[Ppnews] Men the Authorities Came to Blame ...

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 8 11:57:25 EST 2007


February 8, 2007

The Men the Authorities Came to Blame ...

The Case of the San Francisco 8


I recently reviewed a DVD about a group of Black 
Panthers who were tortured in 1973 by New Orleans 
police during interrogations regarding the murder 
of a San Francisco police officer in 1971. The 
DVD, titled 
of Torture, highlights the stories of some of 
these men and their experience at the hands of 
the police interrogators while law enforcement 
officials from other local and federal agencies 
stood by. A federal court ruled in 1974 that both 
San Francisco and New Orleans police had engaged 
in torture to extract a confession, and a San 
Francisco judge dismissed charges against three 
men in 1975 based on that ruling. The case was 
reopened in 2003 by the US Department of Justice 
using funds set aside for the Department of 
Homeland Security. Several grand juries were 
convened as part of the reinvestigation, with 
some of the men involved in the 1973 torture 
being called before the panel more than once.

Not long after that review was published, eight 
former Black Panthers were arrested for their 
alleged involvement in the 1971 murder in a 
series of sweeps. Law enforcement is still 
looking for one other man. Richard Brown, Richard 
O'Neal, Ray Boudreaux, and Hank Jones were 
arrested in California. Francisco Torres was 
arrested in Queens, New York. Harold Taylor was 
arrested in Florida. Two of the men charged have 
been in prison for over 30 years ­ Herman Bell 
and Jalil Muntaqim. As of this writing, the six 
who were arrested at their homes and places of 
work in late January are in prison with bail 
amounts running between three and five million 
dollars each. No pretrial date has been set 
although, according to Claude Marks of the 
Eight's defense committee, there will be a 
pretrial hearing because "the government doesn't 
seem to be backing down." Meanwhile, the 
committee and the men's legal team are working to 
get the bail reduced to a more reasonable figure.

According to police records, the men charged were 
members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA). The 
BLA was the result of a split in the Black 
Panther Party and believed the time was ripe for 
armed struggle in the United States. Other 
Panthers took a different route which place more 
community organizing, community programs, and 
municipal electoral politics foremost among their 
strategies for self-defense of the community and 
black liberation. The split itself was the 
product of genuine ideological differences in the 
party, but was intentionally exacerbated by the 
FBI, local police Red Squads, military 
intelligence, state undercover police agencies 
and other elements of the US counterinsurgency 
apparatus. These agencies worked under the aegis 
of the COINTELPRO program--a series of FBI 
counterintelligence programs designed to 
neutralize political dissidents, primarily of the 
left and anarchist temperaments. Methods used in 
this campaign ranged from the spreading of rumors 
regarding individuals personal lives, putting 
snitch jackets on activists, publishing and 
planting false stories about groups and 
individuals involved in antiwar and antiracist 
activities, police raids and harassment of 
activists, false arrests and charges, and murder. 
The Black Panther Party was the target of all of 
the aforementioned methods, including murder. In 
1971, many of its leaders were either in prison, 
facing prison time, in exile, or murdered by 
police. The FBI claimed to have ended its 
COINTELPRO activities in 1971, but evidence 
presented to the Church Senate committee 
investigating the excesses of the program in 1974 
proved otherwise. Indeed, all that really 
occurred was that the program was renamed. The 
dissident neutralization program continues to this day under other names.

The California State's Attorney's office, which 
is working with a Federal task force on the case, 
told the media that no new scientific evidence 
has been unearthed in the case. Instead, it 
appears that the prosecutors have reexamined the 
evidence they extracted under torture and 
constructed a scenario that involves all of the 
men charged in the 1971 murder. None the less, 
the attorney general's office is, in their words, 
" committed to seeing it through.'' What this 
means, in essence, is that the men will be 
prosecuted using evidence declared inadmissible 
by the courts in 1975 because it was obtained via torture.

What do I mean by torture? Could it really have 
been that bad? Before I quote the descriptions of 
the men's ordeal, let me ask you, the reader, to 
put yourself in the position these men found 
themselves in 1973. As the cursory history of the 
COINTELPRO program above makes clear, these men 
had lots to fear. They were black men held in a 
jail run by a police department known for its 
racist history; they were being charged with 
killing a cop; they were believed to be members 
of a militant armed organization composed of 
black men and women in the United States at a 
time when the government feared armed revolution 
and the movement feared genuine fascism. With 
that in mind, here is what the men endured (from 
the San Francisco Chronicle, surely no leftwing 
rag): "a court found that when the two San 
Francisco police investigators who came to 
Louisiana to interview the three men were out of 
the room, New Orleans officers stripped the men, 
blindfolded them, beat them and covered them in 
blankets soaked in boiling water. They also used 
electric prods on their genitals, court records show. "

Today, hundreds of prisoners and disappeared 
exist in US prisons around the globe. Torture 
occurs at these prisons on a regular basis. After 
more than three years of avoidance, the US 
Congress addressed the issue of torture in US-run 
prisons and cam up with the Military Commissions 
Act. This act effectively ended habeas corpus for 
these prisoners, does little to end torture in 
these prisons and excuses the torture that 
occurred before its enactment. In the sham 
courtrooms that the prisoners in these prisons 
will face trial, evidence extracted by torture 
will be admissible. Besides the torture in this 
corner of Washington's gulag, torture is also 
part of the law enforcement repertoire that 
includes the beating and isolation of prisoners 
in the modern supermax prison complexes like 
Pelican Bay in California to the so called rectal 
interrogation techniques known to be occasionally 
employed by the New York City Police Department. 
The Chicago police department was the subject of 
several investigations regarding years of 
systematic torture of primarily black men in at 
least one of its station houses. It is but a 
small leap to see that the prosecutors of the men 
arrested for the 1971 shooting in San Francisco 
will also attempt to introduce evidence obtained 
via torture and already considered inadmissible, 
no matter how flimsy. If the judge in this trial 
does allow this to happen, it not only flies in 
the face of accepted legal understanding, it is 
another step on the road to a totalitarian 
state--a road some in the United States are 
intent on leading their fellow countrymen and women down.

Despite their incarceration, members of the 
defense committee told me that the men's spirits 
are high., "I saw two of the bros this weekend." 
said Claude Marks. They are strong and ready to 
fight back. Their lawyers are very clear, strong 
and united....They're calling themselves the San 
Francisco 8.... They resisted the grand juries of 
2005 and will fight now." Several speaking 
engagements by members of the committee are 
scheduled and money is being raised. For more 
information please go to the Defense Committee's website. www.CDHRsupport.org

UPDATE: The Eight's arraignment and a bail 
reduction hearing was carried over until February 
14 at 9:00 a.m. The Superior Court is at 850 
Bryant Street in SF. Please attend if you can.

Ron Jacobs is author of 
Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather 
Underground, which is just republished by Verso. 
Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in 
CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, 
in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame 
Up, is forthcoming from Mainstay Press. He can be 
reached at: <mailto:rjacobs3625 at charter.net>rjacobs3625 at charter.net

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