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Anarchist Black Cross Sounds Alarm on Prisoner Healthcare

2:26 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

At a gathering of Anarchist Black Cross groups, prison support activists raised the alarm about mistreatment of America’s prisoners: a pattern of denial of necessary medical care and compassionate release amounts to state-sanctioned torture.

Lynne Stewart

The United States tortures political prisoners like Lynne Stewart by denying medical care and compassionate release.

Here on Firedoglake we’ve covered the death of Herman Wallace and the denial of medical treatment to whistleblower John Kiriakou, but these are just two of many victims.

The Anarchist Black Cross movement is a coalition of loosely allied groups which support prisoners. Many of them came together last month for the third annual national gathering of North American Anarchist Black Cross groups in Denver, attended by organizations from as far away as Mexico City.

They identified medical treatment of political prisoners as a key issue, and the North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee issued this statement at the time of Wallace’s death:

Herman was just one of many, ageing political prisoners (and prisoners of war) in the United States who are currently being denied adequate medical care and the compassionate release for which they qualify. These people are incarcerated for their opposition to actions or policies of the US government that are in violation of human rights, and as such should be afforded the protections of international law. It is the opinion of the North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee that these captured dissidents and combatants be granted compassionate release and dignified medical care, with respect to their age, health and sacrifice in service of legitimate struggles against oppression and exploitation. It was too little, too late for Herman; that must not be the fate of our other elder comrades.

The Geneva Conventions contain the internationally recognized standard of care for prisoners of war. The standard of care for Political Prisoners in the United States ought to be at least as sound as the Geneva Conventions. It currently is not. We have many ageing comrades struggling for the most basic health care while incarcerated. Even the Office of the Inspector General found that the existing [Bureau of Prisons] compassionate release program has been poorly managed and implemented inconsistently, likely resulting in eligible inmates not being considered for release and in terminally ill inmates dying before their requests were decided, as noted in the Department of Justice April 2013 review of the [Bureau of Prisons] compassionate release program. We cannot allow this to keep happening. What’s happened to Herman Wallace should never happen again. No one should die in prison. Least of all, perhaps, those who have spent their lives fighting oppression and injustice.

The statement goes on to detail the suffering of over a dozen current or past political prisoners from Lynne Stewart, the activist lawyer dying of cancer behind bars, to American Indian Movement member Leonard Peltier, suffering from serious health issues.

Free Leonard Peltier

Joseph Jordan of Denver ABC wants Leonard Peltier freed to access his native culture and healing methods.

“The US concentration camps [prisons] are notorious for subjecting people to unofficial, indirect slow death and torture,” said Joseph Jordan of the Denver Anarchist Black Cross when we spoke by phone. “One of the ways is through conscious, medical neglect and profit being prioritized over human care.”

I asked Jordan what he thought my readers could do to help political prisoners. “Write, call, email anybody relevant — particularly the wardens of the prisons that these people are held in, and for federal cases the Federal Board of Pardons and the Bureau of Prisons.” The Bureau of Prisons is responsible for recommending compassionate release and, in cases like Stewart’s, will frequently deny the validity of medical claims about the prisoner’s health.

Jordan also said anyone can help raise awareness about political prisoners. “What should the average person who’s compassionate but not an ABC member do? Write to political prisoners, talk about them to your friends and coworkers. Make it an issue. Writing to a political prisoner takes just minutes and as a show of support it means a lot.”

Jordan stressed that the Anarchist Black Cross movement differs from groups like Amnesty International because it supports not just political prisoners, but those he called prisoners of war — people who actively opposed what he sees as an oppressive government and now face mistreatment behind bars. “This government is illegitimate,” he added. If our government lacks legitimacy, then its laws are also illegitimate, designed to maintain power or build the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But regardless of how you feel about their actions, all prisoners deserve humane treatment.

We’re fighting not even for civil rights but for human rights. For healing to happen, especially if you’re aging, you need access to good food. You need access to clean water. You need access to sunshine and exercise and fresh air. All of those are necessary for healing — our ancestors have known this for thousands of years. It’s not officially considered torture, but that’s what it is. –Joseph Jordan

Keeping a sick prisoner like Leonard Peltier from accessing his native culture and its traditional healing methods is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Helping Political Prisoners

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Imprisoned With a White Supremacist (Migs Update)

3:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Migs Latest Oppressions (Could Be Worse)

The only surprise from an internal decision by officials at Pontiac Correctional Center about the imprisonment of Mark “Migs” Neiweem, a member of the NATO 5, is that it could have been worse.

