[News] Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes

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Mon Nov 30 14:12:26 EST 2015

November 30, 2015

  Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes

by Matt Peppe <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/matt-peppe/>


In a dramatic segment on CBS News’ 60 Minutes titled “The Last Prisoner 
of the Cold War 
<http://www.cbsnews.com/news/last-prisoner-cuba-alan-gross-60-minutes/>,” former 
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) subcontractor 
Alan Gross tells of horrifying experiences in captivity: “They 
threatened to hang me, they threatened to pull out my fingernails, they 
said I’d never see the light of day.”

Gross portrays a harrowing ordeal. He purports to have feared for his 
safety and his life, as if he was chained in a medieval dungeon at the 
whims of an arbitrary monarch. This description likely sounds credible 
to many Americans who view the Cuban government as their own government 
and media have portrayed it for the last 55 years: a totalitarian 
dictatorship with no respect for human rights or the rule of law.

The opportunistic Gross, who earned more than $500,000 
from his work for USAID, undoubtedly understands that he could cash in 
on the American public’s preconceptions of Cuba by dramatizing his 
experience there. Perhaps this occurred to Gross during his 
imprisonment, when he told a second cousin 
that “when he comes back he’s going to have a big book deal.” One might 
even venture to guess his /60 Minutes/ interview might be an audition 
for such a pay day.

Such nightmarish conditions have certainly been documented in Cuba. 
have described “sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other 
medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and 
retribution … torturous shackling, positional torture” and other 
practices – in Guantanamo Bay, by U.S. military personnel on detainees 
kidnapped and held indefinitely without charges or due process.

In the rest of Cuba, which is governed by the Revolutionary regime, such 
stories are virtually unheard of. Professor and author Salim Lamrani 
<http://www.voltairenet.org/article134319.html#nb26> compared human 
rights reports among Latin American countries and found many credible 
accusations of torture, but for Cuba he observed: “Not a single case of 
torture against prisoners is noted by Amnesty International. It has to 
be emphasised that all of all the reports by Amnesty about the countries 
of Latin America, the report on Cuba is by far the least condemnatory.”

“Since the year 1959, there has not been one single case of 
extra-judicial execution, enforced disappearance or torture,” stated 
Maria Esther Reus 
Minister of Justice of the Republic of Cuba, in the Cuban government’s 
presentation to the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of 
the U.N. Human Rights Council. “The prison system constitutes an example 
of Cuba’s humanism. Cuba has developed programmes that are directed 
towards transforming prisons into schools. The goal is to ensure that 
human beings who have served their sentences are fully reintegrated into 

While the latest Amnesty report on Cuba notes that the government has 
not granted permission for a visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on 
torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, 
Cuba is far from alone.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur himself noted in his latest report 
that the U.S. government had not allowed him access to the Guantanamo 
Bay detention center. Additionally, he has not been granted access to 
visit U.S. federal and state prisons. He did not mention the Cuban 
government at all in the report.

*Gross’s Covert Mission*

Narrating the 60 Minutes segment, Scott Pelley 
<http://www.cbsnews.com/news/five-years-as-cubas-prisoner/> says, “Gross 
was hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID is 
America’s charity, delivering aid all around the world. But in Cuba its 
mission was different. USAID asked Gross to set up independent internet 
connections for the Jewish community. Only five percent of Cubans were 
online. But bypassing government censorship was illegal.”

Actually, according to the World Bank 
14.3 percent of Cubans had internet access in 2009  when Gross was 
imprisoned. This number has more than doubled over the last six years as 
the Cuban government has expanded internet access through programs such 
as public WiFi zones. Of course, this was done independently without any 
help from the U.S. government or subcontractors like Gross working on 
their behalf.

Pelley’s claim that Gross’s mission was merely to help the Jewish 
community in Cuba obtain internet access is easily debunked. During each 
of his five trips to Cuba, Gross traveled under a tourist visa and 
represented himself as a member of a Jewish humanitarian group, rather 
than an agent of the U.S. government. Jewish leaders in Cuba said they 
already had access to the internet, and were not aware of Gross’s 
connections to the U.S. government.

An Associated Press 
investigation discovered that Gross was well aware the misrepresentation 
of his activities in the country put him at serious risk. The AP quotes 
Gross saying that “(t)his is very risky business in no uncertain terms,” 
and “(d)etection of satellite signals will be catastrophic.”

