Roger’s note: Albert Woodfox, unfairly tried and convicted, has served nearly all of his 42 imprisoned years in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year in a closet sized cell with no windows and a bare minimum of human contact. During this time he has been subjected to multiple daily strip and cavity searches. What this amounts to is state vengeance for his Black Panther political organization and human rights activities. Multiply this by the thousands of American prisoners suffering the TORTURE of solitary confinement, and we see that we give the ISIS/ISIl and our allied Saudis a run for the money when it comes to outright barbarism.
After four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana prisons for a murder he and his supporters maintain he did not commit, Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox got news this week his release might soon be possible. A federal appeals court issued a ruling Thursday (Nov. 20) in which they agreed Woodfox’s conviction for the 1972 murder of a prison guard should be vacated.
But on Friday (Nov. 21), Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell suggested in a statement that the state plans to persist in its decades-long effort to keep Woodfox imprisoned for a previously ordered life sentence.
“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s ruling, and remain committed to seeing that the trial jury’s judgment finding Albert Woodfox guilty of murdering Officer Brent Miller is upheld,” Caldwell said.
Woodfox and another prisoner in the early 1970s at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Herman Wallace, who died last year days after his release from prison, were both implicated in Miller’s murder. Supporters of the Angola 3, though, say there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime. A bloody fingerprint at the scene matched neither of the men, according to International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. And supporters say the case’s only witness, a now-dead inmate, was promised favor in his case in exchange for his testimony against the men.
In 2008, Miller’s widow Leontine Verrett — a teenager at the time of her late husband’s murder — told The Los Angeles Times: “If I were on that jury, I don’t think I would have convicted them.”
Caldwell also said in his statement that “no court decision, including this one, has ever made a finding which disputes the fact that Albert Woodfox murdered Brent Miller at Angola in 1972. Those facts will always remain true.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision this week to uphold a District Court judge’s ruling to overturn Woodfox’s conviction was the third time a court has ruled to do so. The case was re-tried in 1998, and a jury again found Woodfox guilty after testimony of the deceased witness was read in court. It’s the 1998 conviction that the three-judge panel this week agreed should be vacated on the basis that Woodfox didn’t receive a fair trial because of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson.
If the state moves on its commitment to try to uphold the conviction, it could be months or even years before the case is resolved.
Woodfox’s lawyer George Kendall said in an email, “It’s time for the case to come to an end.”
“This decision is fully consistent with decades of Supreme Court law,” he said of the ruling. “It is also consistent with our view that, because he is innocent, the only way for Louisiana to get that conviction was to violate the safeguards of a fair trial.”
At 67, Woodfox has spent nearly 43 years in prison for the conviction, “nearly all of it in solitary confinement, despite an overwhelmingly positive conduct record.”
His designation as a member of the Angola 3 stems from what Angola 3 supporters believe are wrongful convictions for prison murders in which Woodfox and two other prisoners were implicated for the purpose of silencing their activism. The International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 asserts the men essentially became political prisoners for organizing an official Black Panther Party chapter inside the prison, which led hunger strikes and other demonstrations opposing inhumane conditions inside the prison at Angola. Those conditions in the early 1970s at Angola included continued segregation, corruption and “systematic prison rape,” coalition manager Tory Pegram said.
Woodfox, who has moved facilities a number of times, remains incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer. He is also seeking a restraining order against the state for daily strip and cavity searches by guards at the facility.
Robert King, the third member of the Angola 3 who was convicted of killing a fellow inmate, was exonerated and released from prison in 2001 after 29 years in solitary. King remains active in the campaign to release Woodfox from prison as well as ending the practice of solitary confinement, which is the subject of a civil suit involving the Angola 3.
King, who now lives in New Orleans and gives talks about his prison system experience, said despite the uncertainty of the action the state will take in response to the ruling, it’s an important, overdue step in a long process to secure Woodfox’s release.
“It’s been an uphill battle… but with this ruling, I think we have the wind at our back,” King said.
King said he was able to maintain his sanity, for the most part, while in solitary for all of those years by coming to understand — with the help of Wallace and Woodfox — that their struggle was “part of a bigger picture.” That bigger picture, he said, is painted by the country’s history with racism and injustice in the penal system.
“It kept me afloat — understanding why things were (as they were) with me and people who look like me,” King said.
King said he likes to think that Wallace, upon learning of the court’s recent ruling, would be smiling.
