Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bradley Manning and GI Resistance to US War Crimes --An interview with Dahr Jamail

Bradley Manning and GI Resistance to US War Crimes

--An interview with Dahr Jamail

By Angola 3 News

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail spent nine months reporting directly from Iraq, following the US invasion in 2003. His stories have been published by Inter Press Service, Truthout, Al-Jazeera, The Nation, The Sunday Herald in Scotland, the Guardian, Foreign Policy in Focus, Le Monde Diplomatique, the Independent, and many others. On radio as well as television, Dahr reports for Democracy Now!, has appeared on Al-Jazeera, the BBC and NPR, and numerous other stations around the globe.

Jamail is the author of two recent books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From An Unembedded Journalist (2008) and The Will To Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse To Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (2009). He also contributed Chapter 6, “Killing the Intellectual Class,” for the book Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered (2010). Learn more at

Angola 3 News: On April 4, 2010, released a classified 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter in Iraq, firing on civilians and killing 11, including Reuters’ photojournalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver, 40 year old Saeed Chmagh. No charges have been filed against the US soldiers involved.

In sharp contrast, a 22-year-old US Army intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning has been accused of leaking the classified video. Arrested in May and facing up to 52 years in prison for a range of charges, Manning is now being held under what lawyer/journalist Glenn Greenwald has termed “inhumane conditions.”

Manning’s support website declares that “exposing war crimes is not a crime.” Indeed, the Nuremberg Laws, established after the horrors of WWII, declare that soldiers have a legal obligation to resist criminal wars. Let’s please take a closer look at this issue of US war crimes. What do you think are the strongest arguments that have been made for why US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are criminal?

DJ: To be clear, while I’ve covered Iraq extensively, I’ve not covered Afghanistan. Thus, I’ll keep all my answers in the context of my expertise, that being Iraq.

That said, the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq could not have more clearly violated international law. Even former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, said in September 2004 that the Iraq war was illegal and breached the UN Charter.

An illegal war is thus the mother of all war crimes, for from that stem all the rest. What I’ve seen in Iraq has been a parade of war crimes committed by the US military: rampant torture, collective punishment (Fallujah is an example), deliberate firing on medical workers, deliberate killing of civilians for “sport,” and countless others.

Then, there is the fact that both occupations are so clearly about control of dwindling resources and their transport routes, that the excuses given for them by the US government (both Bush and Obama) are both laughable and insulting to anyone capable of a modicum of critical thought.

A3N: How do you rate the corporate media’s coverage of the Bradley Manning story?

DJ: It’s been a farce. A classic case of “shoot the messenger.” When someone becomes a soldier, they swear an oath to support and defend the US constitution by following “lawful” orders. Thus, they are legally obliged by their own oath to not follow unlawful orders. What Manning did by leaking this critical information has been to uphold his oath as a soldier in the most patriotic way. Now, compare that with how he has been raked over the coals by most of the so-called mainstream media.

A3N: How do they address the argument that “exposing war crimes is not a crime?”

DJ: Usually they don’t, because the corporate media, and the government for that matter, avoid the words “war crime” as though they are a plague. Thus, they avoid the issue at all cost.

A3N: In your opinion, how do the corporate media present the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan to the US public?

DJ: With Iraq, the occupation is presented as though it was a mistake, as though the great benevolent US Empire was mistakenly mislead into the war. But since “we” are there, it is good that at least Saddam Hussein has been removed, and now of course the US has only done the best it can in a tough situation.

With Afghanistan, the occupation is presented to the public as the ongoing frontline battle against “terrorism,” while in reality, they should call Afghanistan “pipeline-istan” because it’s all about securing the access corridors for natural gas and oil pipelines from the Black Sea, through Afghanistan (the 4 main US bases there are located along the exact pipeline route) to the coast of Pakistan.

A3N: How does the corporate media narrative contrast with what you have seen first-hand in Iraq?

DJ: The difference is night and day. The whitewashing and outright lying by the corporate media is offensive to me. It is repulsive, in fact, when compared to what the reality on the ground is in Iraq. The brutality of the US military there against the civilian population would shock people. More than 1 million Iraqis have been slaughtered because of the US occupation. As you read this you can know that one in every ten Iraqis remains displaced from their homes. Can you imagine that? The US policy in Iraq has been so destructive, that one out of every ten Iraqis is currently displaced from their home, now at more than 7 years into the occupation?

A3N: Returning now to the issue of soldier resistance, what are the various reasons that anti-war soldiers give as motivation for their opposition to the occupations?

DJ: Mostly from what the soldiers see once they arrive in the occupation: the buckets of money being made by the contractors, the lack of goals for the occupation beyond generating huge amounts of profit for war contractors, and that the reasons given for the invasion/occupation were entirely false. So most seem to become anti-war when they see that they’ve been lied to, used, betrayed, and that they are putting their lives on the line so that war contractors can get richer.

A3N: What are some of the ways that anti-war soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have resisted?

DJ: Myriad ways. The most common, and least dramatic, is going AWOL. More than 60,000 soldiers have now taken that route since 11 September 2001. So, often, folks will go do a deployment, come back for a break, then simply not show up when it’s time for their unit to redeploy.

Some of the more interesting means of resistance I’ve found entailed doing what soldiers refer to as “search and avoid” missions. One soldier told me how they would go out to the end of their patrol route in their Humvees, find a big field, and park. They’d call in to base every hour to check in and say, “We’re fine, we’re still searching this field for weapons caches.” And they would sit there doing nothing until the time was up for their patrol, and they’d return to base. I met more and more soldiers who shared similar stories, from all over Iraq, during different times of the occupation. That’s when I realized how low morale was and how widespread different kinds of resistance had become.

