectators who have been watching the jury trial keep questioning the motives and tactics of McCabe and the City Prosecutor’s Office. While Buehler has Thompson to defend him, the City has had six to eight members of the Prosecutor’s Office assisting McCabe throughout the trial. In addition to being filled with City prosecutors, the courtroom has also been filled with Austin Police Department officers. Throughout the trial, there have been at least six police officers in uniform and in plain clothes passing time in the gallery. One of the spectators has been Assistant Police Chief Jason Dusterhoft. In his previous role as the Commander of Highway Enforcement, Dusterhoft oversaw both Officer Patrick Oborski, who Buehler alleges illegally assaulted and illegally arrested him on New Year’s Day, 2012, and Sergeant Adam Johnson, who Buehler alleges illegally arrested him on September 21, 2012. Both Oborski and Johnson are being sued by Buehler.

McCabe’s antics during the trial have been as unnerving for some as has the show of force by the Austin Police Department. In addition to trying to shame Norma Pizana, the woman who was initially assaulted by Officers Robert Snider and Patrick Oborski, he often distracted witnesses and jurors with countless huffs, puffs and sarcastic laughs. At one point, while Buehler was explaining how the action that Snider and Oborski took against Pizana was a recognized torture move, McCabe began to laugh, and was rebuked by Buehler for making light of torture. McCabe has also consistently misstated the law regarding reasonable suspicion, probable cause and Terry stops, and he has allowed his witnesses to do the same. Despite frequent objections by Thompson, McCabe has continued to push forward in the apparent hopes of convincing the jury that the officers were acting under circumstances that they had never before alleged or testified to.

Additionally, spectators and legal observers were dumbfounded when they heard that prosecutors had withheld discovery from the defendant. The defense did not receive the dash cam videos until 2 years and nine months after the initial arrest! Additionally, the prosecution never acknowledged that they had the 7-Eleven surveillance video until they realized the defense had acquired it through other channels.

Buehler said he was concerned about his right to a fair trial. “We came into this trial hoping that the truth would win out. Unfortunately, it seems that the Prosecution’s bully tactics and misconduct have gone far beyond just misleading the jury about the events of New Year’s 2012, it has now encroached upon prosecutorial misconduct as they are deliberately misleading the jury on what the law states.”

Buehler’s attorney Millie Thompson had more to say. “The City’s conduct regarding Antonio Buehler is almost like a law school exam: ‘How many Constitutional Law violations can you spot?’

“First, his First Amendment rights were violated by APD when they attacked him for asking questions and taking pictures. Then, APD officers illegally detained and assaulted him in retaliation for that First Amendment protected speech. Third, they let felony harassment of a public servant charges stay pending for more than a year when – we now know – the officer didn’t think there was any intentional conduct. By leaving the charges pending without informing his chain of command that he didn’t believe the alleged spit was intentional, he violated Mr. Buehler’s rights to Due Process. Fourth, the City put this Class C ticket on the back-burner for 2 years and 10.5 months before taking it trial – a violation of the Speedy Trial Clause.

“And, now, the piece de resistance: The City wants to violate the Double Jeopardy Clause by asking for a mistrial so they can have a do-over.

“I was born in Austin and went to Reagan High School. My parents were born here; my grandparents were born here. My great grandfather Kenneth Threadgill, who founded Threadgills, was born here. Austinites expect more from their local government than what they’ve seen in this case.”

Day four of the Buehler trial begins at 8:30 a.m., on Wednesday, October 29th at Courtroom #2A of the Austin Municipal Courthouse.


Those who wish to support Buehler can donate to the cause at: .

Repairing the Harm: The Case for Restorative Justice

Justice Janine Geski at the University of Texas discussing restorative justice.

Justice Janine Geski at the University of Texas discussing restorative justice.

“How would you like to be defined by the worst thing you did in your life?” This was a question posed to Justice Janine Geske by an inmate whom participated in one of her programs promoting restorative justice between survivors of crime and offenders.

Justice Geske spoke at the University of Texas regarding her experiences with restorative justice programs in the state of Wisconsin. The Justice stated that there are 750,000 inmates released back into society annually and that many of them are facing collateral consequences as a result of conviction.

Justice Geske described several models for restorative justice including victim/offender conferencing, talking circles, and restorative justice dialogs.