“We are just that much closer to Albert being released from prison,” King said. “One giant step toward that freedom.”
Woodfox, of New Orleans, was originally sentenced to prison at Angola on charges of armed robbery. That sentence would have expired decades ago, Pegram said. Woodfox was at Angola only a few years before he was implicated, along with Wallace, in Miller’s murder.
“At 67, Mr. Woodfox should be able to live of whatever life he has on this earth in peace,” Kendall, his attorney, said.
Roger’s note: How encouraging to see young (white and apparently middle class) students giving a lesson in democracy to the Neanderthal cristofascists who de facto govern their (the students’) formal education. That this kind of action is taking place in Colorado and not Berkeley is also a hopeful sign. Watch the video.
An image from one of the student protests in September. (Photo: John Lebya/Denver Post)
Protesting the conservative school board’s efforts to censor their history curriculum, more than a dozen students were escorted out of a Jefferson County Board of Education meeting in Colorado on Thursday night after disrupting proceedings by reading from their history textbooks and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
The students employed one of the very tactics that school board member Julie Williams was seeking to downplay through a proposed curriculum review committee: civil disobedience. In late September, Williams’ proposal—to establish a committee to ensure that the district’s history texts promoted positive aspects of the United States and avoided encouragement of “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law”—prompted mass student walk-outs and teacher ‘sick-outs.’
“You want to limit what we learn so you can push your own political opinion. Our problem is that the nation you want to build consists of people who cannot think critically.”
—Ashlyn Maher, JeffCo Student Network for Change
Many of the students involved in Thursday evening’s action were organizers of the September protests.
According to Chicago Public Radio, “the disruptions started when board members refused to let students speak, after they didn’t speak in the order they were called. A few minutes later, one student after another stood up in the public meeting, reciting historic acts of civil disobedience from history textbooks.”
The report continues:
When asked to leave the room, students at the podium left or were escorted out peacefully. After another group of students read aloud from history books and were escorted out, about a dozen students stood up in the packed meeting to read the Pledge of Allegiance. They then filed out.
Along with the students were “legal consultants,” law students taking descriptive notes of the scene. That didn’t please one security guard who lobbed several insults at the law students.
Standing in a circle outside the education building, a set of sprinklers suddenly came on. When the students moved out of the way, those sprinklers came on. The pattern repeated until all the sprinklers were on but the students didn’t leave. A security officer came out and informed the group that they were trespassing.
Student organizer Ashlyn Maher, a member of the recently formed JeffCo Student Network for Change, didn’t get a chance to speak at Thursday’s meeting. She posted her speech on Facebook.
“Our problem is that you, the board majority, passed a redundant, and highly opposed curriculum review committee because you have other motives,” Maher said. “You want to limit what we learn so you can push your own political opinion. Our problem is that the nation you want to build consists of people who cannot think critically. We as students want to develop our minds. Critical thinking is our ticket to the future. Do not limit what we learn…Do not try to fool us…Do not pretend that patriotism is turning a blind eye and a passive mind to the changing world around us.”
Chalkbeat Coloradoreports that “as part of their demonstration, the students said they had four demands: a public apology from the school board’s conservative majority for referring to students as ‘union pawns;’ a reversal of an earlier decision to amend content review policies; proof from the board that they listen and act on community input instead of what students called an ‘ideological’ agenda; and more resources for classroom instruction.”
Watch security guards take books away from the students in the video of the action below:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
The question of who ordered the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. is a vital one, and thousands of pages have been written on the issue. Those who dismiss the notion that the United States Government would engage in assassination (by characterizing those who believe this as ‘conspiracy nuts’) willfully ignore the 1975 Church Committee Report (that exposed covert, illegal government activities) and the many CIA-orchestrated assassinations and coups d’etat from Africa to Latin America.
The CIA’s experience with overseas assassinations has given it more than enough expertise to conduct domestic assassinations, with the added advantage of having control over investigating agencies at the local, state, and national levels.
Deciding criminal guilt is largely based on proving means, motive, and opportunity. When it comes to political assassination, the key question is motive.
Powerful government institutions possess, or can easily obtain, the means and the opportunity to conduct an assassination and divert attention to “a lone gunman,” or a patsy like Lee Harvey Oswald. The mainstream media conveniently forget this fact as they rush to legitimize wacky theories that take the heat off the CIA, FBI, NSA, and police.
“When it comes to political assassination, the key question is motive.”