Other soldiers found out how to manipulate their locator beacon on the GPS unit in the Humvees, so they’d sit and have tea with Iraqis, while someone moved their beacon around so their base thought they were patrolling.

A3N: How has US military leadership responded to this resistance?

DJ: They don’t know about much of it when it’s happening. Although there have been times when a unit has been caught doing something like the aforementioned, and they’ve broken up the unit, but that has been quite rare overall.

With AWOL troops, the military doesn’t have the manpower to send their MPs after them, so they let them go, wait for them to get a traffic ticket, for example, then the cops hand them over to the MPs who throw the AWOL soldier in the brig to await a court-martial. Then, often, the soldier is told he/she can go back to Iraq/Afghanistan, or they will be court-martialed.

A3N: In your book The Will To Resist, you document many different cases of soldiers that faced criminal charges for their opposition to US wars. We discussed Bradley Manning’s case earlier in this interview, but can you please tell us about any other recent, ongoing cases that have begun since the publication of your book in 2009? How can our readers best support these soldiers?

DJ: Most of those I followed that took place after my book was published have been completed, time served by the soldiers, and then their release into freedom from the military. Two cases of this type really stand out: Victor Agosto and Travis Bishop. Both of these men stood up and refused to be deployed, were court-martialed, served their time, and are now free.

There will be more to come as these occupations persist. A group to follow who regularly supports these resisters is Courage To Resist. They are based in Oakland and are run by Jeff Paterson, himself a resister to the first Gulf War. They do a great job of tracking resisters and what folks can do to support them. Support includes donations, but also making phone calls, writing letters, and other forms of activism.

A3N: In the months leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the anti-war movement in the US was relatively strong, but since the invasion began, the anti-war movement seems to have lost considerable momentum and strength. On a practical level, what do you think the US anti-war movement needs in order to be re-energized and finally end these wars?

DJ: At the risk of sounding like a cynic when I feel I’m making an honest assessment, I don’t feel there will be a mass organization of an anti-war movement. We already live in a police state. What is left of the anti-war movement is completely infiltrated, and is being torn apart by sectarianism and profiteering (the peace-industrial-complex).

In addition, I feel that the main reason for the failure of the anti-war movement is that most folks involved in it still believe they can work within the system to generate change, when the system is completely corrupted already. By “system,” I mean the federal government. That apparatus is broken beyond repair, it is completely corrupted, and needs to be dissolved. Thus, any movement that seeks to work within the parameters set by the system (such as weekend permitted demonstrations, thinking you can effectively pressure your representative, etc) is doomed before it begins, because it is still playing by the rules set out by those in power. Rules guarantee never to jeopardize the loss of power by those who hold it.

Only truly radical actions, meant to subvert the system and shut it down to a point where business as usual is impossible until demands are met, are all that is left.

--Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kiilu Nyasha reviews the new film “In The Land of the Free...”

The Case of the Angola 3

--A review of the new film “In The Land of the Free...”

Produced by Vadim Jean, in memory of Anita Roddick

Film review written by Kiilu Nyasha

“They will never be able to break me,” said Herman Wallace, despite the torment and torture of 37 years in a 6 x 9 cell in the “bloodiest prison in the nation.” He and his comrade, Albert Woodfox, suffer such solitary confinement to this day.

Targeted for their militancy, co-captives Wallace, Woodfox and Robert King had organized a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party and they became known as the Angola 3 after they were falsely convicted by kangaroo courts and all-white juries. Wallace and Woodfox were convicted for the murder of prison guard, Brent Miller in 1972, and King was convicted separately for the death of another inmate in 1973.

Brent Miller’s widow, Teenie Miller, who appears in the film, asks, “Who really killed my husband?” At a 2008 hearing she said, “If they did not do this – and I believe that they didn’t – they have been living a nightmare for 36 years!”

This movie gives us a rare look at Angola prison, built on 18,000 acres in Louisiana that was a plantation where slaves, mostly from Angola, Africa, worked the cotton fields. It pictures the ugly daily existence of the plantation’s 5,000 captives -- more prisoners per capita than any other prison in the world – forced to work 17 hours a day for 2 cents an hour in fields of corn, cotton and sugar cane at gun point. A modern-day slave plantation.

This is the story of three Black Panthers who made a difference in the prison and in the lives of their fellow inmates, stopped the systematic rapes and brutalities against “fresh fish” by guards and inmates; organized and raised the consciousness of other prisoners for which they were railroaded and isolated.

At a very young age, Albert Woodfox robbed a truck and drove it to New Orleans where he was arrested. He escaped and went to Harlem where he found the New York Panthers and joined the Party. He was recaptured and wound up in Angola. Footage of the New York chapter and other Panther events are pictured, as well as testimony from activist, Malik Rahim, another Panther from New Orleans who grew up with Robert King and helped him win release in 2001, after 31 years of incarceration.

“I may be free of Angola, but Angola will never be free of me.” So said King upon leaving prison as he vowed to fight for the freedom of his comrade brothers.

King’s story and that of Wallace and Woodfox provide viewers with a stark look at today’s prison realities, as well as the widespread suffering of families and friends involved.

Much of the narration is done by Samuel Jackson, with commentary from Congressmen, Cedric Richmond and John Conyers, who visited Wallace and Woodfox, and the lawyers, Scott Fleming and Nick Trenticosta who took up the case.