Gross’s employer, Development Alternative, Inc. (DAI), had received a 
$28 million contract from USAID to carry out a democracy project in 
2008. Tracey Eaton writes in his Along the Malecón blog 
that “Gross said in court documents he was coordinating some of his 
activities with the Pan American Development Foundation, or PADF, 
another organization that had received U.S. government funds to try to 
hasten Cuba’s transition to democracy.”

In a memo to DAI 
Gross wrote that the “ICTs Para la Isla pilot project” was designed to 
“lay a /practical groundwork/ (emphasis in original) that will 
facilitate and enable the better management of larger-scale and more 
comprehensive transition-to-democracy initiatives.” Therefore, Gross’s 
mission was clearly political, rather than humanitarian. His professed 
mission to help Jewish groups was merely a cover for his clandestine 
activities on behalf of a government whose official policy for more than 
half a century has been the replacement of the Revolutionary government 
in Cuba.

Gross was bringing into the country highly sophisticated computer 
equipment including satellite phones and a mobile phone chip 
<http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9SSHGPG2.htm> to disguise 
satellite signals. Cuban law prohibits importing such equipment without 
legal authorization.

/60 Minutes’/ claim 
<http://www.cbsnews.com/news/five-years-as-cubas-prisoner/> that “Cuban 
authorities locked (Gross) up for helping its citizens get unrestricted 
Internet access” is at best a vast oversimplification, if not an 
outright fabrication. In reality, Gross was convicted under Cuba’s 
Article 11 of Law 88 
“Protection of National and Economic Independence.”

The law stipulates imprisonment of 3 to 8 years for anyone who “directly 
or through a third party, receives, distributes or participates in the 
distribution by financial means, materials or of another nature, 
proceeds of the Government of the United States, its agencies, 
dependencies, representatives, functionaries or other private entities.”

As Lamrani points out <http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs3338.html>, 
“(t)his severity is not unique to Cuban legislation. US law prescribes 
similar penalties for this type of crime. The Foreign Agents 
Registration Act prescribes that any un-registered agent ‘who requests, 
collects, supplies or spends contributions, loans, money or any valuable 
object in his own interest’ may be liable to a sentence of five years in 

*Gross’s Detainment and Treatment By Cuban Authorities*

Gross was held not in a regular prison but in a military hospital for 
the duration of his detainment. Cuban authorities not only took pains to 
ensure Gross was granted appropriate medical care, but were extremely 
accommodating to allow him time with his wife Judy.

It seems unlikely that Gross was abused or mistreated while serving his 
sentence. According to the Associated Press 
Gross’s lawyer Jared Genser said Judy “arrived in Cuba on Sept. 5 (2012) 
and was allowed to visit her husband on four days, three at the military 
hospital and once at a guarded home near the capital. He said there is 
no sign that Gross is being ill-treated.” He also told the AP “(Gross) 
is being treated fine.”

Gross, who suffered from arthritis, lost significant weight while held 
in confinement and developed a mass in his shoulder. He was treated by 
Cuban medical staff, and there is no evidence poor conditions 
contributed to his medical issues.

New York rabbi and gastroenterologist Elie Abadie 
was allowed to visit Gross in the military hospital, where he determined 
“through the exam he personally performed and also through the extensive 
information supplied by the team of Cuban doctors who have attended 
(Gross)” that Gross was in a good state of health.

Gross petitioned to see his mother before she passed away from cancer, 
but as Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Josefina Vidal 
noted: “neither the Cuban penitentiary system nor the U.S. penitentiary 
system provide the possibility for inmates to travel abroad, no matter 
the reason.” The week after his mother died, Gross’s wife was allowed to 
visit him again in Cuba.

*The Obama Administration’s Rejection of Cuba’s Humanitarian Proposal*

In early 2014 <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26934314>, 
Gross began a hunger strike because of what he called “mistruths, 
deceptions, and inaction by both governments … because of the lack of 
any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal.” He 
ended his hunger strike a week later 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26997267>, stating he would 
not resume his protest “when both governments show more concern for 
human beings and less malice toward each other.”

Despite Gross assigning blame to both governments, there is ample 
evidence that the Cuban government made much more than a reasonable 
effort to resolve his case, while it was the U.S. government – alone – 
that refused do so.