In Why the U.S. Government Assassinated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Roland Sheppard exposes the U.S. Government’s motive for assassinating Malcolm X in New York’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The fact that Sheppard is one of the few remaining eye witnesses to the assassination of Malcolm X adds a note of immediacy and authenticity to his analysis.
Sheppard describes the unusual absence of security on the day of Malcolm X’s assassination, and he recounts his personal observations of what happened in the crucial moments. He tells of a second suspect apprehended that day by the New York Police, a man whose existence later disappeared from the official version of events. However, when Sheppard was interrogated at the Harlem Police Station, he saw this man walking freely into one of the offices. Sheppard recognized him as the assassin.
In 1999, the King family launched a civil suit in 1999 to expose the facts surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“After considering all the evidence, a Memphis jury ruled that someone other than James Earl Ray had been the shooter … that the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, and federal government agencies were all involved in the assassination.”
The heart of Sheppard’s work is his analysis of the motive for these two government assassinations.
There is nothing more threatening to the U.S. corporate elite, the government, the military, and the mass media than the prospect of revolution. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were developing beyond their original Black liberation philosophies. They were emerging as powerful advocates and organizers for revolutionary change in the American economic and political system.
In his final years, Malcolm X expanded the fight against racism to include the fight against poverty and war. In 1962, he supported striking hospital workers in New York City. And he was the first mass leader in the United States to publicly oppose America’s war against Vietnam.
In his speech at the Oxford Union in 1964, Malcolm X gives Shakespeare a revolutionary twist. He begins with the famous question: “Whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them.” His answer, “And I go for that. If you take up arms you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time.”
The U.S. Government also feared Malcolm X’s growing international stature and the political connections he was making in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Sheppard reminds us that Malcolm X met with Che Guevara and the Cuban delegation to the United Nations in New York, in December of 1964. He was invited by Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the Algerian revolution, to participate along with Che and other independence movement leaders at a conference in Bandung beginning March 3, 1965. He had also arranged for the issue of human rights violations against Afro-Americans to be considered on March 12, 1965, by the International Court of Justice at the Hague. His assassination put an end to all of this. (Ben Bella was assassinated just four months later.)
Fighting words Martin Luther King, Jr. was also beginning to challenge a political system that profits from racism. Sheppard cites King’s speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Convention in August 1967,
“Why are there forty million poor people in America? … when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth … you begin to question the capitalist economy.”
King pointed out that the Northern Liberals, who had given moral and financial support to end Jim Crow laws in the South, would not support the effort to eliminate economic segregation. As Sheppard states, “Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated to subvert the Poor People’s Campaign. King was building a mass movement against poverty, and those who profit from poverty were determined to stop him.”
King’s opposition to the U.S. war against Vietnam sent shivers down the back of the military-industrial complex. In his historic sermon at the Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, sometimes referred to as the greatest MLK speech you never heard of, King exclaimed:
“Money that should have been spent on Johnson’s War on Poverty was being lost in Vietnam’s killing fields … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death … We are taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”
King called for a coalition of labor, anti-racist, anti-poverty, and anti-war activists; and a united movement poses the greatest threat to the status quo.
In his books on Malcolm X, George Breitman states, “Malcolm was not yet a Marxist.” A reviewer of Breitman’s work added, “Not yet! But it was only a matter of time.”
Malcolm X wrote:
“It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., may not have been as far along the road of rejecting capitalism for socialism. Nevertheless, I believe that this was also a matter of time. In a 1966 speech to his staff, King explained: “… something is wrong … with capitalism … There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”
“Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated to subvert the Poor People’s Campaign.”
The U.S. Government was determined that neither of these fighters should be allowed to have that time. However, before moving to assassinate them, it tried to “neutralize” them.
Sheppard describes the activities of COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to infiltrate, disrupt, and destroy the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam-War movement, and any other threat to the status quo.
FBI boss, J. Edgar Hoover, called King “the most dangerous Negro” and tried to blackmail him into silence. To discredit Malcolm X, the FBI paid an informer inside the Nation of Islam. When these efforts failed, assassination was the final option.
The U.S. Government assassinated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. because they rightly came to understand and challenge the capitalist economic system, its social impact (war, poverty, injustice, environmental disaster), and its reliance on racism to divide-and-conquer.
Sheppard concludes with an appeal to action; we must learn the truth about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. so we can carry their vision forward and conclude the struggle they so bravely began.