This is a remarkable film, very enlightening, and should raise the consciousness of those who have no idea. It exposes mind boggling criminality and corruption, as well as overt, ongoing racism within the system. A must see.

--Kiilu Nyasha is a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party. Through the end of 2009, Kiilu hosted a weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle," on SF Live, and many of her shows are archived here.

Kiilu also writes for several publications, including the SF Bay View Newspaper and Also an accomplished radio programmer, she has worked for KPFA (Berkeley), SF Liberation Radio, Free Radio Berkeley, and KPOO in SF.

(PHOTO: Charles Garry, Kiilu Nyasha, and Huey P. Newton in Connecticut, 1970.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex --An interview with Victoria Law

Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex

--An interview with Victoria Law

By Angola 3 News

Victoria Law is a longtime prison activist and the author of the 2009 book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press). Law’s essay “Sick of the Abuse: Feminist Responses to Sexual Assault, Battering, and Self Defense,” is featured in the new book, entitled The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism, edited by Dan Berger.

In this interview, Law discusses her new article, which provides a history of radical feminist resistance to the criminalization of women who have defended themselves from gender violence. Furthermore, Law presents a prison abolitionist critique of how the mainstream women’s movement has embraced the US criminal justice system as a solution for combating violence against women.

Previously interviewed by Angola 3 News about the torture of women in US prisons, Law is now on the road with the Community and Resistance Tour.

Angola 3 News: In your essay “Sick of the Abuse,” you write that “a woman’s right to defend herself (and her children) from assault became a feminist rallying point throughout the 1970s.” You focus on the four separate stories of Yvonne Wanrow, Inez Garcia, Joan Little, and Dessie Woods. All four women were arrested for self-defense and their cases received national attention with the support of the radical women’s movement. Can you briefly explain their cases and why they were so important for the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s?

Victoria Law: Yvonne Wanrow was an American Indian mother of two living in Washington State in the 1970s. In 1972, her 11-year-old son was grabbed from his bike by William Wesler, a known child molester. He escaped and fled to the house of a family friend named Shirley Hooper, whose 7-year-old daughter had been raped by Wesler earlier that year. When Hooper called the police, they refused to arrest Wesler.

Understandably shaken, Hooper called Yvonne Wanrow and asked her to spend the night. Wanrow, who was 5 foot, 4 inches, and had recently broken her leg, brought her gun. At five in the morning, Wesler came to their house. When he refused to leave, Wanrow went to the front door to yell for help. She turned around to find Wesler, who, at 6 foot 2, was towering over her. She shot and killed him.

At her first trial, the judge instructed the jury only to consider what had happened at or immediately before the killing. This omitted (1) Wesler’s record as a sex offender; (2) Wesler’s assault on Hooper’s 7 year old; (3) His attempted assault on Yvonne’s son

Wanrow was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years.

However, various groups and people involved in the women’s movement and the American Indian movement had taken up her cause. They recognized that a woman had the right to defend herself and her family from assault. They held events that raised awareness, educated people, and tied her case into issues of violence against women and the systemic violence against Native people in the US. They also raised funds for her legal defense, which enabled her to have a better defense than she might have been afforded otherwise.

As a result, in 1977, the Washington State Supreme Court granted her a new trial, partially on the basis that the jury should have considered ALL relevant facts when considering self-defense. At her new trial in 1979, Wanrow pled guilty to reduced charges & received a suspended sentence, 5 years’ probation and 1 year of community service. The court decision also established that that women’s lack of access to self-defense training and to the “skills necessary to effectively repel a male assailant without resorting to the use of deadly weapons” made their circumstances different from those of men.

Two years later, in 1974, Inez Garcia shot and killed the man who had blocked her escape from rape. She was arrested and charged with 1st degree (or premeditated) murder. Like Wanrow, her cause was taken up by the women’s movement, which organized teach-ins and fundraisers and galvanized popular support with the recognition that women had the right to defend themselves against rape.

During her first trial, the judge did not allow testimony about the rape as part of the evidence. After her conviction, the women’s movement continued to rally on her behalf and hired feminist attorney Susan Jordan to take over her defense.

Two years later, an appeals court reversed her conviction because the trial judge had instructed the jury not to consider the rape

During the re-trial, Susan Jordan challenged potential jurors about their preconceptions of rape, making the assault an integral part of the case from the beginning. Garcia was acquitted. The entire jury agreed that the rape and threat of further harm were adequate provocation for Garcia’s action.

That same year, Joan Little, a black woman and the only female prisoner in North Carolina’s Beaufort County Jail, killed Clarence Alligood, a sixty-two-year-old white male guard, after he had entered her cell, threatened her with an ice pick and forced her to perform oral sex. Little was charged with first-degree murder which, in North Carolina, carried a mandatory death sentence.

Again, there was a HUGE outpouring of support from various movements, including people and groups in the women’s liberation and Black Liberation movements as well as more mainstream groups. During her trial, Little’s defense exposed the chronic sexual abuse and harassment endured by women in the jail and prison system. Countering the prosecution’s argument that Little had enticed Alligood into her cell with promises of sex, the defense team called on women who had previously been held at the jail. They testified that Alligood had a history of sexually abusing women in his custody.

Little herself testified about Alligood’s assault.

After seventy-eight minutes of deliberation, a jury acquitted Little, establishing a precedent for killing as a justified self-defense against rape.