Two years earlier in 2012, the highest ranking Cuban diplomat in 
Washington, Jorge Bolaños, had proposed a prisoner swap 
<http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=69651> of Gross for the Cuban Five (more 
on them shortly). Bolaños expressed his government’s desire to “find a 
humanitarian solution to the case on a reciprocal basis.” But the Obama 
administration flatly said no <http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=69843>, and 
continued to unilaterally demand Gross’s release without engaging the 
Cuban government on their offer.

On Dec. 17, 2014, the negotiated solution that freed Gross was the exact 
same deal the Cuban government had proposed three years earlier. It 
bears repeating that this offer /was on the table all along/ and could 
have been agreed to by the Obama administration at any time.

If the agreement was fair last December, why was it not fair when it was 
first offered three years before? The U.S. government alone holds the 
blame – with Obama, as the head of his administration, owning the lion’s 
share – for rejecting a clearly reasonable offer that resulted in Gross 
remaining detained unnecessarily for two and a half extra years.

Without any controversy, the U.S. government could have secured his 
release before he developed health complications, before his mother 
died, and before he began his hunger strike. The U.S. government 
obstinately refused, continuously, for three years to even consider a 
deal that later appeared to be a no-brainer for both sides.

Faulting both governments for the delay in obtaining Gross’s release is 
asinine historical revisionism. It is merely an unmerited attempt to 
create a fictional balance based on the assumption that the U.S. 
government in its righteousness must be justified in its quarrels with 
other governments.

*The Cuban Five*

One cannot discuss the case of Alan Gross without at the same time 
discussing the aforementioned Cuban Five <http://www.freethefive.org/>, 
who Gross was eventually swapped for. Unlike Gross, who was acting as a 
mercenary assisting the U.S. government carry out covert political 
operations, the members of the Cuban Five were fighting a very real 
threat of terrorism 
against the Cuban people emanating from the United States. Their 
operation was not in any way politically subversive, and did not 
interfere with the U.S. government’s sovereignty.

They were in Florida to infiltrate terrorist organizations and disrupt 
plots these groups were planning on Cuban territory. Thousands of Cubans 
have been killed by contra-revolutionary terrorism since 1959 by groups 
who enjoy safe haven inside the United States, including 73 people whose 
plane was blown up 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubana_de_Aviaci%C3%B3n_Flight_455> over 
the Caribbean in 1978 and an Italian man killed in a restaurant bombing 
in Havana in 1997. As author Stephen Kimber 
writes, if the roles were reversed and the Cuban Five were working for 
the U.S. government, they “would be American heroes.”

The Five – as they are known in their home country – were convicted on 
trumped up conspiracy charges. The group’s leader Gerardo Hernández was 
convicted on the most outrageous, unfounded charge of conspiracy to 
commit murder. He received two life sentences plus fifteen years.

By any objective comparison, the conditions the Cuban Five faced in 
confinement were far worse than those of Gross. Each member of the Five 
was held in solitary confinement 
<http://www.thecuban5.org/voices-of-support/united-nations/> for 17 
months prior to trial. They spent nearly three years without being able 
to communicate with each other or their families. The U.N. Working Group 
on Arbitrary Detention 
<http://www.thecuban5.org/voices-of-support/united-nations/> concluded 
in 2005 that “the depravation of liberty of these five persons” was 

Olga, the wife of René González, and Adriana, the wife of Hernández, 
were denied visas to visit their husbands for 10 years, until after the 
Cuban government allowed Judy Gross to visit her husband. The U.S. 
government had previously deemed the Cuban wives 
<http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=11705> “a threat to the stability and 
national security of the United States.”

Amnesty International 
stated its concern “that such a blanket or permanent bar on visits with 
their wives constitutes additional punishment and is contrary to 
international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners and 
states’ obligation to protect family life.”

González, the first member of the group to be paroled, was freed after 
13 years. The three members of the Five who were released in December 
2014 had spent more than 16 years in prison. That is, more than /three 
times/ longer than Gross.

Needless to say, 60 Minutes does not make this comparison between Gross 
and the Cuban Five. But 60 Minutes – a standard bearer of American 
journalism – does achieve an important function of the American Free 
Press: demonizing official enemies while keeping the microscope away 
from one’s own government, lest any inconvenient analysis might raise 
doubts about their inherent superiority and benevolence.

/*Matt Peppe *writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin 
America on his blog <http://mattpeppe.blogspot.com/>. You can follow him 
on twitter <https://twitter.com/PeppeMatt>./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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