We dot the I’s: Obama, CNN and political prisoners


By TONY SEED (Published March 21, slightly revised by the author on March 26) 

According to CNN, Cuban president Raul Castro “refused to answer the question,” when US president Barack Obama called on Jim Acosta, the Senior White House Correspondent for CNN, a Cuban-American, to ask the first question in a joint press conference with President Raúl Castro at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana on March 21. (After the presentations by the two heads of state in the joint press conference, the floor was opened to questions from the large number of international and Cuban journalists.) Acosta cynically asked if Cuba would release political prisoners.

President Castro immediately replied:

“Give me the list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately. Just mention a list. What political prisoners? Give me a name or names. After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners. And if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.”

This was not deemed an answer by the “free” CNN. It accused him of “evading the question” from the brave White House correspondent. Neither Acosta nor Obama, in fact, had any list, just as there was no “smoking gun” when Colin Powell went to the UN in 2003 with his “compelling demonstration” to legitimate US war on Iraq. There was a calculated provocation stage managed for maximum effect. As teleSur notes, “The question and response immediately travelled virtually around the globe as headline news, but centred mainly on the U.S. as the protagonist of Cuba. The airwaves were jammed with this controversy. The issue of political prisoners completely dominated international monopoly news on Cuba for at least 24 hours.”

The US has the world’s largest prison population by far. There are 2.2 million citizens in prison for offenses that include smoking pot and failing to pay off certain debts. | “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences” The National Research Council 2014

The US has the world’s largest prison population by far. There are 2.2 million citizens in prison for offenses that include smoking pot and failing to pay off certain debts. | “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences” The National Research Council 2014

Will the “free” and “non-authoritarian” USA, which has systematically trampled on the right to conscience since the end of World War II, release its political prisoners? I am composing a list. I invite your nominees.

It begins with Leonard Peltier.

In February 1973, traditionalists invited American Indian Movement leaders to the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, the site where hundreds of Great Sioux Nation of Chief Big Foot were massacred by the US army in 1890. The government-supported council, led by president Richard Wilson, was advocating BIA plans to lease vast tracts of land and mineral rights involving coal, oil and uranium in the western states, and utilizing repressive rule against a traditionist Oglala opposition. A 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee began.

On March 11, elders of the Oglala and AIM met and proclaim the revival of the Independent Oglala Nation which proposes to discuss its treaty with the US on equal terms, as equal nations.

On May 9, the Oglala traditionals and AIM finally surrendered after a military siege. Federal authorities then began to arrest, imprison, and eventually, try many local Indians and AIM activists who participated in the Wounded Knee takeover. Many claimed that “Indian goon squads,” local white police officers, and FBI agents continued to harass traditional Indians in the years after Wounded Knee, resulting in the execution and disappearance of over 300 Indian men and women (Mathiessen, 1992).

Between 1973 and 1976 over 60 AIM members and supporters alone were killed. They included ANNA MAE PICTOU AQUASH, 31, a Mi’kmaq from Indian Brook, Shubenacadie and Pictou Landing in Nova Scotia and a well-known activist in the American Indian Movement since 1970 (Anna had moved to Boston with her husband when she was 17), on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

In February1976, the Trudeau Liberal government of Canada arrested Leonard Peltier, a leader of the American Indian Movement and a member of the Oglala Lakota First Nations, in Alberta.

On the basis of fabricated documents, it extradited him to the US for allegedly shooting two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in June, 1975.

Mr Peltier had sought asylum in Canada on the grounds that the charges against him were political, stemming from his position in AIM and the FBI ‘s targeting of that organization. The FBI intentionally manufactured evidence (false affidavits) and withheld evidence.

Citing FBI reports, the Trudeau government treated him as a dangerous criminal, and the federal appeals court denied his appeal of extradition. The affidavit was tainted by what would eventually be proven as fraudulent testimony from a woman claiming to be Mr Peltier’s girlfriend. Mr Peltier’s attorneys said the affidavit was never produced during the extradition hearings and was concealed from them.