Dessie Woods was a Black woman in Georgia who shot and killed a man who tried to rape her and her friend while they were hitchhiking. She was sentenced to 22 years. Black nationalist women took up the case of Dessie Woods, framing it as a case of colonial violence. Radical (White) feminists also took up her cause and used it as a way to challenge white feminists to examine not only sexism and patriarchy but also racism and colonialism.

However, unlike the cases of Little, Wanrow and Garcia, the larger White feminist movement(s) did not rally to her cause.

Even though she did not have the massive outpouring of support as the other three women, the prolonged support that she did have eventually won Woods her freedom in July 1981. A lawyer from the People’s Law Center challenged the use of circumstantial evidence and the use of a special prosecutor (hired by the dead man’s family). The U.S. Court of Appeals determined that there had been insufficient evidence to convict and imprison her.

The first three cases were groundbreaking in that they established legal precedents stating that women had a right to defend themselves (and their children) from sexual assault. In the case of Inez Garcia, her lawyer Susan Jordan extended the legal interpretation of “imminent danger” beyond the immediate time period, thus laying the groundwork for battered women’s defense—that a woman who kills her abuser is acting in self-defense even if she is not under attack at that time.

A3N: What impact did activism have in these four cases?

VL: The activism and organizing around those four cases enabled the women to have better legal defenses than they would have otherwise been afforded. For example, $250,000 was raised for Joan Little’s defense. Almost $39,000 was spent on social scientists who devised an “attitude profile survey:” designed to detect patterns of (racial) prejudice. The defense used their findings to win a change of venue from conservative/racist Beaufort County to Raleigh, which was key in her acquittal. Without the money garnered by supporters, Joan Little, a poor Black woman, would never have been able to have that kind of legal support. Instead, she would have been convicted and executed.

A3N: How are things different today, in 2010?

VL: We don’t see the same outpouring of support for women arrested for self-defense today. We can look at the case of the New Jersey Four, who are four Black lesbians arrested and incarcerated for defending themselves against a homophobic attack on the street. Their case has garnered support from groups working around incarcerated women’s issues and queer issues, but it hasn’t been taken up as widely as, say, the case of Joan Little or even Dessie Woods. Women who are incarcerated for defending themselves against partner violence receive even less public attention and support.

A3N: Shifting our focus to the issue of domestic violence, you write that the early women’s shelters formed by the radical women’s movement in the 1970s “utilized the self-help methods, egalitarian philosophies, and collective structures that had developed within the women’s liberation movement, striving to be democratic alternatives in which women had the space to safely communicate, share experiences, examine the root causes of the violence against them, and begin to articulate a response. However, these efforts received nowhere near the amount of attention, publicity, and support that the women’s movement paid to Wanrow, Garcia, Little, and Woods.”

Why do you think these projects, as well as court cases where women defended themselves from intimates, did not receive the attention they deserved?

VL: Then (and now), people saw battering as a “personal” issue and were reluctant to get involved. Some felt that marriage (or partnership) somehow condoned abuse. Others felt that this was not an issue that a movement could be built on. Perhaps it was also recognized that the issue could divide a movement. After all, when reading histories of revolutionary groups during the 1960s and 1970s, we see that abuse and misogyny often went unaddressed.

A3N: What did these radical activists identify as the “root causes” of violence against women were? What is your personal opinion regarding these root causes?

VL: Radical activists identified society’s misogyny and patriarchy as root causes of violence against women. They pointed out that women are most often the ones who are attacked and abused because they are often the ones with less power (both physically and in terms of resources).

I strongly agree with this analysis and feel that only when we radically transform societal attitudes around gender and power will we be able to have a world without gendered violence.

A3N: The number of battered women’s shelters grew (by 1982, there were an estimated 300-700 shelters nationally), but you write that “the increased interest in the issue by those who did not identify with the women’s liberation movement resulted in a watering down of the radical feminist analyses that led to the first refuges for battered women. These emerging institutions emphasized providing services without analyzing the political context in which abuse occurred. There was a shift from calling for broad social transformation to focusing on individual problems and demanding greater state intervention.”

How do you think this watering down and shift towards greater state intervention has since played out in later decades, leading up to today?

VL: Today, abuse is treated as an individual pathology rather than a broader social issue rooted in centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. Viewing abuse as an individual problem has meant that the solution becomes intervening in and punishing individual abusers without looking at the overall conditions that allow abuse to go unchallenged and also allows the state to begin to co-opt concerns about gendered violence.

For example, 29 states have some form of mandatory arrest policy in a DV call. There is also the possibility of dual arrests (in which both parties are arrested). In addition, many states now have “no-drop prosecution” in which the District Attorney subpoenas the battered spouse to testify with threats of prosecution if she recants or refuses.

The shift towards greater state intervention has also resulted in resources such as battered women’s shelters mirroring some of these same abusive practices (such as isolating the survivor). It also ignores ways in which the state inflicts violence upon women. I would greatly recommend the INCITE! anthology, entitled The Color of Violence, which explores various aspects of violence against women.

A3N: If you were dialoguing with those sectors of today’s anti-violence movement that embrace the criminalization approach, what are the key points you would make in arguing that prisons are not the answer? What do you think is the best way to reduce and prevent violence against women both inside and outside prisons?

VL: The threat of imprisonment does not deter abuse; it simply drives it further underground. Remember that there are many forms of abuse and violence and not all are illegal. It also sets up a false dichotomy in which the survivor has to choose between personal safety and criminalizing/imprisoning a loved one.