Roland Sheppard describes himself as a retired Business Representative of Painters Local #4 in San Francisco, a life long social activist and socialist. Prior to being elected as a union official in 1994, he worked for 31 years as a house painter. Roland Sheppard’s Daily News is accessible athttp://rolandsheppard.com/
Roger’s note: the United States was founded on the genocide of the First Nations peoples and much of its enormous wealth was derived from the forced labor of African slaves. Racism is as American as apple pie. This is not leftist ranting, it is historical fact. Sadly, under the “leadership” of the country’s first African American president, the situation is only getting worse. Obama’s immigration extradition policies, his orientation towards Wall Street and away from Main Street, the federal government’s militarization of urban police forces — all this contributes to the discrimination and impoverization mostly of peoples of color. The Republican Party may be more overtly racist in its ideological bias, but it is a Democratic president that is implementing racist policies. God help America.
Reuters | By Stephanie Nebehay
Posted: 08/30/2014 8:31 am EDT Updated: 08/30/2014 9:59 am EDT
* Panel issues recommendations after review of U.S. record
* Says killing of Michael Brown “not an isolated event”
* Decries racial bias of police, pervasive discrimination
* ACLU calls for addressing racial inequality in America
GENEVA, Aug 29 (Reuters) – The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.
“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.
Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9, triggering violent protests that rocked Ferguson – a St. Louis suburb – and shone a global spotlight on the state of race relations in America.
“The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown,” said Amir, an expert from Algeria.
“This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”
The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system.
U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”.
Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.
Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson when shot. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.
“STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS
In its conclusions issued on Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense”.
Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.
The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States.
“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police,” it said, urging investigations.
The experts called for addressing obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous peoples to exercise their right to vote effectively. This was due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies, it said.
Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.
“When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad,” he said.
Roger’s note: I find myself using this phrase too often nowadays: This is truly frightening. I read that residents of Gaza have sent messages to the protesters in Ferguson with advice on how to deal with tear gas. The chickens have truly come home to roost.
Army fatigues, armored vehicles, tear gas, AR-15s — it’s the war-ready imagery not just of Gaza and Iraq but Ferguson, Missouri, a town of 21,000 with zero murders on the books in 2014. Unless, of course, you count 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The response to protests against the teen’s death at the hands of police turned even more authoritarian when darkness fell on Wednesday, asjournalist and citizens alike were targeted with undue force. In night vision, tanks rolling through smoky suburban streets recalled an occupation. But however misguided the show of brute force against the mostly peaceful demonstrators was, it’s a chest-out, guns-up posturing small-time police departments across the country have been preparing for.
What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind a municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.
Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.
The trend only increased as a response to terror after September 11, and more so as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. From Adam Serwer at MSNBC:
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program, first enacted in 1996 at the height of the so-called War on Drugs. The Department of Justice, according to the ACLU, “plays an important role in the militarization of the police” through its grant programs. It’s not that individual police officers are bad people – it’s that shifts in the American culture of policing encourages officers to ”think of the people they serve as enemies.” […]
Training materials obtained by the ACLU encourage departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” It is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.
Ferguson specifically was a part of such a program, USA Today reports, having “received advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment between 2012 and 2014”:
Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, confirms that the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033 that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the United States. The materials range from small items, such as pistols and automatic rifles, to heavy armored vehicles such as the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement,” the agency’s website states.
Between 2011 and 2012, sixty-three agencies polled by the A.C.L.U. reported that they had received “a total of 15,054 items of battle uniforms or personal protective equipment”; some five hundred agencies had received “vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs.” In many instances, the receipt of these military-grade weapons is contingent on their use within a calendar year.
How necessary is any of this? Well, in February, local Sergeant Matthew Pleviak of St. Louis County’s Tactical Operations Unit SWAT team told theRiver Front Times, “If you go to any subdivison, there’s grass and trees and bushes.”
But writing for the Daily Beast, a military veteran argued, “The net effect is a Ferguson police department in name only. In terms of its equipment, organization, and deployment methods, the Ferguson force looks more like an infantry or military police company in Iraq … this military gear transforms the police department into an occupying army, and enables the police to act with such speed and violence so as to destroy any meaningful right to peaceably assemble or address grievances towards government.”
Balkey put it this way in a Reddit AMA before Ferguson: “I think that as bad as the weapons and tactics are, the uniforms might be more pernicious, at least in terms of fostering a militaristic mindset.”
