Feds may probe ill 9/11 workers who went to Cuba in film


June 25, 2007, 11:15PM
Feds may probe ill 9/11 workers who went to Cuba in film

Newhouse News Service

After suffering more than five years of health problems related to his volunteer work at Ground Zero, Maywood, N.J., resident Bill Maher felt he had nothing to lose joining documentarian Michael Moore on a sneak trip to Cuba for medical treatment, captured on film in the new movie Sicko.

Maher knew he was taking a risk journeying to the communist country with the controversial director, but he didn't think he was breaking any laws.

He was surprised to learn last week that, for violating travel restrictions, he and two other 9/11 responders featured in the picture are under investigation by the Treasury Department, which is building a case against Moore.

"We were traveling for journalistic purposes," said Maher, 54. "I never even thought about any kind of legal restrictions."

Maher believes the government is pursuing the case for political reasons, persecuting Moore because of his leftist views.

"The reason they have a bug up their butt is about Michael," he said. "It's ridiculous. What about paying attention to the 9/11 responders who are dying, who can't get any help? If we wind up going to jail, it's going to send another message out."

Violating the trade embargo with Cuba could mean a $100,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.

Attorney and free speech advocate Martin Garbus held a news conference in New York on Friday to announce that the Treasury Department's investigation into the film now could involve Maher, along with John Graham of Paramus, N.J., and Reggie Cervantes, formerly of Queens, N.Y. However, formal charges have not yet been made.

In March, Moore took the three rescue workers to Havana to seek treatment for health conditions that weren't covered by insurance. There, they received free hospital care with only small charges for prescription drugs.

The film criticizes the American medical establishment and suggests that it's time for the country to consider a universal system such as those in Cuba, France and Britain.

The movie has been criticized, however, because Moore notified Cuban doctors of their visit in advance. The director defends the film, stating that he told the hospital they were coming just to make sure they would receive the same quality of care as locals.

Speaking last week in New York during a promotional tour, Moore said that one night Cervantes sneaked out of her hospital room and came back pretending to be Cuban, to see if things would be different without the film crew around.

"The same exact thing happened as when we had the cameras there," Moore said. "Check-in was your name, your date of birth and what's wrong with you. They immediately took (her) to a screening room and started the procedures."

Moore decided to explore the Cuban health care system after learning about the high quality medical treatment detainees were receiving in Guantanamo Bay. The movie depicts him and the 9/11 volunteers in a boat outside the prison trying to get into the complex. They leave after a siren sounds, visiting a Havana hospital instead.

At least some footage was staged, as the film depicts Moore and his passengers leaving Miami for Cuba in boats when they actually traveled via plane. He wouldn't go into details about the flight.

"I can't talk about how we got there and what we did," Moore said. "How (Maher) got there and how I got there may not be the same way and because we have this problem with the Bush administration, I can't really talk about it."

Maher said he doesn't have any regrets about participating in the movie, even if it means jail time.

"I'm ready to take it on," he said. "At this point, I'm ready to take on the federal and state governments. One of the main reasons I got involved was not only to see what kind of health care was offered there but also to get the word out about the responders who are dying, can't get any help. If they threaten to lock me up, I will request that I go to Guantanamo Bay because I know they have very good health care."

The Feds shouldn't probe them, the Feds should provided them

with needed medical treatment!!!