Arrest/imprisonment does not reduce, let alone prevent, violence. Building structures and networks to address the lack of options and resources available to women is more effective. Challenging patriarchy and male supremacy is a much more effective solution (although not one that funders and the state want to see).

A3N: Can you please tell us about recent cases of women who are facing charges or have been wrongly convicted for defending themselves?

VL: There’s the case of the New Jersey Four, whom I mentioned above.

There’s also Sara Kruzan, a 31-year-old woman incarcerated at the California Institution for Women. When Sara was 11, she met a 31-year-old man named G.G. who molested her and began grooming her to become a prostitute. By the age 13, she began working as a child prostitute for G.G. and was repeatedly molested by him. At age 16, Sara was convicted of killing him. She was sentenced to prison for the rest of her life despite her background and a finding by the California Youth Authority that she was amendable to treatment offered in the juvenile system.

There’s been a letter-writing campaign to the governor urging clemency. Sara is also up for resentencing and needs letters of support. The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) are working on publicizing and garnering support for her case. However, we’re not seeing a fraction of the support from women’s or other non-prison groups that the cases of Wanrow, Garcia and Little received in the 1970s even though you would think that her story would provoke widespread outrage and calls for release.

I recently received an e-mail from CCWP about Mary Shields, a domestic violence survivor incarcerated for nineteen years on a seven-to-life sentence for attempted murder. This past September, Mary was found suitable for release by the Board of Parole Hearings. In 2006, the Parole Board had also found Mary “suitable for release” but rescinded its decision after Governor Schwarzenegger recommended against release. This time around, the governor has until January (when his term will be up) to either let the Board's decision stand or recommend that it be reversed and so CCWP is calling for people to send letters supporting Mary’s release.

A3N: Anything else to add?

VL: I want to remind readers that if we’re not coming up with solutions to gender violence, then the fall-back becomes relying on prisons and policing to keep women (and other vulnerable people) safe. It is also imperative to support women incarcerated for killing their abusers as well as to support battered women on the outside and to remember that abuse isolates people.

We should be working to end violence against women without strengthening government control over women’s lives or promoting incarceration as a solution to social problems.

--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Film screening and events with Robert King

This upcoming month will feature three different Angola 3-related events in California.

--Robert King will be at the Nov. 13-14 National Conference on Socialism in Los Angeles, where the Angola 3 will be honored alongside several other political prisoners. Read more here.

--On Nov. 16, at 7:30 pm, the new British documentary film about the Angola 3, entitled “IN THE LAND OF THE FREE...” will screen in San Francisco at ATA Theater, 992 Valencia St. at 21st St., SF. After the film, please join us for an update on the case and discussion with Marina Drummer from the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Read more here.

--On Dec. 1, Robert King will be speaking at the TEDx Alcatraz event, entitled "A Suspension of Disbelief," held at the Temple Nightclub in San Francisco. Read more here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

May 13, 1985 and the Legalization of Murder

(VIDEO: Part two of our May, 2010 interview with Ramona Africa. In this segment, Ramona gives her personal account of May 13, 1985. Watch part one here.)

May 13, 1985 and the Legalization of Murder

By Angola 3 News

On May 13, 1985, a State Police helicopter dropped a C-4 bomb, illegally supplied by the FBI, on the roof of the MOVE Organization’s house at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. The bomb started a fire that was allowed to burn, and eventually destroyed 61 homes, leaving 250 people homeless: the entire block of a middle-class black community (watch video).

The Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (The MOVE Commission), appointed by Mayor Wilson Goode, documented that when the occupants of the house tried to escape the fire, police shot at them, blocking their escape. In the end, six MOVE adults and five children died. Ramona Africa and 13 year-old Birdie Africa were the only survivors, after successfully dodging the police gunfire.

The MOVE Commission concluded that the deaths of the five MOVE children “appeared to be unjustified homicides which should be investigated by a grand jury” (curiously the Commission did not similarly criticize the murder of the MOVE adults). However, two subsequent grand juries refused to press charges against any city or police official for murder or any other wrongdoing. In contrast, Ramona Africa spent seven years in prison.

Recognizing the racial implications of the massacre, The MOVE Commission wrote that the day’s many horrifying decisions, including “the use of high explosives, and in a 90 minute period, the firing of at least 10,000 rounds of ammunition at the house; to sanction the dropping of a bomb on an occupied row house; and to let a fire burn in a row house occupied by children, would not likely have been made had the MOVE house and its occupants been situated in a comparable white neighborhood.”

As death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal writes in his essay "When Massacre Is No Crime" MOVE is currently seeking murder charges against police and city officials for the deaths of eleven of their family members on May 13, 1985. The remainder of this article, organized into six sections, is a compilation of testimony and evidence that makes a compelling case for why murder charges are needed: The Legalization of Murder; The Morning Assault; Mayor Goode Refuses to Negotiate; Dropping the C-4 Bomb; “Fire As a Tactical Weapon”; Police Shoot at Fleeing Occupants.

The Legalization of Murder

As detailed in the article that accompanied the first part of our video-interview with Ramona Africa, the Philadelphia police had launched a previous military-style assault on MOVE’s home in the Powelton Village neighborhood of West Philadelphia on August 8, 1978. During the assault, Officer James Ramp was shot and killed by what many believe was actually police gunfire because MOVE was below ground in the basement and the bullet in Officer Ramp did not enter at an upward trajectory like a bullet from the basement would have. Furthermore, Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington Jr. has reported that several different sources of his within the Philadelphia Police Department told him that Ramp had in fact been shot by police gunfire.