“When you dress like a soldier,” he wrote, “you’re predisposing yourself to start thinking like one. And of course, there’s really no strategic value, unless you’re raiding a forest.”
Andy Stepanianis one of the kindest humans I have ever met.
An activist publicist, Andy draws attention to Americans imprisoned for their beliefs. He is straitlaced and gentle, and the only time he ever declined to buy me dinner was when I offended his veganism by eating chicken fingers. But Andy is also a felon. As one of the SHAC7, he spent three years locked in a cage for urging people to employ militant protest techniques against the animal-testing corporation Huntingdon Life Sciences. He spent his last six months in prison in a Communications Management Unit (CMU).
CMUs exist to cut off prisoners from the outside world. The prisoners’ every word is recorded. They are strip-searched before and after each visit from loved ones (in case they write messages on their body). Letters are severely restricted; phone calls are limited to two 15-minute calls a week. CMU prisoners may spend decades without hugging their wives or children.
Like Guantanamo Bay, the CMU is a child of the war on terror. In 2006 and 2008, respectively, the Bureau of Prisons, under the directorship of Harley Lappin, created two secret units: one in Terre Haute, IN, and the other in Marion, IL. The bureau’s stated purpose was “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates.” But as at Guantanamo, Muslims were the real targets. Muslims make up roughly 70 percent of the prisoners in CMUs but only 6 percent of the federal prison population. The CMUs are part of a philosophy that makes Muslim synonymous with terrorist, that views “terrorists” as both contagious and superhuman—so dangerous that they must be subject to ultimate control.
Andy was the rare white CMU prisoner. Guards told him he was there as a “balancer.” CMUs are another reflection of the double standard to which the United States holds Muslims. Acts of speech, travel or association that would be A-OK for a Christian are enough to get a Muslim branded a terrorist.
Shifa Sadequee, 2014.
Click to enlarge.
CMU prisoner Shifa Sadequee was kidnapped by U.S. forces in Bangladesh at the age of 19, allegedly tortured and rendered to the United States. He spent three years in solitary awaiting his trial for terrorism. His crimes? He played paintball and took video footage of U.S. monuments. The former activity was labeled “paramilitary training”; the latter, “casing videos” for an attack. The judge sentenced him to 17 years.
Pharmacist Tarek Mehanna should be called a dissident—but that’s not a label America allows Muslims. A scathing critic of U.S. foreign policy, Mehanna believed Muslims under attack in their own countries had the right to armed self-defense. He translated and subtitled some jihadi materials and briefly traveled to Yemen. Nothing he did would have been looked at askance if he were a Tea Party member speaking about fellow gun enthusiasts. But as a Muslim Mehanna was convicted of material support for terrorism. His sentence? Seventeen years.
At his sentencing, Mehanna delivered a chilling, eloquent statement about resisting oppression: “In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, I’m the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the U.S. military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for ‘conspiring to kill and maim’ in those countries…
“The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ‘killing Americans.’ But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.”
Tarek Mehanna, 2014.
Click to enlarge.
Mehanna is in a CMU for speech. Few American free speech defenders noticed.
While most Americans were rightly nauseated by the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden, they gave less thought to the brutal surveillance that Muslim communities have suffered since 9/11. Mosques, student associations and even restaurants were monitored throughout the country. Informants tried to rope the naive or the mentally ill into expressing support for jihad. If an agent was able to pressure an unstable young man into driving a car or buying some backpacks, he could arrest him for assisting terrorism. The agent would receive professional accolades for making the arrest; the young man, decades in jail. For the untold cash it poured into spying on Muslims, the FBI seldom discovered a plot that it did not concoct itself.
Shahawar Siraj, 2014.
Click to enlarge.
CMU prisoner Shahawar Matin Siraj had no explosives or concrete plan of attack, but that did not prevent a judge from sentencing him to 30 years for plotting to bomb New York’s Herald Square. The informant who befriended him, and then goaded him into the plan, was paid $100,000 by the NYPD.
Imprisonment is erasure. The state locks a person in a cage—without context, without community, without love. He becomes not human but a widget passing through a system of absolute control. The CMU enacts a double erasure: it represents the ultimate scission of the prisoner from his non-prison self. You are in a box. You are no one. You belong to us.
Andy is working on a documentary about CMUs. He asked me to draw pictures of some prisoners. Drawing is slow, deliberate. It is an antidote to forgetting men the state wants the world to forget.
