[Ppnews] New report calls for justice for U.S. political prisoners

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 28 10:39:41 EDT 2010



New report calls for justice for U.S. political 
prisoners and takes human rights case to the United Nations

U.S. political prisoners have endured decades of 
abuse, many face death in prison

By Richard B. Muhammad -Editor-in-Chief

     CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - When it comes to 
the United Nations and countries charged with 
rights violations, the United States is usually 
the chief accuser of others and remains a 
self-ordained defender of human rights.

     But a recent report filed with the world 
body raises the ugly issue of political prisoners 
and repression in America and her human rights violations.

     "The United States is very, very concerned 
when its citizens begin to raise questions in 
these international forums, because the United 
States still prefers to posture itself, including 
the Obama administration, as still the leader of 
the free world and that they don't have any human 
rights violations and they certainly don't have 
any political prisoners, and we have to dispel 
that notion in the international community," said 
Stan Willis, of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.

     Atty. Willis filed the report April 14 as 
part of a process in which the United Nations 
reviews the status of each country and its human 
rights record. The U.S. is currently under review 
and will respond in November during a gathering in Geneva, Switzerland.

     The United Nations' Universal Period Review 
process was introduced in 2006 and 
community-based, non-governmental and other 
organizations are allowed to point out human 
rights issues within their countries and where 
they feel violations of international law or UN treaties have been committed.

     For Black America, the process is another 
way to hold the U.S. government accountable and 
to demand the release of Black Power era leaders 
and members of organizations whose political 
views are objectionable, said Mr. Willis, in an interview.

     Beyond freeing an aging population of some 
100 former Black Panthers, members of the MOVE 
organization and other revolutionary-oriented 
groups, taking the issue to the United Nations 
puts America and her dirty laundry on front 
street, said the longtime activist and lawyer.

     "They (American officials) do not want to 
have these issues reach the world's people. How 
do you go into Iraq or Afghanistan telling people 
about their democracy when you got Black people 
that are locked down in prison for 30-40 years as political prisoners?"

     Whether the problem was leftist ideology, 
nationalists and those calling for a Black 
homeland, demands for a new economic order or 
Native American rights and anti-Vietnam War 
efforts, government security agencies infiltrated dissident groups.

     The security activity went hand-in-hand with 
crackdowns on Black, Latino, Native American and 
even some White groups demanding a more just and 
peaceful society­and greater demands for respect 
for rights and opposition to police violence.

     "Such repression resulted in murders, 
injuries, false arrests, malicious prosecutions 
and lengthy imprisonments of scores of political activists," the report said.

     The continued incarceration and mistreatment 
of these prisoners violates UN treaties and 
conventions that guarantee human rights, forbid 
torture and outlaw racial and political targeting 
by government, the report charges.
     Surveillance and destroying organizations

     The plight of political prisoners is largely 
rooted in the 1960s-1970s era surveillance 
against Black groups, which included respected 
civil rights organizations as well as so-called 
Black radicals, according to Mr. Willis. About 
two-thirds of the jailed dissidents are Black, he said.

     The FBI teamed with local law enforcement to 
attack, disrupt and destroy groups like the Black 
Panther Party and the Nation of Islam, the 
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), 
which was admitted during congressional hearings 
in 1976 empanelled to probe these secret domestic wars.

     The covert Counterintelligence Program run 
by then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and 
approved by the White House, focused in specially 
on the Black Panther Party, and most political 
prisoners are either former Panthers or from 
MOVE, a radical "back-to-nature" group whose 
homes were bombed by the Philadelphia Police Department in 1985.

     "U.S. political prisoners have languished in 
U.S. prisons for decades under cruel and inhumane 
conditions. Several have died in prison; others 
have endured years of solitary confinement, poor 
medical health care, various other forms of 
abuse, and perfunctory parole hearings resulting 
in routine denial of human rights," the report noted.

     The report calls for the unconditional 
release of political prisoners jailed as a result 
of the government's Counterintelligence Program, 
an executive review of all cases related to the 
covert operation, a murder probe into the deaths 
of Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and 
actions to repair and redress harm done and to 
prevent similar acts in the future.

     While Atty. Willis is pushing the plight of 
political prisoners, he said the impact of the 
government wrongdoing went beyond the heavy price 
young activists paid at the time.

     "Movements move forward with masses of 
people but they move forward with a certain kind 
of leadership," said Mr. Willis.

     During the revolutionary times of the 1960s 
and 1970s, youth and students were influenced by 
the efforts of the Nation of Islam, Congress of 
Racial Equality, and NAACP as well as the African 
liberation movement on the continent and Cuba's revolution, he continued.