However, nine MOVE members (known today as the “MOVE 9”) arrested in the house that day were jointly convicted of third-degree murder and conspiracy for the shooting death of Officer Ramp and sentenced to 30-100 years. In the years following the imprisonment of the MOVE 9, the headquarters for MOVE shifted to 6221 Osage Avenue, in a middle-class black neighborhood, where MOVE continually demanded an official investigation into the 1978 confrontation and the convictions of the MOVE 9.

Many of MOVE’s neighbors complained to the city government about MOVE’s use of a loudspeaker to air their own grievances with the city, which mostly centered around the MOVE 9 convictions. Along with sanitation complaints, the neighbors also expressed concern about a bunker built above the house, which MOVE said they had built to defend themselves from another military-style police assault on their home similar to Aug. 8, 1978.

Officially in response to these sanitation and noise complaints from neighbors, Philadelphia mayor, Wilson Goode, held a meeting with Managing Director Leo A. Brooks and Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor, District Attorney Ed Rendell (now the Governor of Pennsylvania), and others, where he first authorized Sambor to prepare and execute a tactical plan under the supervision of Brooks, allegedly to solve the neighborhood dispute.

On May 11, Judge Lynn Abraham approved DA Rendell’s requested emergency arrest and search warrants for four MOVE members on charges of disorderly conduct and terroristic threats, based upon statements MOVE made on their loudspeaker two weeks earlier, where, among other things, they stated that they’d defend themselves from a police attack.

Today, Ramona Africa challenges the legitimacy of these May 11 emergency warrants by citing the fact that during Ramona’s later trial, all charges listed on her arrest warrant were dismissed by the judge. Ramona says that “this means that they had no valid reason to even be out there, but they did not dismiss the charges placed on me as a result of what happened after they came out.”

Charged with conspiracy, riot, and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault, Ramona Africa served the entirety of her 16-month to 7-year sentence after she was repeatedly denied parole for not renouncing MOVE.

Concluding Ramona’s 1986 trial, presiding judge Michael R. Stiles told the jurors not to consider any wrongdoing by police and city officials, because they would be held accountable in “other” proceedings. However, no official has ever faced criminal charges.

In 1996, Ramona successfully sued the City of Philadelphia and was awarded $500,000 for pain, suffering, and injuries. Relatives of John Africa and his nephew Frank James Africa, who died in the incident, were awarded a total of $1 million. Another $1.7 million was paid to Birdie Africa, now Michael Moses Ward.

The jury also ordered that Ramona receive $1 per week for 11 years directly from Sambor and Richmond, but this was overruled by Judge Louis Pollack on grounds that the two had not shown “willful misconduct,” and were therefore immune from financial liability.

The Morning Assault

At 5:35 AM, on May 13, after evacuating the neighbors, Police Commissioner Sambor declared on the bullhorn: “Attention, MOVE! This is America! You have to abide by the laws of the United States,” and gave them fifteen minutes to surrender.

After the fifteen-minute deadline passed, several “squirt gun” fire-hoses were directed at the bunker on MOVE’s roof, in an attempt to dislodge it. At 5:53, police tear-gassed the front and rear of the house, creating a smokescreen. Police then sent bomb squads to enter the row houses on either side of the building.

While the bomb squads entered, gunfire erupted, and in the next 90 minutes, police used over 10,000 rounds of ammunition, including 4,500 rounds from M-16s; 1,500 from Uzis; and 2,240 from M-60 machine guns. Simultaneously, the two bomb squads repeatedly detonated explosives in the side walls, and then blew off the front of the house.

Sambor later attempted to justify police gunfire by saying that police had first responded to automatic gunfire from MOVE. However, the only weapons found in MOVE’s house were two pistols, a shotgun, and a .22 caliber rifle: no automatic weapons. Sambor was unable to explain this contradiction when challenged by the MOVE Commission.

The MOVE Commission wrote that “the firing of over 10,000 rounds of ammunition in under 90 minutes at a row house containing children was clearly excessive and unreasonable. The failure of those responsible for the firing to control or stop such an excessive amount of force was unconscionable.”

Mayor Goode Refuses to Negotiate

As police ran out of ammunition and went to the armory for more, a quiet afternoon standstill began.

According to Philadelphia Tribune columnist and Temple University Professor Linn Washington, Jr., MOVE member Jerry Africa, who wasn’t in the house, attempted to negotiate with Mayor Goode during the afternoon standstill. He wanted to tell Goode that MOVE would disengage from the confrontation if Goode would agree to an investigation of the Aug. 8, 1978-related MOVE convictions.

Jerry Africa was supported and accompanied by civil rights activist Randolph Means and former Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Williams, who at the time was the Democratic Party’s nominee for Philadelphia District Attorney. According to Washington, the three of them repeatedly tried to call Goode on the telephone, but he would not take their call. Instead, Goode declared at a press conference that afternoon that he was now ready “to seize control of the house…by any means necessary.”

Notably, Washington filed this story with the The Philadelphia Daily News, who he worked for at the time, but it was not published.

Dropping the C-4 Bomb

At 5:00 pm, Managing Director Brooks telephoned Mayor Goode and said that Sambor, in Goode’s words, wanted to “blow the bunker off and to blow a hole in the roof and to put tear-gas and water in through that process.” Goode’s response: “Okay. Keep me posted.”

At 5:27 pm, a State Police helicopter dropped a C-4 bomb on MOVE’s roof, which exploded and started a fire on the roof.

