After spending more than four years in a Cuban prison, Alan Gross, an American, told his attorney that “life in prison is not a life worth living.” He said goodbye to his wife and youngest daughter, and asked the Cuban government to return his body to the U.S. if he should die in prison. His request was denied.
Gross was arrested in 2009 in Havana, where had been working to set up Internet access for the Cuban Jewish community using satellite technology that the Cuban government would be unable to track or control. Gross had traveled to the island five times in 2009 as a part of a USAID program that sprouted from the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which allocated money to set up information networks outside of the Cuban government’s reach. Although Gross said he was not specifically aiding dissidents, any work for the Helms-Burton Act is considered illegal in Cuba, and Gross was charged with crimes against the state in 2011. He is serving a 15-year prison term.
Since Gross’s arrest in 2009, USAID has come under additional fire for its operations in Cuba. After a social network called ZunZuneo, a Cuban version of Twitter, was exposed as a USAID-sponsored tool, lawmakers chastised the agency for overstepping its mission. “Does it taint all USAID employees as spies?” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in an April hearing.
Well into his fourth year of imprisonment, Gross’s health is failing. He’s lost much of the vision in his right eye, his hips are failing, and his “emotional deterioration has been severe,” according to his lawyer, Scott Gilbert. “Both governments need to know that Alan plans to end his life in an effort to end this agony,” Gilbert said in June.
The Cuban government has previously indicated that it would consider swapping Gross for three Cuban prisoners that have been held in the U.S. since they were arrested in 1998. Two Cuban agents that were arrested alongside them were released in June and are pushing for the prisoner exchange. The agents see a precedent in the American deal that swapped five Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was being held in Afghanistan, in May. “The only thing missing is political will,” said Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Cubans that was freed in June, after his release.
A letter signed by 300 American rabbis urged President Obama this week to “take action” to secure Gross’s return. The U.S. has repeatedly demanded his release, but rejects the prisoner transfer Cuba proposed.
Before Gross’s capture or the ZunZuneo scandal, when Obama had just begun his first term, the president called for a “new beginning with Cuba.” The White House maintains that the dispute over Alan Gross is the biggest reason why there is no such fresh start in sight, but little time remains to overcome the obstacle. If no deal is struck and Gross passes away in a Havana jail cell, a new beginning seems even less likely than it did in 2009.
What We're Following See More »
"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 34% of registered voters think the three presidential debates would be extremely or quite important in helping them decide whom to support for president. About 11% of voters are considered 'debate persuadables'—that is, they think the debates are important and are either third-party voters or only loosely committed to either major-party candidate."
Will he or won't he? That's the question surrounding Donald Trump and his on-again, off-again threats to bring onetime Bill Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his guest. An assistant to flowers initially said she'd be there, but Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway "said on ABC’s 'This Week' that the Trump campaign had not invited Flowers to the debate, but she didn’t rule out the possibility of Flowers being in the audience."
NBC's Lester Holt hasn't hosted the "Nightly News" since Tuesday, as he's prepped for moderating the first presidential debate tonight—and the first of his career. He's called on a host of NBC talent to help him, namely NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack; NBC News president Deborah Turness; the news division's senior vice president of editorial, Janelle Rodriguez; "Nightly News" producer Sam Singal, "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, senior political editor Mark Murray and political editor Carrie Dann. But during the debate itself, the only person in Holt's earpiece will be longtime debate producer Marty Slutsky.
"The House passed legislation late Thursday that would prohibit the federal government from making any cash payments to Iran, in protest of President Obama's recently discovered decision to pay Iran $1.7 billion in cash in January. And while the White House has said Obama would veto the bill, 16 Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the measure, 254-163."
In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of…Clinton’s best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities.” Trump “has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers.”