“We can’t change the past. All we can do is try to do good in the future- we have to tell offenders that they can do good,” said Justice Geske.

The Justice has overseen many successful interventions between the three central actors defined in restorative justice processes- victims, or survivors of violent crime, offenders, and the community.

The restorative justice model asks three central questions: who was harmed, what was the harm and how can the harm be healed? The Justice addressed how the adverse effects of crime may ripple throughout a community and how often; victims are left with many unanswered questions.

The groups led by Justice Geske often consist of 25 offenders, community members, and three surrogate survivors, whom have survived crimes similar to those committed by offenders.

Not only has the model been applied in the court system, but also for youth offenders.

One example of the Restorative Justice Model described was at the New Allied Community Youth Court in Madison, Wisconsin. In that particular court, peers sentenced young offenders who plead guilty. This lowered court costs and allowed young people to engage meaningfully in the justice process.

Several schools in Madison and Oshkosh experienced success with the programs, incorporating justice principles into their curriculum. Faculty noted that they fewer discipline problems and had more time to teach curriculum. Through restorative justice, students gain interpersonal skills that will serve throughout their lives. Programs also enables students to take responsibility for their feelings and actions.

The Justice emphasized that extensive preparation for each party involved in the justice process prior to direct contact is essential for success. According to the Justice, the process of preparing for direct contact can take anywhere between 6months up to a year, depending on the circumstances.

Justice Geske described several memorable encounters, including one where a young woman had been kidnapped, raped and left dead on the side of the road. The young woman’s mother and daughter were left with questions. Upon meeting the assailant, they asked what her final words were. His answer- words I’ll never forget, I forgive you and God will forgive you.

The offender’s answer provided comfort and peace to the young lady’s surviving family members, knowing that she possessed such strength and tranquility in the face of death.

After partaking in the program, one inmate wrote a heartfelt letter to the Justice. He said, “You gave me a rebirth to serenity and changed my outlook on world life. I was raised in gang life-kill or be killed. 15 years on the street, I have seen things. Before restorative justice, I was heartless, ruthless…I can never bring back lives, I can only pray for forgiveness and change for the better. If serving a twenty year sentence will bring peace to the families, I will do it proudly”.

Marilyn Armour, University of Texas Professor and Director of the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialog mentioned several local restorative peace processes in the city of Austin.

According to Dr. Armour, restorative justice processes can also be event based. She indicated that in Austin, a Task Force had been established for victims of hate crimes. Dr. Armour also referenced the restorative peace processes implemented by the East Side Open Air Drug Market Initiative and the Man Alive Domestic Violence Prevention Program. She said that schools like Kipp Connection and Manor Excel will be working to implement restorative justice.

Though the concept of restorative justice is not new, the ideals of forgiveness embraced by the model remain relevant, promoting forgiveness and tolerance over punishment, pain, and lack of resolution. When applied effectively, the model can provide a peaceful alternative for communities in turmoil.

Call to Action: Rally to be held June 19th for Texas teen facing life for pot brownies

The Texas Cannibis Report reported that a rally will be held at the Courthouse in Williamson County on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 12:30-2:30 P.M.

According to the report, Texas NORML and Robert Butler, the Libertarian Party nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Texas,  will  be raising funds for legal defense and experts for Jacob Lavaro, the 19 year old in question. Lavaro was found in possession of 1.5 pound of brownies, a pound of marijuana,digital scales, and $1,675.00 in cash. Lavaro is a high school student and first time offender.


According to a report by KHON2, Lavaro’s sentence may be harsher due to the use of hash oil in the brownies.

Rally organizers will  be circulating a petition seeking to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor. Currently, the petition has 128,119 signatures. Supporters are asked to wear blue to support liberty and justice and to use hand held signs only. Supporters are also encouraged to remain respectful and to refrain from committing any acts that may cast the cause in an unfavorable light.


Rally to be held at court house for Texas teen facing life in prison for pot brownies, Texas Cannabis Report

Petitioning Jana Duty: “You Promised to Restore Integrity to the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office & Use Alternative Sentencing. Reduce Jacob’s charges to misdemeanor posession“.

Texas Man Facing Possible Life Sentence for Pot Brownies, KHON 2