One night I worked on a portrait of Ghassan Elashi. A former vice president of an internet company, Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison for running the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. Through charitable organizations in Gaza, Holy Land allegedly funneled money to Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.
Ghassan Elashi, 2014.
Click to enlarge.
Andy invited Elashi’s daughter, Noor, to my studio. She brought a photograph of her father. I was unable to draw him from life, as the USP Marion is not easy to visit. The three of us stayed up late into the night, me rendering Noor’s father’s eyes in careful watercolor, Andy filming us as she watched me draw.
Noor is a stylishly dressed young writer who sidelines as a baker of gluten-free cupcakes. But when she talks about her father, her voice grows cold with pain. She remembers how FBI agents threw him to the floor when they raided their home. She remembers prison guards screaming at her young brother, who has Down syndrome, when he tried to hug his dad (she and her brother were subsequently denied visits for months). She remembers how her father was barred from making phone calls for writing his name on a yoga mat.
She does not believe for a moment that her father deliberately funneled funds to Hamas.
Noor’s situation shows how CMUs rip apart not only prisoners’ lives but also the lives of their families and community. Noor is still fighting for her dad.
In “Counterpunch,” Noor wrote, “My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights.”
Noor’s words point to one of the war on terror’s most insidious legacies. The war on terror flattened Muslims into bogeymen. They could no longer be troubled young men. Nor could they be political dissidents, heads of charities or defenders of human rights. Dissent was equated with terrorism.
In making a fetish of the word “freedom,” America revoked the freedom of so many within her borders. Civil liberties defenders must remember that Muslims are not a separate class of people. Attacks on Muslims’ rights are attacks on human rights.
Roger’s note: Congratulations. Barak Obama and Eric Holder, with the essential contribution of George Bush, have managed to score a trifecta: a policy and implementation at Guantanamo Bay that is all three, Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Lewis Carroll at the same time. Torture, indefinite detention, and people who are not persons. “Execution first, then the trial” shouted the Queen.
And by the way, the three fifths of a person of African slaves that was in the original constitution is even worse than it appears at face value. Slaves would have been better off if not considered as persons at all. The southern states lobbied for three fifths so that their slaves would be counted in the census, which in turn determined their level of representation in the House of Representative. More slaves on the roll via the three fifths gave the southern state more political clout with which to defend slavery. Thus, being counted as less than fully human was a double whammy against the slaves. Kafka would have loved it.
Protestors gathered in New York City’s Time Square in April of 2013 to raise awareness of detainee hunger strikes and indefinite imprisonment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: flickr / cc /Jordan P)
Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans — whom the US Constitution once called “3/5 of a person” — it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be “non-persons.” The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.
Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder’s Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren’t entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo’s prisoners “are ‘persons’ to whom RFRA applies.”
Holder calls the men “unprivileged enemy belligerents detained overseas during a period of ongoing hostilities.” Calling them prisoners of war would require respecting their human rights.
Cori Crider, an attorney with the legal charity Reprieve who represents some of the men, said in a statement, “I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court. If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people — most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”
According to AG Holder, US Appeals Court rulings mean Guantánamo’s POWs — whom he calls “nonresident aliens outside the US sovereign territory” — are “not protected ‘person[s].’” In the infamous Hobby Lobby case Holder argues, the Supreme Court refused to say that the word “‘person’ as used in RFRA includes a nonresident alien outside sovereign United States territory.”
Even if RFRA applied to the POWs, Holder claims, the law “cannot overcome the judicial presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.” Translation: US Law doesn’t apply at Gitmo, or, the reason the US isolates non-persons at an off-shore military penal colony in the first place is so we can ignore or violate “statutes” with impunity. And if we convince ourselves that “unprivileged enemy belligerents” are not people, we should be able to sleep even if we violate the US torture statute (18 USC, Sec. 1, Ch. 113C), the Convention Against Torture and the US War Crimes Act (18 USC, Sec. 2441) ¾ for years on end.
America’s indefinite imprisonment without charges, hunger strikers and force-feeding
My own jail and prison time, all for political protests, has always come with a clear sentence: six days, 90 days, 180 days; 54 months in all. Anybody who’s been on the inside knows that a release date gives you something fast to hold on to, even if you’re called by a number, fed through a slot, handcuffed for court. But imagine 156 months in a nihilistic “extraterritorial” military prison, with no charges, no trial, no sentence, no visits, phone calls or mail, and no hope.