Challenged at a press conference later that week, Goode was unable to offer a straight answer: “If…someone called on the telephone and said to me ‘We’re going to drop a bomb on a house;’ would I approve that? The answer is no. What was said to me was that they were going to use an explosive device to blow the bunker off the top of the house.”

Afterwards, Sambor continued to defend the decision to drop the bomb by arguing that the bombing was “a conservative and safe approach to what I perceived as a tactical necessity.”

The MOVE Commission concluded that “dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable and should have been rejected out of hand by the mayor, the managing director, the police commissioner and the fire commissioner.”

The Commission also reported that “in January, 1985, an agent of the FBI delivered nearly 38 pounds of C-4, a powerful military plastic explosive, to the Phila. Police bomb squad. Delivery of this amount of C-4 to any police force without restrictions as to its use is inappropriate. Neither agency kept any records of the transaction. The FBI agent told the Commission that he ‘never had to keep any kind of records or anything’ regarding C-4. Nor did the bomb squad keep any delivery, inventory or use of the C-4, or any other explosives under their control…Because of the absence of record keeping by the FBI and the Philadelphia Police Department, all the facts of the use of C-4 on May 13 may never be known.”

“Fire As A Tactical Weapon”

Initially, the fire was relatively small, but it was allowed to grow until it was eventually so large and powerful that it burned down the entire city block.

According to Mayor Goode, he first learned of the fire “at about ten minutes of six,” at which point he contacted Managing Director Brooks, and ordered that the fire be stopped. On behalf of Goode, Brooks told Police Commissioner Sambor over the phone to extinguish the fire, but upon discussing it, Sambor and Fire Commissioner William Richmond decided to continue to let it burn. Richmond would later claim that Sambor did not tell Richmond about Goode’s order. However, Sambor denied this and said that he did indeed tell Richmond about Goode’s order.

In defense of his decision, Richmond said that he let the fire burn because of danger from alleged MOVE gunfire, stating: “we regret what happened, but we are not going home with any firefighters with bullet wounds tonight, and I thank God for that.”

Explicitly challenging this argument made by Richmond, the MOVE Commission cited the use of the water cannons for hours, earlier in the day, at times alongside police gunfire. Even later in the day, the Commission notes that “from 5:20 to 5:25 P.M. the ‘squrts’ [water cannons] were turned on to protect the helicopter which was preparing to drop the bomb [at 5:27],” and since firefighters were safe these other times, the fire could have been extinguished “without exposing police or firefighters to any possible danger.”

The Commission concluded that the decision “to let the fire burn constituted the use of fire as a tactical weapon” that “should have been rejected out-of-hand. That it was not rejected cannot be justified under any circumstances.”

Police Shoot at Fleeing Occupants

Today, Ramona Africa recalls escaping from the fire on May 13: “We opened the door and started to yell that we were coming out with the kids. The kids were hollering too. We know they heard us but the instant we were visible in the doorway, they opened fire. You could hear the bullets hitting all around the garage area. They deliberately took aim and shot at us. Anybody can see that their aim, very simply, was to kill MOVE people—not to arrest anybody.”

Birdie later supported Ramona’s account of police gunfire when he testified that the children and remaining adults tried several times to escape the burning house, but were driven back by police gunfire, before he and Ramona successfully dodged gunfire and escaped.

Despite official police statements denying the shooting, The MOVE Commission confirmed Ramona and Birdie’s accounts, concluding that “police gunfire prevented some occupants of 6221 Osage Ave. from escaping from the burning house to the rear alley.”


For our investigation of May 13, 1985 and the validity of the murder charges being sought by MOVE today, we have cited evidence and testimony from a variety of published sources:

--“Attention, MOVE! This Is America,” by Margot Harry, Banner Press, Chicago (1987).

--Let The Bunker Burn: The Final Battle With MOVE, by Charles W. Bowser, Camino Books, Philadelphia (1989).

--“Let It Burn!” The Philadelphia Tragedy, by Michael Boyette with Randi Boyette, Contemporary Books, Chicago, (1989).

--Final Report of the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, aka The MOVE Commission (1986), reprinted in full in “Let It Burn!” by Michael Boyette with Randi Boyette, pgs. 269-294.

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--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The FBI’s War On Democracy --Claude Marks discusses the new film COINTELPRO 101

The FBI’s War On Democracy

--Claude Marks discusses the new film COINTELPRO 101

By Angola 3 News

Claude Marks, Director of The Freedom Archives, talks to Angola 3 News about the highly anticipated new documentary film, entitled COINTELPRO 101, which is premiering on October 10, at the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Arts in San Francisco.

According to its website, the Freedom Archives “contains over 8000 hours of audio and video tapes. These recordings date from the late-60s to the mid-90s and chronicle the progressive history of the Bay Area, the United States, and international solidarity movements. The collection includes weekly news/ poetry/ music programs broadcast on several educational radio stations; in-depth interviews and reports on social and cultural issues; diverse activist voices; original and recorded music, poetry, original sound collages; and an extensive La Raza collection.”

Freedom Archives has released other audio and video documentaries, including the recent video about the San Francisco Eight, entitled "Legacy of Torture." Legacy of Torture can be viewed online, as well as the previous films Voices of Three Political Prisoners (featuring Nuh Washington, Jalil Muntaqim and David Gilbert), Charisse Shumate: Fighting for Our Lives, and Self Respect, Self Defense & Self Determination (featuring Mabel Williams and Kathleen Cleaver, introduced by Angela Davis).

Angola 3 News: What can you tell us about your upcoming film COINTELPRO 101?

