Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Spy-case study criticized for bias

From the Miami Herald. Emphasis mine

Analysts said a professor's study in the 'Cuban Five' case could have been compromised by his sympathy for Castro.


A retired Florida International University psychology professor's admiration for Fidel Castro could have compromised the findings of a study he conducted that helped overturn the conviction of five Cubans accused of spying for the communist government, legal analysts told The Miami Herald.

The study, by FIU Professor Emeritus Gary P. Moran, concluded that Miami was so saturated with hate for Castro that the five defendants could not have received a fair trial. None of the jury members was Cuban American or of Cuban descent.

''Castro is a complicated world figure,'' Moran said in a phone interview Thursday night. ``I think he is a very sincere man. I admire greatly how he has managed to survive with this great Satan [the United States] as his enemy. The U.S. government, which I don't have any respect for, has obviously been doing everything in its power to crush this man, but they haven't been able to do so.''

Moran's sympathy for the Cuban president, whose 47-year regime has been widely condemned by numerous human-rights groups for imprisoning political dissidents, could bring into question the credibility of his study, legal experts said. His study was cited heavily by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year when a three-judge panel overturned the 2001 verdict against the five Cubans, who remain in prison awaiting a new trial.

Oral arguments in the case will take place Tuesday before the appellate court in Atlanta, where lawyers for the five Cubans are expected to argue that their clients were denied a fair trial.

The design of Moran's poll and its conclusions troubled Rutgers University Professor Cliff Zukin, president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the top organization in the country on surveys and polling. Zukin, who reviewed a copy of the poll obtained by The Miami Herald, said it appears that Moran's apparent opinions in favor of Castro seeped into his poll, which Zukin said used leading questions and flawed methodology that reflect bias.

''My concerns in question-wording are that the survey seems to be leading,'' Zukin said in an interview Sunday. Also, he said, ``the first eight questions that come before the ninth question should come after it. . . . It's really pretty biasing. All those items are very one-sided. They are all anti-Castro and framed in the same way so an agreed statement would be anti-Castro.''

Zukin said that pollsters with strong opinions can conduct impartial surveys but that in Moran's case, his opinion ``shows up in the work product.''

Linda Mills, professor of social work, law and public policy at New York University, said prosecutors in the spy case should present Moran's statements as new evidence. ''If I was a lawyer in this case, I'd be saying that new evidence has come to light and that, in fact, he has this personal bias, and we want to know whether or not that influenced the research,'' Mills said.

Moran said it is ''absolutely not true'' that his feelings about Castro were reflected in his poll or may have influenced conclusions he drew from the data. ''I'm not ashamed of my opinion that Fidel Castro is a serious Cuban patriot, doing his best for the Cuban people,'' Moran said in a telephone interview Sunday. "I have a lot more respect for him than I do for Bush and Cheney, who are outright liars.''

Moran wrote later in an e-mail to The Miami Herald that the first eight questions of his poll, ``while occasionally somewhat leading, are the language used on talk radio and the goal is to see just how pervasive this prejudice is.''

Moran was handpicked by attorneys for one of the five spy-case defendants, Luis Medina, to conduct his survey, according to the appellate court decision.

''Medina explained that the traditional methodology for addressing pretrial publicity was not appropriate and proposed that Florida International University psychology professor Gary Patrick Moran conduct a telephone poll with a sample of 300 people,'' the appellate court wrote. ``The district court granted the motion.''

''Usually the courts would not allow someone who had some kind of interest, like a strongly held view, to be the expert to do the study,'' said New York University legal-psychology professor Tom Tyler.

In the first trial, the judge discounted Moran's study because, among other reasons, questions were characterized in non-neutral terms, the sample was too small, and several questions were ambiguous, according to the appellate court decision.

Moran's survey results showed that 69 percent of all respondents and 74 percent of Hispanic respondents were ''prejudiced against persons charged with engaging in the activities named in the indictment,'' the court noted.

'A significant number, 57 percent of Hispanic respondents and 39.6 percent of all respondents, indicated that, `because of their feelings and opinions about Castro's government,' they 'would find it difficult to be a fair and impartial juror in a trial of alleged Cuban spies,' '' the appellate court wrote, citing Moran's survey.

Zukin said those findings were reached from flawed research. He also said it seems that Moran calculated the response rate incorrectly, to reflect a higher rate.

When told that Zukin considered some of his poll questions leading, Moran said that ''some probably are, to some degree. It depends on your standards.'' But he added that in polling on change-of-venue cases, he has to strike a balance with questions that some academics might view as leading.

Moran also said he helped psychology professor Carlos M. Alvarez, arrested in January for allegedly being a Cuban agent and relaying information about the Cuban-American community to Havana, get his job at FIU in the 1970s. Moran said Cuban exiles ``have seized upon Alvarez to try to resurrect their own paranoia.''

''These people [Cuban exiles] have already put me and Carlos Alvarez in the Red Wasp -- that's how crazy they are,'' Moran said in Sunday's interview.

Last month, U.S. authorities accused Alvarez, 61, and his wife, Elsa Prieto Alvarez, 55, of operating as covert agents for Cuba for decades. U.S. prosecutors said that Carlos Alvarez, an associate professor at FIU, had spied for Cuba since 1977 and that his wife, a psychology counselor at the university, had done so since 1982. The Alvarezes have pleaded not guilty.

''It may well be technically a crime not to record yourself as an operative of a foreign government,'' Moran said of the Alvarez case. 'But I can't see that he's committed any crimes at all. But every time I hear his name mentioned by any Cubans, they say, ``I hope they burn him.' ''

Miami Herald researcher Monika Z. Leal contributed to this report.


To think that our tax dollars partially paid this guy's salary is nausiating to me. And the fact that there's a lot of Cubans that hate Castro living in Miami does not automatically mean that the trial should have been held in another venue. That's what jury selection is for. There wasn't one Cuban in the jury. One way or another these guys will be found guilty.

1 comment:

Albert Quiroga said...

"Analysts said a professor's study in the 'Cuban Five' case could have been compromised by his sympathy for Castro."

COULD have been compromised? Gimme a break! That's like saying that if Himmler had been a friendly witness for Eichmann at the latter's trial, his testimony "could have been compromised by Herr Himmler's ties to the National Socialists..."

There is nothing "emeritus" about pseudo-professor Moran, who perhaps, if proper investigations were to be carried out, might be found to be an accessory to the activities of "the five." If so, perhaps he should be joining them on the docket, as a spy and traitor.