This is what the USA imposes at Guantánamo, a torturous psychological vice of legal oblivion and manufactured futurelessness. Add to this appalling construction the fact that 72 of 149 remaining inmates were approved for release more than four years ago — but are chained up anyway. Scores of Gitmo’s inmates have looked into this man-made oblivion and decided to die. They are using the only power they have left, the dreadful hunger-strike, both as a protest against their endless detention without trial and their only means of eventually ending it.
The US military has chosen to force-feed hunger strikers, gruesomely plunging plastic tubes up the non-persons’ noses. This abuse violates laws against torture, and the force-feeding schedule is the original basis for the religious rights petition so vigorously opposed by Obama and Holder. The ghastly traumatic stress resulting from enduring force-feeding and the regime of its application make Ramadan’s prayerful group reflection impossible. US District Judge Gladys Kessler has, according to Charlie Savage in the New York Times, publicly condemned the abuse for causing “agony.” For PR purposes the Pentagon and Justice Department call the abuse “enteral feeding.”
Mr. Holder has called “not credible” the prisoners’ complaints about “alleged aspects of enteral feeding” and “allegations that detainees who were being enterally fed were not permitted to pray communally during Ramadan in 2013.” But after the number of hunger strikers reached 106 last year, the military halted its public reporting of the strike.
Significantly, a Navy medical officer at Guantánamo has become the first prison official known to refuse force-feeding duty. The unidentified nurse’s refusal was acknowledged by the Pentagon July 15.
If Holder wins his frightening argument denying the humanity of the men at Guantánamo, even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could object. The ASPCA says its vision is that “the US is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”
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Roger’s note: the Egyptian “elected” dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, attended training sessions in the UK and the USA. He is no doubt an “asset” of these two powerful paragons of Western democracy. It only matters that he is pro-American, no matter how oppressive and tyrannical with respect to the Egyptian media and opposition. If Obama says the Egyptian coup was not a coup, who is there to contradict him, as long as the US millions in military aid keep flowing.
“It is the flow of information, not the flow of military aid, that is essential to the functioning of a democratic society,” writes Amy Goodman. (Photo: cropped from Andy Carvin/cc/flickr)
Egypt sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists this week to severe prison terms, in court proceedings that observers described as “farcical.” Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were charged with fabricating news footage, and thus supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in a military coup a year ago and labeled a terrorist organization. Along with the three jailed journalists, three other foreign journalists were tried and convicted in absentia. Greste, who is Australian, and Fahmy, who is Canadian-Egyptian, received seven-year prison sentences. Baher Mohamed, who is Egyptian, was dealt a 10-year sentence, ostensibly because he had an empty shell casing in his possession, which is an item that many journalists covering conflicts pick up off the street as evidence. The prosecutors called that possession of ammunition. The harsh, six-month pretrial imprisonment, the absurd trial itself and now these sentences have generated global outrage. A movement is growing to demand clemency or release for these three journalists. But while the words of the Obama administration support their freedom, the U.S. government’s actions, primarily in pledging to resume military aid to Egypt, send the opposite message.
The three journalists who were sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison are Al-Jazeera correspondent Sue Turton, along with Dominic Kane and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes. Speaking on the “Democracy Now!” news hour from Doha, Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based, Turton told me: “The verdicts left us all here at Al-Jazeera quite stunned. We dared to believe that the verdict would be ‘not guilty,’ because we had sat and watched the court sessions over the past few months, and we’d seen absolutely no evidence that the prosecution had brought that proved in any way, shape or form the charges against us.”
Jailed journalist Greste has won awards for his work around the world for Reuters and the BBC prior to Al-Jazeera. Fahmy was working as Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief at the time of the trio’s Dec. 29, 2013, arrest. He has also worked for CNN, contributed to The New York Times and worked with “PBS NewsHour.” Margaret Warner, the chief foreign-affairs correspondent for “NewsHour,” worked with Fahmy while covering the Egyptian revolution in 2011 when her crew was attacked. She said of Fahmy’s efforts that day: “He absolutely saved our lives. I’m no legal expert, but I can tell you that Mohamed Fahmy struck me … as nothing more and nothing less than a professional journalist.”