In May, 1977 the US convicted Peltier and sentenced him to two terms of life imprisonment.

Courtesy of Two Row Times

Courtesy of Two Row Times

Leonard Peltier shackled

Leonard Peltier shackled

A persistent movement developed demanding Mr Peltier be freed from US prison, or at the very least be granted a new trial due to FBI misconduct. For example, “Thanksgiving” day in Plymouth, Mass. is dedicated exclusively to Leonard Peltier by the United American Indians of New England.

Mr. Peltier was being held in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Kansas, despite the intervention on November 9, 1992 on his behalf by 55 Canadian MPs. They presented an amicus brief to the US Federal Court at St. Paul, Minnesota, affirming that the American affidavit submitted to the Canadian government in 1976 for the extradition of Leonard Peltier was fraudulent and, in consequence, should be declared null and void. This was dismissed.

In 1991, the judge who presided over Mr Peltier’s case, Gerald Heaney, wrote a letter to then-Senator Daniel Inouye, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, stating he had concerns that should “merit consideration in any petition for leniency filed.”

More than 40 years later, the chorus of voices calling for Mr Peltier’s release continues.

Before his death in 2013, the late Nelson Mandela, once a political prisoner, added himself to the considerable list of celebrities who have called for executive clemency. In 2010, the late folk singer Pete Seeger, actor and musician Harry Belafonte, and hip-hop artist Common were among a long list of performers and activists for a concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City calling on Obama to release Peltier. Amnesty International placed his case under the “Unfair Trials” category of its Annual Report: USA 2010.

On the other hand, vengeful FBI agents demonstrated en masse against clemency.

The US president, in fact, has a list, just as he has a list of potential drone targets that he pores over in the Situation Room.

Mr Peltier has repeatedly petitioned for a new trial and been turned down by presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and now Obama, even though the evidence overwhelmingly indicates he is innocent of the two murders for which he was convicted in the mid 1970s.

In 2001, “Bill Clinton chose to pardon multi-millionaire Marc Rich, with immense direct and indirect benefits later coming to the Clintons and their various interests,” the US internet journal Truth-out recalls. “Though Clinton was thoroughly and repeatedly briefed about Leonard Peltier, he chose to leave Peltier in prison, to not grant him a new trial, and to do nothing to mitigate the illegal conditions under which he’s being held.”

In July 2015, Obama, who presents himself to be quite concerned about political prisoners in other countries, real or imagined, himself commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners who had been convicted of drug offences.

“The overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years – 14 of them had been sentenced to life for non-violent drug offences. So their punishments didn’t fit the crime,” the president said in a video posted on the White House’s Facebook page.

Once again, the demand for clemency for Mr Peltier fell on deaf ears, such is the military and police power that is the US government.

Mr. Peltier’s next scheduled parole hearing will be in July 2024. Barring appeals, parole or presidential pardon, his projected release date is October 11, 2040.

Mr Peltier, 71, is now being held in a ”super-max” prison in Florida, far from his ancestral home, family and friends, with grandchildren and great grandchildren he has never seen. He is suffering from advanced diabetes and seriously ill. He is being held under extremely harsh conditions in clear violation of a wide range of laws allegedly protecting the basic human rights guaranteed all prisoners by the US criminal justice code and by international law.

There are many more, especially the Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Send Cards and Letters:

Leonard Peltier #89637-132
USP-Coleman I
U.S. Penitentiary
PO Box 1033
Coleman, FL 33521