A racist skinhead

In the latest form of state provocation, Migs of the NATO 5 must share a prison cell with a white supremacist.

In my last update, I detailed how Migs — one of the five activists arrested and charged with “terrorism” based on entrapment by undercover Chicago Police in the build up to NATO protests — faced new obstacles in his quest for freedom. Though originally scheduled to be released in November, prison officials brought politically-motivated “gang intelligence” charges against him. They claimed, based on letters and books received in the mail (already approved by prison censors) as well as sparse communication with another imprisoned anarchist, that he was plotting to cause unrest.

Officials charged him with two disciplinary violations – Gang or Unauthorized Organization Activity and Dangerous Written Material — then, to no one’s surprise, convicted him of both charges. The one relief is that they did not carry through on all their threats, such as adding more months or transferring Migs to a much worse prison far from his Chicago support network. But the consequences still put freedom that much farther off for this political prisoner.

From Operation Pen Pal: 

Mark’s punishment for being found guilty of Anarchism is: 6 months in solitary confinement; 2 months of yard restriction (no time outside); 6 months restricted visits; and he is losing 3 months time off for good behavior, which will see him released next February instead of mid-November.

Migs denies that he planned to cause any trouble — he only wants to keep his head down and get out. His legal team plans to appeal the decisions but, with the prison-industrial complex being what it is, it may be February already before they make any headway.

I spoke again with Rachel Unterman after her visit to Migs on Tuesday. “Our actions have made a difference,” she said of the relatively lenient punishment. “They know we’re watching and we’re unhappy and they can’t really get away with coming down on him full force.”

Imprisoned with a White Supremacist

Migs is being moved repeatedly within the segregated housing unit at Pontiac for unknown reasons, and his access to the commissary is heavily restricted. He can only visit once a month, greatly limiting his access to supplies like stamps, and he’s not allowed to buy food at all while in segregation. Unterman said he’s not getting enough to eat as a consequence, and they are working to get him access to a vegetarian diet. There’s precedent for this, usually by prisoners claiming that vegetarianism is based on their spiritual path.

His cells are tiny — some as small as six feet by nine feet — and in one of the most restrictive parts of the prison. Even so, Migs now has a cell mate. In the latest attempt to orchestrate further disciplinary infractions, Neiweem is now forced to share this tiny space with a white supremacist. “They’ve had to call a bit of a truce, they just have to live together. They both just want to get out.” Placed together in the hopes that they’ll fight, their only hope for mutual freedom is to temporarily overlook their differences. “It’s not against just him. The whole system is vindictive,” she said.

That the best we can say is that while Migs suffers he could have been faced with even worse torture is, to this reporter, a glimpse of the entire US “justice” system in microcosm. Still, on her last visit Unterman found him in surprisingly good spirits:

He’s talking about all the books he’s reading. He’s working on doing some writing of his own. Even though he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to write out right now, he’s getting a lot of mail and it’s making him feel connected to the outside world. Their goal was to remove easy access to his support crew and they have not accomplished that.

I can tell how well he’s handling this. He’s determined to not only get through it, but to use it to make himself even stronger intellectually. … He’s allowed to buy a TV now, a small portable TV, and he won’t because he’s afraid it will eat into his reading and writing time. Which for someone who’s in a cell for twenty-four hours a day is saying something. … He’s determined to take whatever they throw at him and turn it into a positive.

Call and Write to Support Migs & #OpPenPal

Migs is just one of many political prisoners who need our support. Operation PenPal maintains an extensive list of political prisoners and guidelines for how to write and what to send.

Rachel Unterman and Operation PenPal are asking that we put continued pressure on his jailers:

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#OpValentine: Show A Prisoner Revolutionary Love

4:28 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Valentine’s Day: some people love the romance, others decry it as an obligatory expression of love or lament the misery of being single on a day devoted to coupledom. If being single on February 14 seems unbearable, imagine if you were not just alone but locked away from everything — your family, your friends, the outside world.

Vintage Valentine Card: Do you cat-ch on? I want you for my Valentine.

This Valentine's Day, tell a prisoner: "I choo-choo-choose you!"