     A type of leadership was developing that 
America had never seen before and the government 
moved to crush that leadership, Mr. Willis said.

     The Panthers and SNCC were wiped out and law 
enforcement and government sent clear signals 
that if others persisted in demanding progressive 
action they would also be destroyed, he said.

     "Our community suffered. Our community 
deserves reparations just on that issue because 
it set us back in the 1960s and we see where we 
are now, we haven't recovered from that," he 
said. "It's not just those in prison that 
suffered, and they certainly suffered mightily 
because they have been locked down and some of 
them are dying in prison. Fred Hampton and Mark 
Clark were murdered. But the community suffered," 
he said. Young leaders Hampton and Clark headed 
the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. 
They were shot and killed in a police raid on a west side home in 1969.
     U.S. power vs. the power of the people

     While the U.S. wields considerable power at 
the United Nations, in particular with its veto 
power on the Security Council, Atty. Willis 
rejects the notion that holding the superpower to 
international standards is a futile effort.

     The General Assembly is largely made up of 
delegates from around the world, and public 
opinion and moral authority is bigger than U.S. power, he said.

     The lawyer pointed to fighting in Chicago 
for two decades for Blacks tortured in a police 
precinct and officers under former police 
commander John Burge. It was only after the case, 
which involved hundreds of suspects coerced into 
making confessions because of torture, was put 
before international bodies that U.S. law 
enforcement officials moved against Mr. Burge. He 
will go on trial May 10 in federal court and is 
accused of obstruction of justice and perjury.

     "It was only after the United Nations 
mentioned torture in the context of Abu Grahaib, 
Guantanamo Bay and Chicago, in the same 
paragraph, that John Burge was indicted within 
months of that," Mr. Willis said. The Justice 
Dept. reached out about the case after the world 
body noted the violations, he said.
     International forums and broader remedies

     More involvement is needed in international 
forums, where violations of basic rights to 
education, health, employment, housing, and 
abuses of discrimination and police brutality can 
be brought out, Mr. Willis argued.

     Essentially the forums provide a way to call 
attention to government failures or misdeeds and 
ask that the UN or other bodies where the U.S. 
holds membership to investigate and demand 
America comply with international law or 
treaties. The forums can also be highly 
embarrassing for the world's greatest democracy.

     "We can have a mighty voice because when we 
speak in the international context it resonates 
with African people all over the world, unlike 
anybody else, and they look for us to speak 
because they know we are in the lion's den," said Atty. Willis.

     The U.S. civil rights laws also say what 
government can't do, while the international 
standards stress what countries must do, Mr. 
Willis explained. Under the United Nations 
standards, countries must educate children and 
localities could not argue that because of a 
lower tax base Black children get a lesser 
quality or failing education, he explained.

     Remedies are much broader in the 
international context, which include reparations 
as a common remedy, but civil rights laws don't 
provide for reparations, Mr. Willis added.

     It's not just going to Geneva but 
confronting local entities, like school 
districts, and being able to redefine education 
and press districts to come in line with 
international standards, he said. Blacks have 
also tried to take their struggle to the United 
Nations in the past, Mr. Willis said.

     "We have a history of trying to get there, 
but we haven't got there because I think we got 
so focused on civil rights we forgot there is a 
remedy out there and we can draw on the 
collective sentiments of the world community by 
trying to take our case into a more international 
forum," he said. "We don't have to rely on who is 
the president, we can force the president because 
the president and the administration is very, 
very sensitive to world opinion. There is no question about that," he said.

     Concerns about the arrest and targeting of 
Arab and Palestinian communities and Muslims 
after 9-11 and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns make 
government abuses relevant today, Atty. Willis said.

     Political prisoners have traditionally been 
locked down, not because they violated prison 
policy or disrupted prison but because officials 
don't want disruption based on ideas, he said.

     The Obama administration, unlike its 
predecessors, has taken the position that they 
support human rights and the U.S. has a member on 
the Human Rights Council, said Mr. Willis.

     His goal is to get the political prisoners 
on the agenda, but filing a report isn't enough, he said.

     It will take more awareness and education of 
the Black community, activism and lobbying for 
political prisoners at the United Nations, town 
hall meetings to explain where the issues are, 
and getting the academic and faith communities to 
weigh in on the problem, he said.

     "It's a way of organizing our people and 
encouraging them to take these international 
forums seriously and adding that to their tools 
of raising issues related to various problems we 
have in the United States. It doesn't mean you stop doing anything else.

     "The fact that I am trying to raise issues 
in the international forum doesn't mean I am stopping suing police," he said.

     "It just means this is an additional weapon 
that we have to try to get this country in 
compliance with international human rights laws."

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