WASHINGTON — A government subcontractor who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over lost wages and legal fees, his attorney told an appeals court Friday.
Alan Gross was working in Cuba as a government subcontractor when he was arrested in 2009. He has since lost income and racked up legal fees, his attorney Barry Buchman told the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A lawyer for the government argued the claims are based on his detention in Cuba, making him ineligible to sue.
The panel is expected to issue a written ruling on the case at a later date.
A lower-court judge previously threw out Gross' lawsuit against the government in 2013, saying federal law bars lawsuits against the government based on injuries suffered in foreign countries. Gross' lawyers appealed.
Gross was detained in December 2009 while working to set up Internet access as a subcontractor for the U.S. government's U.S. Agency for International Development, which does work promoting democracy in the communist country. It was his fifth trip to Cuba to work with Jewish communities on setting up Internet access that bypassed local censorship. Cuba considers USAID's programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
On Friday, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson asked a lawyer for the government, Alan Burch, if USAID was still sending people to Cuba. He responded he didn't know. A USAID spokesman did not immediately return a telephone call Friday.
The Associated Press has previously reported that USAID continued its democracy-building efforts in Cuba following Gross' arrest, including one program to set up a "Cuban Twitter" and another to send young Latin Americans to Cuba.
"The goal is laudable, but this is a very dangerous thing to do, I think," Henderson said of USAID sending people to Cuba.
Gross said in his lawsuit in 2012 that he wasn't adequately trained or warned about the dangers, though he wrote in one report on his work that what he was doing was "very risky business in no uncertain terms." A 2012 AP investigation also found he was using sensitive technology typically available only to governments.
Gross' $60 million lawsuit blamed the U.S. government and the contractor he was working for, Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc., for failing to appropriately prepare him. The lawsuit did not say how much each party should pay or how Gross' attorneys arrived at the $60 million figure.
The Gross family settled with Development Alternatives Inc. for an undisclosed amount in May 2013.
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