Chesimard’s designation on terror list has no legal impact
Posted on Saturday, 05.04.13
Analysts: Chesimard’s designation on terror list has no legal impact
By Juan O. Tamayo
The FBI’s decision to put U.S. fugitive Joanne Chesimard, who lives in
Havana, on its list of “Most Wanted Terrorists” shines a light on her
case but has no legal impact on her or Cuba, according to analysts.
Chesimard, a former member of the Black Panthers and Black Liberation
Army, was convicted in the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper
Werner Foerster, but escaped from prison in 1979 and turned up in Havana
Now using the name of Assata Shakur, she was classified as a domestic
terrorist in 2005 and on Thursday was added to the list of “Most Wanted
Terrorists,” with a $2 million bounty for her arrest. She has maintained
that she is innocent.
Gus Coldebella, former acting general counsel at the Homeland Security
Department, said the decision to put her on the list reminds the public
of her crime and may put pressure on Cuban ruler Raúl Castro to
extradite her — “which, while unlikely, is a possibility.”
Cuba and the United States do not have an extradition agreement. Cuba
has occasionally extradited U.S. common criminals, but provides safe
haven to more than 70 U.S. fugitives, most of them considered by Havana
to have been politically persecuted.
Fidel Castro reportedly granted Chesimard, now 65 years old, political
asylum as a victim of U.S. racism. She has been spotted occasionally
around Havana, but generally shuns public appearances and news media
The FBI designation also may “have the effect of deincentivizing other
people — in the U.S. and elsewhere — from providing her with material
support,” Coldebella said in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
The labor union representing the New Jersey state troopers complained in
2011 when first lady Michelle Obama invited rapper Common, who had just
released a rap titled “Song for Assata,” to a White House musical event.
But the “Most Wanted Terrorist” designation carries with it no special
sanctions for either Chesimard or Cuba, Coldebella added, despite
speculation in Miami that the list means U.S. officials can use any
means to try to capture or kill the people on it.
“I can see no legal effect of putting her on the list,” he said. “The
FBI actually designated her a ‘domestic terrorist’ in 2005, and putting
her on the ‘Most Wanted’ list has no additional legal effect.”
The Justice Department has “clarified somewhat the conditions under
which the government could order a drone strike against an American
citizen, and I think it’s fair to say that moving someone onto the ‘Most
Wanted’ list doesn’t affect what the government can or cannot do,” he added.
Asked about the impact of putting Chesimard on the list, FBI Newark
Division public affairs officer Luis Rodriguez said simply, “She was a
fugitive that has now been added to the Most Wanted Terrorist” list.
Chesimard’s designation to the list caused a media stir because it came
amid reports that the Obama administration will not remove Cuba from its
list of state sponsors of terrorism. Iran, Syria and Sudan are also on
Advocates of improving U.S. relations with Havana had been pushing to
take Cuba off the list as the first move in a string of mutual good-will
measures that would eventually lead to the lifting of the half-century
old U.S. embargo on the island.
But if the Obama administration wants to erase Cuba from the list at
some point down the line, Chesimard’s newly heightened profile and other
similar cases could make that extremely difficult.
Also living in Cuba is Charles Hill, a former member of a black
separatist group, the Republic of New Afrika, wanted for the 1971 murder
of New Mexico state police officer Robert Rosenbloom. Hill and two
others later hijacked a plane to Havana.
“Back in those days, we were considered ‘black revolutionaries,’” Hill
said in a 2009 interview with U.S. journalist Tracey Eaton, posted on
his blog, Along the Malecon. “Now we’re considered ‘black terrorists.’
That’s a whole misconception.”
Aaron T. Ford, FBI Special Agent in charge of the Newark division, said
Thursday that Chesimard continues to advocate “revolution and terrorism”
in Cuba and may have ties to international terrorist organizations.
“She’s a danger to the American government.”
Cuba’s communist-run government has steadfastly denied any involvement
with terrorism in recent years and sent condolences after the Sept. 11
terror attacks in 2001 and the Boston Marathon bombings last month.
A lengthy Foreign Ministry statement issued in 2011 said Cuba condemns
all acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
“The Cuban territory has never been used, nor will it be ever used to
mastermind, finance or carry out terrorist acts against any country,
including the United States,” it said in the statement “Cuba has always
played an exemplary role in facing terrorism.”