In a letter sent to the newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, more than 75 journalists, including “Democracy Now!” correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who is himself Egyptian-American, wrote: “As journalists, we support the release of all of our Egyptian or international colleagues who may be imprisoned for doing what they believed to be their jobs.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists noted, “While the focus has been on the Al-Jazeera journalists, in fact Egypt is currently holding at least 14 journalists in prison, placing the country among the world’s worst repressors.” Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to appeal to President Sisi, writing: “All three men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression. Egypt must immediately drop the charges against the three journalists and let them go free.”
Of course, not all voices calling for freedom are equal. When the sentences were handed down in court this week, Mohamed Fahmy shouted from his cage, “Where is John Kerry?” It was a very important question. The day before the verdict was issued, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo, meeting with Sisi.
Egypt has long been one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid, averaging $1.5 billion-$2 billion per year since 1979. Since the coup d’etat last year, that aid has been halted, but the U.S. says it is resuming military aid. One of Kerry’s former colleagues in the Senate, Patrick Leahy, warned, “The harsh actions taken today against journalists is the latest descent toward despotism.” So how is it that the U.S. is restoring more than $500 million in military aid right now?
From his home in Australia, Peter Greste’s father, Juris Greste, said, “Journalism is not a crime,” echoing the sentiment that has gone global. In newsrooms the world over, from the BBC and the Toronto Star to Hong Kong, journalists and staff are posting photos of their mouths covered with tape, protesting Egypt’s oppression of the press. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry should take heed. A threat to the freedom of the press is a threat to the public’s right to know. It is the flow of information, not the flow of military aid, that is essential to the functioning of a democratic society. Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
Roger’s note: Eisenhower warned of the military industrial complex in his farewell address. A functional definition of fascism is when the state and the corporate world are largely indistinguishable. What is discussed in this article is exactly what we say in the brutal repression of the Occupy Wall Street movement at the hands of policing and spying agencies of all three levels of government.
Tue, 06/17/2014 – 23:19 — Glen Ford
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“In the language of ‘terrorism studies,’ the human beings involved in these social movements are ‘contagions,’ as in vectors of disease.”
The U.S. Department of Defense is immersed in studies about…people like you. The Pentagon wants to know why folks who don’t themselves engage in violence to overthrow the prevailing order become, what the military calls, “supporters of political violence.” And by that they mean, everyone who opposes U.S military policy in the world, or the repressive policies of U.S. allies and proxies, or who opposes the racially repressive U.S. criminal justice system, or who wants to push the One Percent off their economic and political pedestals so they can’t lord it over the rest of us. (I’m sure you recognize yourself somewhere in that list.)
The Pentagon calls this new field of research “terrorism studies,” which is designed to augment and inform their so-called War on Terror. Through their Minerva Research Initiative, the military has commissioned U.S. universities to help it figure out how to deal with dissatisfied and, therefore, dangerous populations all around the world, including the United States.
The Minerva Initiative was the subject of an article in The Guardian newspaper by Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, an academic who studies international security issues. The Initiative seeks to sharpen the U.S. military’s “warfighter-relevant insights” into what makes people tick, and get ticked off at power structures, in regions “of strategic importance to the U.S.” Since the U.S. is an empire seeking global hegemony, and sees the whole world as strategic, the Minerva program’s areas of interest involve – everybody on the planet.
Total War Against the Planet
The Minerva project paid Cornell University researchers to find out when social movements reach a “critical mass” of people – a “tipping point” at which they become a threat to the powers-that-be. In the language of “terrorism studies,” the human beings involved in these social movements are “contagions,” as in vectors of disease. Neutralizing them becomes a job for “warfighters.”
The University of Washington is studying “large scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants” in 58 countries, to see how these folks kept their movements going.
So, now you know why U.S. intelligence agencies are tapping the telephones and Internet communications of virtually the entire population of the planet. They are mapping every conceivable human network, sifting through the myriad patterns of human association to find possible vectors of resistance, which are to be identified and eradicated, like a disease. American military and intelligence enlisted academics to study the dynamics of “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey” – all with the aim of preventing similar “contagions” from spreading.
The United States military sees itself as engaged in a total war against the entirety of planet Earth: all of its people, its social movements and dynamics, are enemy territory, including the people of the United States.
When American rulers say they are defending U.S. national security interests against all potential enemies, what they really mean is they are defending the prevailing capitalist order against any social movement that might oppose it, anywhere on Earth. They want to put the hole planet on lockdown, and have enlisted U.S. universities in their global fascist project.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.