Such is the plight of our nation’s political prisoners. Some, like Leonard Peltier, have spent decades behind bars. Others, like the NATO 5 are victims of a new wave of political repression. To bring comfort to these victims of the system, Anonymous, occupiers, Anarchist Black Cross groups and other activists have come together to create Operation Valentine (#OpValentine):

Where will we be on Valentine’s day? With whom? One thing is certain, most of us will have the freedom to tell whom we care ‘I love you’ and shower them with hugs. Separated from their friends, their family, all of their love ones, many of our brothers and sisters will be deprived of this most basic human right. They have sacrificed their freedom to expose corruption and human rights violations. And as would say Che: ‘At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.’

It’s easy to participate in #OpValentine. Just pick a prisoner (or more than one), write or make a note or postcard, and send it in the mail. Valentine’s Day is less than a week away as of this writing and our postal service is being gutted, but I guarantee you’ll brighten someone’s dreary day no matter when you send your mail.

When you’re writing to a political prisoner, it’s best to share your love and daily life. These are regular people who need our support, not heroes to worship. It’s also important not to discuss a case with pre-trial prisoners or to write anything you wouldn’t want read by police, the government, or the media. The New York Anarchist Black Cross has a great guide to writing political prisoners:

For the first letter, it’s best to offer an introduction, how you heard about the prisoner, a little about yourself. Tell stories, write about anything you are passionate about–movement work and community work are great topics until you have a sense of the prisoner’s interests outside of political organizing.

And what we hear from prisoners time and time again is to include detail. Prison is so total that the details of life on the outside become distant memories. Smells, textures, sounds of the street all get grayed out behind bars. That’s not to say that you should pen a stream-of-consciousness novel.

Remember, even the simplest of notes is a potentially life- or sanity-saving connection to the outside world.

I’m going to include the complete #OpValentine document below, but an updated list can be found in this pastebin.

[Editor's Note: See the comments for more political prisoners who need our love. -MyFDL Editor]


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Occupy’s Political Prisoners

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Among the many signs of the profound threat that the Occupy movement poses to the status quo has been the coordinated effort by local and state police together with the Department of Homeland Security to suppress the rights of protesters. The United Nations recently criticized the United States for its violent police attacks on the movement.

In the month since the pre-NATO arrests, a new tool in the arsenal is becoming clear: turning dedicated activists into political prisoners.

Occupy Wall Street, Trinity Wall Street, and the December 17 Trial

Sign: Mark Adams is Bearded, Selfless, Defends the Poor, Persecuted. Remind you of Anyone?

Photo: @SubVerzo via Twitter, used with permission.

On December 17, Occupy Wall Street attempted a reoccuptation — not of Liberty Square, but of a new space. Climbing a fence on livestream, occupiers poured into a fenced-in space owned by Trinity Wall Street, a church-run business that is historically one of New York City’s oldest landlords. The trial of 8 of these occupiers, including a retired bishop and active clergy members, concluded on June 18. Seven of the defendants, including the clergy, were convicted of trespassing and sentenced to four days of community service. But one man, Mark Adams, was singled out for especially harsh treatment.

The Village Voice quotes Judge Sciarrino’s justification for his harshness:

He issued his his ruling immediately after closing arguments, finding all eight defendants guilty of trespassing and further finding one of them, Mark Adams, guilty of attempted criminal mischief and attempted criminal possession of burglar’s tools. Adams was seen on surveillance video using what appeared to be bolt cutters to open the fence.

“This was the use of siege equipment to storm a castle,” Sciarrino said in his ruling, adding that political demonstrations are no excuse for violating property rights. “This nation is founded on the right of private property, and that right is no less important than the first amendment.”

Though the district attorney asked for a mere 30 days, the judge instead chose to charge Adams with 45 days in New York’s dangerous Rikers’ Island! Although activists who practice civil disobedience must expect to face legal consequences from time to time, occupiers are surprised by the harsh treatment from Trinity Wall Street, a business theoretically built on Christian values. The Episcopal News Service quotes Bishop George Packard:

In a June telephone interview, Packard had expressed surprise at the trespassing charges and the manner of his arrest. When he entered the property Dec. 17, he said, “I felt that we were entering into a protected area and that it was closed for the season. I had visited hunger strikers on the perimeter of that space … three or four times. …”

“Trespass is a word that I’m not used to hearing as it’s related to church property,” Packard said. “I hear expressions like ‘refuge’ and ‘sanctuary,’ and even … in the Trinity newsletter they talk about ‘radical hospitality.’”

The Continuing Plight of the NATO 5

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