Claude Marks: We’ve been aware of the need to talk more about COINTELPRO since we made The Legacy of Torture – the video about the government torture of the Panthers in New Orleans in 1973 – which later became the unjust basis for the San Francisco 8 Case. In travelling with that film and organizing for the dropping of charges, we referred to COINTELPRO but often were talking to younger people in particular, who had not heard the term and had no historical frame of reference for that period of intense repression.

So we undertook to make this new film, knowing that no government agent or agency has ever been held accountable for the assassinations of leaders, the destruction of organizations, the imprisonment and political targeting of so many people – people who still remain prisoners of the wars against movements for liberation and self-determination within the US borders.

COINTELPRO 101 is not the first or only film on the subject, although there have not been many, but we hope it can help reinvigorate some organizing work, and reopen some thinking about the violence directed against progressive movements, this hidden history, and nature of the state and its agencies of repression.

A3N: How was the film showing and related workshop at the US Social Forum received by the audience?

CM: This was a good opportunity to infuse the very broad conversations at the Social Forum with a self-conscious discussion about the nature and continuity of government repression. From the European invasion & Middle Passage forward, we have always seen genocide. Prisons, COINTELPRO, Abu Ghraib…all represent the continuity of what any movements to change power relations are and will be up against.

A3N: Your website states that the film’s “intended audiences are the generations that did not experience the social justice movements of the sixties and seventies.” Given that COINTELPRO officially ended in the early 1970s, why is this story so important for the younger generation to know about?

CM: Well, the mission of the Freedom Archives is to help educate people, and especially the rising new generations, as to the true nature of recent radical history. The high point of struggle represented by the loosely used term “the sixties” and the violent repression against it, contains essential lessons for every young person seeking a more just society. More generally, people should not be misled by the myth of democracy, the idea that the system can be made to work for “us” or that those in power will somehow reach a moral epiphany and give up anything of consequence without a fight.

We see this myth exposed today in many ways – mass imprisonment, the tearing up of families and communities – driven by racism – the criminalization of dissent so any act of resistance becomes by their definition an act of “terrorism.”

This is a continuum that is unleashed upon the world’s peoples as well as internally. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are targeted. Muslims and South Asians are targeted. Women and queer folks are targeted. Prisoners are subjected to the worst inhumanities, and if they are ever released, what do they have they to look forward to?

The U.S. has by far the largest incarceration rate in the world—as they build more prisons, the schools deteriorate and the public education system lies in racist tatters.

A3N: How do you think the US government’s repression of the Left today differs from the COINTELPRO era?

CM: In the 1970s, the public and some officials, faced with the exposure of the illegal acts of government and police agencies against dissent, feigned concerns about the loss of civil liberties, held hearings, and alleged that reforms would take place. But today, the acts of the FBI, police, and other agencies, once illegal, are now legitimate, legal – via the Patriot Act and other unconstitutional measures, all in the name of homeland security and defending the nation against “terrorism.”

The playing field has changed. The government now openly conducts assassinations anywhere in the world, can declare people to be “enemy combatants” and imprison them indefinitely without charges; drone warfare permits mass civilian murders by so-called military experts thousands of miles away without risking US military casualties – it’s a “game” except to the thousands of victims.

Today the government claims the right to breach international human rights laws and conventions with no accountability. And the corporate media is so integrated into this strategy, that there is little room for “legitimate” opposition to get a hearing. So it becomes incumbent upon us to organize and message independently and with few resources.

COINTELPRO 101 is made with mainly love and fumes, but we hope that it will be a useful tool to engage in dialogue and to help organize movements that challenge the mythology that dissent is a guaranteed right, that seek the release of political prisoners, that counter the miseducation of our youth with an understanding of the past so they can better shape the future.

A3N: Knowing what we do about this repression in the past and present, how can activists today best defend ourselves? How should our organizing strategies be modified?

CM: We must organize to show our outrage with more consistency and despite risks. There is an urgency to demand more of one another as well. Challenging the state is serious and will not succeed as a result of stroking egos or the pronouncements of self-declared leaders. It is hard work and requires a deep commitment and a passion for serving the people and rebuilding our communities. Our capacity must grow in realistic ways as there are no shortcuts, and the path includes defeats and sacrifice. This is one of the things that our political prisoners and the many martyrs can teach us.

A3N: For our readers not close enough to San Francisco for the October 10 premiere, how will folks be able to watch the new film?

CM: The film will begin to show in communities and on campuses this fall and winter. People can reach us to make arrangements. At some point we will also manufacture DVDs. We hope to have it available with subtitles in other languages as well. Also check the website as we have resources about COINTELPRO posted and will also add a teaching curriculum to accompany the film.

A3N: How can folks best support your efforts?

CM: We are very much a grassroots organization. We have no corporate or government funding. We are one voice among many, but we encourage people to support the work of independent media, including ourselves. We welcome your questions and comments and greatly appreciate your support.

Also please use the audio and video documentaries that we’ve produced as educational materials and organizing tools. The actual Freedom Archives is searchable on line and is intended to preserve radical history and culture. So check us out!

A3N: Any closing thoughts?

CM: Years ago, as the movements grew and we worked in various political and media organizations, we were fond of quoting part of an 1857 speech by Frederick Douglass, often using Ossie Davis’s dramatic rendition of his famous words. They sum up a lesson that is central to what I am saying, and is at the heart of COINTELPRO 101. Many of your readers are probably familiar with it, but its essence bears repeating:

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle… If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.