Sunday, July 25, 2010

Political Prisoners in the US?

Political prisoners in the US?

Americans widely believe that Cuba holds a significant number of political prisoners. The Cubans point out that the people incarcerated were not sentenced simply for disagreeing with the regime of the Castro brothers but because they accepted money from the American government. They are imprisoned for failure to register as agents of a foreign government . Are they political prisoners are not?

This question comes up in connection with Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn Steingraeber Myers, both in their 70s, who have been convicted of spying for Cuba for many years. Are they political prisoners?

It seems clear that both the Cubans and the Myers are in prison for breaking laws of their respective countries and not because they are dissidents.

But the matter is, in fact more complicated. Walter Myers received a life sentence. The government had argued against leniency because “he felt no remorse and was motivated by communist sympathies.” Walter Myers, it appears, was legitimately jailed for breaking US law but was given a life sentence instead of a shorter one, for his political beliefs and his unwillingness to give those up.

Interestingly enough, the day before all this happened, Lynne Stewart a New York City civil-rights lawyer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for passing messages from Sheik Omar Abdel-Raman to his followers. The Sheik is in prison for orchestrating the first World Trade Center bombing attempt.

Ms. Stewart was convicted sometime ago and had first been sentenced to a much shorter prison term. The government appealed. The judge changed his mind about the sentence because Lynne Stewart did not “show no remorse.” She did not change her mind about the legitimacy of her actions. She did not change her political beliefs.

It looks awfully like Lynne Stewart is to receive a harsh sentence on account of her political convictions.
Does that make Walter Myers and Lynne Stewart political prisoners?