24 March 2011 — National committee to Free the Cuban Five
‘True justice was his passion and his life.’
A CRUCIAL VISIT
To Leonard Weinglass
You have not rested:
Injustice troubles you,
Justice invokes you.
You have hardly slept to come see me.
I do not see you just as a lawyer,
But as an upright man,
Antonio Guerrero, the Cuban Five
Leonard Weinglass, preeminent civil rights attorney and fighter for justice whose defense history includes the Chicago 8, Daniel Ellsberg, Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Cuban Five, died on March 23 of cancer.
Known as Len to all, the last picture taken of him was in hospital several days ago as he reviewed his latest appeals documents for Antonio Guerrero of the Cuban Five, for whom he was official appeals attorney. Weinglass was instrumental in the overall case of the Five, especially the latest appeal of Gerardo Hernández, who is serving an unjust double life sentence for defending Cuba—along with his four brothers—from U.S.-backed terrorism. Weinglass joined the Cuban Five’s case in the appeals phase in 2002.
Born August 27, 1933, in New York City, Weinglass earned his law degree from Yale University in 1958. After serving in the U.S. Air Force as a judge advocate, he entered civilian life as a lawyer in an era framed by the great African American Civil Rights movement and the struggle against the Vietnam war. Many of those activists would come to depend on Weinglass to win justice and freedom.
He earned a well-deserved reputation as a people’s defense lawyer, the kind of attorney who does not separate his political and personal life from his legal career.
Weinglass’s long history of defending political and death-row cases attests to those principles: radical activist Angela Davis in 1973; eight Vietnamese students who faced deportation in 1974 due to their political activities against the war; the Atmore-Holman Brothers in Alabama prison in 1977; Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers defendant in 1970; Juan Segarra Palmer, Puerto Rican independentista in the Hartford 15 case in 1989; and too many more to mention.
Weinglass was never without a political case, and many times, more than one.
The Chicago 10
His passion for justice brought him and another people’s advocate, William Kunstler, into the national spotlight in the conspiracy trial of the Chicago Eight from 1969 to 1970.
Both attorneys became known for their courageous and forthright defense of the anti-war activists they represented against a brutal judge who cited both for contempt many times.
At 10 months, it was the longest trial of its time and was recognized as a Nixon government prosecution, with the arch-reactionary Judge Julius Hoffman as his legal henchman. The Eight faced lengthy prison sentences on ‘conspiracy’ charges from the vicious police attack on a mass anti-war rally at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale was separated from the trial by Hoffman after being literally shackled and gagged in the courtroom, but progressives always referred to the case as the Eight.
Because of their constant defiance of Hoffman’s brutality and outrageous rulings against the Eight, Weinglass and Kunstler were greatly respected in the anti-war movement. Years later, the title of an acclaimed documentary, ‘The Chicago 10,’ honored the two lawyers who stood side-by-side with the eight defendants.
The Cuban Five: his final battle for justice
In 2002, Weinglass joined the appeals team of the Cuban Five political prisoners. He brought to their case his decades of experience in previous political cases, which was of great tactical and strategic benefit to their struggle.
Because of the U.S. government’s politically-motivated persecution of the Five, Weinglass firmly believed that—even as he worked night and day in their legal case—victory is not possible without political solidarity and public pressure.
Whenever the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five needed advice from him on the next steps to take, when we requested interviews so the Free the Five supporters could receive an orientation on the case, he always took the time, no matter how busy he was.
In addition to full-time legal work for the Five, Weinglass spoke for the Five at many anti-war protests, public forums, press conferences, at home and abroad. He had an outstanding ability to explain the complexities of the Five’s case in a popular way, and to inspire others to take up their fight. He was especially loved and was very close to the Cuban Five, their families and the Cuban people.
In one moving incident in March 2003, Weinglass rushed to take the last flight from New York to Denver, before a blinding blizzard shut down the Colorado airport, to see Antonio Guerrero. He then drove almost two hours in that snowstorm to Florence federal prison. Antonio had been cruelly locked up in a punishment cell due to a U.S. government administrative order against the Five. Len’s visit to him after two weeks of complete isolation inspired Antonio to write the poem above.
True justice was Len Weinglass’s passion and his life.
In the month before he died, a special website was set up for family and friends to write him. Hundreds of solidarity messages poured in, from former political prisoners to colleagues in law to his family.
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark wrote: ‘You have been an inspiration to me since we first met in 1969. Your quiet, selfless, relentless, brilliant and heroic commitment to truth and justice—against all odds—has made a difference worldwide. Having been by your side here at home, in Chicago, Iran, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and for the Cuban Five I can testify to your sole, selfless commitment to a world of peace and principle and good times along the way.’
A huge void is left with Len’s passing, but his inspiration and example will live on.