Political Prisoner News
Critical hearings are being held in England that could determine the fate of journalist and publisher Julian Assange of Wikileaks, as the US appeals a British refusal to extradite him for trial in the US on espionage charges growing out of Wikileaks’ publication of files and photos documenting US war crimes, released by whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Assange, whose mental health has been suffering from his long incarceration resisting the US charges, is viewed as the victim of one of the harshest attacks on press freedom in US history.
Long-held political prisoners Russell Maroon Shoatz and David Gilbert were both recently released. Shoatz, who had twice escaped from captivity much earlier, was given a compassionate release from the Pennsylvania prison system because he is suffering from life-threatening and terminal illnesses after over 45 years in prison for actions he took in the Black liberation struggle. Maroon, author of “Maroon the Implacable” and other works, was released to his family, and efforts are being made to raise funds so he can see his grand-daughter and great-grandsons for the first time.
Gilbert, the father of progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, was convicted of “felony murder” in the 1970s because of his involvement with the Revolutionary Armed Task Force associated with the Black Liberation Army. He had expressed remorse and apologized to the families of police officers and a security guard who were killed in a Brink’s armored car hold-up in which he was a getaway car driver, although he had no role in the actual shootings. Gilbert was given a sentence commutation by outgoing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo which made him eligible for parole; based on his long record of educational work and AIDS activism during his decades of incarceration, parole was granted and he will be released shortly. Gilbert, a white anti-imperialist who was part of Columbia SDS in the 1960s, is also the author of several books.
Former political prisoner Rita ‘Bo’ Brown, a self-described butch lesbian who participated in armed actions of the George Jackson Brigade in the 1970s, passed away after a long and debilitating illness in Oakland. See other stories in this issue for updates about Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the findings of an international tribunal of jurists about US human rights violations related to political prisoners, mass incarceration, and health inequities of Black, Brown and Indigenous people.
Setback for Mumia’s Appeal
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has challenged Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest effort for an overturned conviction and new trial — nearly 40 years after he was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. The court said Abu-Jamal’s appeal was untimely, adding that the lower court shouldn’t have reinstated any part of his appeal because it lacked jurisdiction.
This fifth appeal attempt — filed in 2016 — was based on a federal ruling involving former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who later became a state Supreme Court justice and ruled on a death penalty appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Castille had an “unconstitutional risk of bias” as the district attorney.
Abu-Jamal’s attorneys argued to a Philadelphia judge In 2018 that Castille was also the District Attorney when Abu-Jamal was convicted, and a State Supreme Court Judge when he appealed. They pointed to a letter Castille penned to the governor in 1990, urging the death penalty be used to send a “clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that “the 1990 letter cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille had a personal interest in the outcome of the litigation,” court documents say. “There is no evidence that Castille had ever personally participated in the prosecution of Abu-Jamal.
“The 1990 letter is not evidence of prior prosecutorial participation. It is evidence that while acting as an advocate, District Attorney Castille took a policy position to advance completion of the appellate process for convicted murderers: ‘I very strongly urge you immediately to issue death warrants in each and every one of these cases. Only such action by you will cause these cases to move forward in a legally appropriate manner.’ He was not arguing that the law should be changed or should be ignored. Rather, he simply took a position to facilitate collateral review of death sentences which was subscribed to by many prosecutors at the time.” But the state Superior Court noted, Castille didn’t list Abu-Jamal, and they say Abu-Jamal didn’t file a new petition, using the letter as an argument, in time.
“Further,” the decision reads, “the 1990 letter was dated June 15th. At that time, Abu-Jamal’s direct appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. … As such, Abu-Jamal was not even in the class of litigants that District Attorney Castille was referencing in the letter. The 1990 letter therefore cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille was personally biased against Abu-Jamal.”
Native Lawmakers Ask Pres. Biden to Release Leonard Peltier
By Darren Thompson – https://nativenewsonline.net
On Tuesday, October 26, a group of lawmakers sent a letter to President Biden advocating for the release of Turtle Mountain Chippewa member Leonard Peltier. The group of lawmakers are all members of federally recognized tribes and represent 10 separate state governments.
The effort was largely organized by North Dakota Representative Ruth Buffalo (D-Fargo). Buffalo is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations and is the first female Native American Democrat elected to the North Dakota Legislature, in December 2018.
