“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
I believe that it is appropriate for the United States to lecture China about their deplorable human rights record. However, the reverse is also true; China, or any other nation, has every right and moral obligation to press the U.S. on its own human rights violations. While we are all somewhat familiar with glaring recent abuses such as Abu Ghraib, the world-wide network of “black box” CIA prisons where illegally held detainees are tortured and sometimes murdered, and the gulag at Guantanamo Bay, not much attention is paid to political prisoners in the United States.
Here are a few examples of the more famous political prisoners in the United States and suggestions on whom to contact to urge their release. Today would be a good day to follow the lead of Martin Luther King, Jr. and agitate for justice.
Bradley Manning is the Army private accused of providing Wikileaks with U.S. government documents. He has been held in solitary confinement since July, 2010. The conditions of Manning’s detention are appalling: He is in held in a 6 foot by 12 foot cell for 23 hours a day where is not allowed to exercise. His glasses are taken from him except for brief periods when he is allowed to read, and at night he is stripped to his boxer shorts. His mental health is said to have deteriorated. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has submitted a formal inquiry to the U.S. State Department about Manning’s treatment.
Former Reagan administration official Paul Roberts has said Manning is, “wrongfully imprisoned for meeting his military responsibility.” Australian journalist John Pilger calls Manning, “the world’s pre-eminent prisoner of conscience.” For more information, visit The Bradley Manning Support Network.
American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier has been known world-wide as a U.S. political prisoner since his confinement in 1977 for allegedly killing two FBI agents during a shootout at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Despite strong evidence of his innocence and a trial widely viewed as bogus, no president has ever dared to cross the FBI to pardon Peltier and release him from his two consecutive life sentences.
Here are some routes you can take to learn more and to support Leonard Peltier. There are two Peltier defense committees:
Details on the case:
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an internationally respected political activist and broadcast journalist who was sentenced to death for killing a U.S. police officer in 1981. Abu-Jamal remains on death row despite evidence of his innocence that has convinced observers around the world and despite the confession of another man who claims to have killed the officer. About 25 city governments, including Paris, Copenhagen, Palermo and Montreal have made Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen, and he has been honored with numerous awards, honorary degrees, and even has a street in Paris named after him. Abu-Jamal is also the subjects of several movies. Through legal battle over the decades, Abu-Jamal’s execution has been delayed but the sentence still stands.
There are countless organizations working for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Here are a few to check out:
The Cuban Five
The Cuban Five are five Cuban intelligence officers - Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González - who came to Miami, Florida to monitor anti-Cuban terrorist groups. There is a long history of terrorist attacks from persons and organizations based in Miami, including the bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner. Instead of arresting the alleged terrorists, the Cuban agents were arrested, held in solitary confinement for nearly a year and a half, and are now serving sentences of up to two consecutive life terms.
Eight Nobel Peace laureates have written to demand the release of the Five. Amnesty International has criticized their treatment as a violation of human rights, and 110 members of the British Parliament signed a letter to the U.S. in support of the Cuban Five.
To find out more, please visit:
These are a few of the higher profile political imprisonment cases in the United States. Here is a report from a Harvard Law Instructor on U.S. political prisoners:
In addition to political activists who face trumped-up charges, U.S. prisons contain political activists who intentionally face arrest. The media doesn’t report these events widely, but each year, many Americans are arrested while demonstrating against government policies. For example, thousands of activists, many of whom are faith-based, have been swept up in mass arrests for protesting at the School of the Americas. The School of the Americas (SOA) is a notorious U.S. military combat training facility for Latin American soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia. Graduates include Central American death squad leaders and paramilitary colluders who have committed numerous atrocities included massacres, rape, and torture. In the wake of such controversy, the United States responded by changing the name of the school to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Each year protestors go to the School of the Americas to bear witness and shed light on the SOA. Nonviolent SOA protesters have cumulatively spent over 95 years in prison. To learn more, visit SOA Watch.
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