For your information

Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera

2013-FreeOscarLopezRiveraMay 29, 2016 will mark 35 years of unjust imprisonment for Puerto Rican patriot Oscar López Rivera. Oscar and several other Puerto Rican political activists were arrested in 1981 in New York and Chicago for participating in Puerto Rico’s national liberation struggle. His patriotic activities were deemed seditious conspiracy by the colonial U.S. state and he is serving a 70-year sentence. He was kept in solitary confinement for eight years, subjected to sensory deprivation. He was kept in a very small room, painted white, with the light on 24 hours a day, no books, no visits. Even his meals were pushed through a hole in front of the outer door of his cell. Only his lawyer could visit and each time the lawyer was subjected to strip searches. They used to perform four strip searches on Oscar López Rivera before he had a visit and four more strip searches after the visit. What does this tell us about the defender of human rights and of democracy in the world? He is the last of these Puerto Rican patriots who remains imprisoned. Actions were held in the U.S. and across Puerto Rico to mark the 33rd anniversary with the firm demand that Oscar be released NOW!

In 1999, Oscar rejected a clemency offer from then U.S. President Bill Clinton but with the support of a broad, international movement to demand President Obama pardon him now. He adamantly refused to be released on the basis that the offer had not been extended to all of his comrades. Since that time, the others have been released. However, despite being a model prisoner, the U.S. government has thus far refused to re-extend the offer of clemency, nor even grant him parole.

Mass rally for Puerto Rican political prisoners, August 1999

Mass rally for Puerto Rican political prisoners, August 1999

The U.S. has colonized Puerto Rico since 1898, when Spain illegally transferred the island to the U.S. as a spoil of war in the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico’s fight against Spanish colonialism and for independence then became a fight against U.S. neo-colonialism. Since 1898, the U.S. has made every effort to crush the struggle for independence, using assassinations, jailings and violence against the resistance. Oscar’s harsh sentence on a bogus charge of sedition and continued imprisonment are an indication of the vindictive and neo-colonial outlook of the U.S. state towards Puerto Rico and those who fight for its independence. Oscar’s steadfastness for 33 years and the broad support for his cause throughout the Americas are the fitting and defiant reply to this injustice and the U.S. intolerable colonization of Puerto Rico.

The charge of sedition against Oscar is to turn truth on its head. Oscar and other independentistas have the right to resist U.S. occupation. It is not sedition when the aim is ending colonialism. It is colonialism that is the crime and resistance is the right of those occupied. Moreover, this just stand has been affirmed year after year by resolutions taken by the UN Special Committee on Decolonization that the U.S. end its colonial domination of Puerto Rico, which the U.S. arrogantly continues to flout.

Support the just struggle of Puerto Ricans for national liberation and demand that U.S. President Obama release Oscar López Rivera immediately!

TML Daily, May 29, 2014 – No. 57. See also López Rivera, Oscar. Oscar Lopez Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance. Edited by Luis Nieves Falcón. PM Press, Oakland, 2013.

Mumia Abu-Jamal

An Afro-American political prisoner who was wrongly convicted of murdering a policeman in 1981 in what was clearly a grossly unfair trail. He has been on death row in Pennsylvania since then awaiting execution, while attempting to win a new trial through the legal appeal process. There have been both temporary legal victories and serious legal setbacks for him, but he has remained on death row for nearly three decades now. However, Mumia also has widespread mass support in the U.S., and perhaps even more so in Europe and other parts of the world. Most of the world considers the death penalty barbaric and uncivilized, and chooses to support Mumia on that basis whether or not he is guilty of the crime he is charged with.

Mumia was born Wesley Cook in 1954, and during the period of Black Liberation Struggle and revolutionary upsurge during the 1960s he became a member of the Black Panther Party. In later years he was a political activist, journalist, broadcaster and part-time cab driver. Since his imprisonment he has written several books and broadcast a series of powerful news commentaries under the title “Live from Death Row.”

Mumia’s case has generated enormous controversy, with reactionaries rabidly determined to execute him for a whole variety of reasons: to set an example for all those who kill cops (as they insist Mumia did despite the unfair trial); to show that even killing a cop in self-defence is unacceptable (as some suspect may have been the situation here); to stop protests about unfair trials (no matter how unfair they really are); for racist reasons (because Mumia is Black); and for political reasons (because Mumia is and remains a revolutionary).



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