“Leonard is an elder of very poor health and is from a Tribal Nation located within my home state of North Dakota,” said Rep. Buffalo to Native News Online. “He is housed in a facility with inhumane living conditions, where COVID-19 runs rampant and the water is contaminated.”
The letter of support for the Turtle Mountain Chippewa activist and political prisoner comes weeks after 11 members of Congress sent a letter to President Joe Biden, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal, and Southeast Regional Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons J.A. Keller, requesting the expedited release and clemency for Peltier. He suffers from diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He’s 77 years old.
Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in 1977 for the murders of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler. The agents were killed on June 26, 1975 during a confrontation with members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in 1975.
“We join the millions from around the world in calling for his release. We are simply asking the Bureau of Prisons to follow their own rules and release him,” said Buffalo. “Let’s do what is right. Peltier has spent 44 years in prison, and in the interests of justice and on humanitarian grounds, must be released.” The Native American state lawmakers also reference that Amnesty International, a global human rights organization with over 10 million members, supporters and activists worldwide, continues to call for his release.
Separate from the letter, during Amnesty International Virtual Activism Conference held last Saturday, a panel was held entitled, “Leonard Peltier: 46 Years of Injustice” in conversation with panelists Jean Roach, who was a teen on the scene of the incident at Oglala, Lenny Foster, Peltier’s spiritual adviser, and former federal district court Judge Kevin Sharp.
Sharp recalled how he first went through Peltier’s file over the course of eight to ten hours. “As a former federal judge … a former member of the military and … a former attorney for Congress. All three of those jobs required me to swear to uphold the Constitution. As I went through this file, I am appalled at what I see. There were mistakes by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and even the judge,” Sharp said. After reading the file, Sharp agreed to become Peltier’s attorney on a pro-bono basis.
The Native American state lawmakers’ letter ends with a plea to President Biden. “We ask you, Mr. President, to do what is right. Let Mr. Peltier go home and live his final years among his people as an act of grace and compassion,” the letter concludes.
In the Spirit of Mandela: International Tribunal Finds US Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity
The testimonies of this Tribunal reaffirm the traditional wisdom and knowledge of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Peoples. Strong evidence was presented on the indomitable, unbreakable resistance and resilience of the peoples’ struggle for justice and dignity. In the face of egregious human rights violations and crimes against humanity, this spirit of collective survival shone through.
The 2021 International Tribunal on US Human Rights Abuses Against Black, Brown and Indigenous Peoples was initiated by a US coalition, In the Spirit of Mandela. Its own recognized legacy, based on efforts dating from the 1951 “We Charge Genocide” petition to the present, rests on the idea that any examination of US human rights must be done in an international context.
The Panel of Jurists came together as an independent body made up of legal scholars, human rights advocates and activists, and community leaders. Utilizing the International Criminal Law on Genocide and other instruments, the Panel convened to hear and review the testimony organized by Spirit of Mandela Legal Team. The Accused, though informed, did not respond to the charges and indictment against them, nor did they appear as invited to present a defense.
The following is a summarized and preliminary presentation of the testimony.
Testimony was heard regarding an alarming pattern and practice of police murdering Black, Brown, and Indigenous people with impunity. We were informed that a recent Commission of Inquiry found that “Black people are 3.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by police when Blacks are not attacking or do not have a weapon.” Disaggregated data for other Peoples is lacking.
Testimony emphasized that in the case of US Constitutional law, while the 13th Amendment promised the abolition of the process of chattel slavery, it in fact created an exception incentivizing the incarceration of people of African descent and other peoples. Further they argued that a school-to-prison pipeline has been set in motion by the racialized policies and programs of the US federal and state governments. One testimonial noted, “the law is used as a weapon of war” against Black, Brown and
Indigenous Peoples. Further testimony indicates that there are US policies of wars on poverty, wars on drugs, wars on terror, and others – amounting to a war on Black, Brown, and Indigenous Peoples as they disproportionately criminalize their youth and communities.
Political Prisoners/Prisoners of War
Arguments were made presenting the criminalization of legitimate political struggles, most particularly of Black, Brown and Indigenous Peoples. One witness testified that it is like a “Counter-Intelligence Program on steroids.” Several witnesses testified that with regard to traditional torture techniques, there is ample evidence of solitary confinement lasting for decades, which go so far beyond the UN constituted definitions of torture that they defy any modern standard of humane government.
Further testimony and findings at: