Daily Israel Report

Captive American Makes Personal Appeal to Obama for Release

Imprisoned American-Jewish contractor feels 'abandoned' by Obama administration, sends personal appeal to President to intervene.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 12/3/2013, 1:34 PM

Alan Gross' wife Judy at a protest for his release
Alan Gross' wife Judy at a protest for his release
Reuters

On the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment, American-Jewish contractor Alan Gross feels that his country has "abandoned" him, and has made a personal appeal to President Barack Obama for his release from the Cuban penal system. 

The Washington Post reports Tuesday that Gross drafted the letter from his Cuban prison cell, and sent it via the US Embassy in Cuba. The conditions he describes are horrific. 

"For four years, I have been confined 23 hours a day to a small cell with two other inmates," Gross writes. "I spend my one hour outside each day in a tiny, enclosed courtyard."

"I don't sleep much, between my arthritis and the lights in my cell, which are kept on 24 hours a day," he continued. 

Gross, a 64 year-old Maryland native, was working as a contractor with the US Agency for International Development when he was detained by Cuban officials in 2009. He was simply doing his job, as he has maintained in several appeals to the US for his release - distributing communications equipment to Jewish groups in Cuba. In 2011, the Cuban government convicted him of "crimes against the state" and he was sentenced to a hefty 15 year prison term. 

Earlier this year, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the government was working to free Gross, but he ultimately rejected a deal offered by the Cuban government offering Gross's release in exchange for 5 Cuban nationals detained for spying on the US. 

As such, Gross makes a direct plea to President Barack Obama to intervene in the case. 

"Why am I still here? With the utmost respect, Mr. President, I fear that my government - the very government I was serving when I began this nightmare - has abandoned me."

He implores Obama to push efforts for his release forward - not just for his sake, but to establish a national precedent.

"There are countless Americans all over the world, some serving in uniform, others serving in diplomatic or civilian capacities, still others private citizens studying or traveling abroad, and they must not harbor any doubt that if they are taken captive in a foreign land, our government would move heaven and earth to secure their freedom," he stated. 

"I refuse to accept that my country would leave me behind," Gross concluded.

"Mr. President, please take whetever steps are neccessary to bring me home."

The Post notes that despite the fact that the Obama administration has eased up considerably on the travel and trade restrictions imposed on Cuba during the Cold War, he seems to be less progressive regarding prisoners, and Gross's case in particular has been dragged out.

So far, Gross has filed a negligence lawsuit against his employer, Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), in 2012 and settled out of court. He also brought a lawsuit against the US government - which was dismissed earlier this year due to federal regulations barring suits filed for injuries suffered abroad. 

AFP notes that senators have begun to take notice.  In a letter to Obama last month, a bipartisan group of 66 senators called Gross's case "a matter of grave urgency" and urged the president to "act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain his release."

The problem is that high-level talks are politically precarious for Obama, who faces opposition from American lawmakers to work with the Cuban government. 

However, the Cuban government itself has allegedly been more forthcoming. 

Gross’s attorney, Scott Gilbert, said in an interview that the Cubans “have made very clear to the United States, and to us directly to pass on, that they’re willing to sit down and meet with no preconditions to discuss Alan’s release." 

White House officials have denied that they are to blame. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Affairs Roberta Jacobson insisted that "senior people in this administration have put their minds and attention on trying to get Alan Gross out of prison, as well as some senior members of Congress. In the end, it is up to the Cubans, and they have not been responsive."