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U.S. calls for release of political prisoners in Myanmar – When will it release its own?

Posted in Myanmar, Political prisoners, United States by amte on August 12, 2009

After a Myanmar court convicted Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the main liberal opposition party, to 18-months of house arrest for allowing an uninvited U.S. citizen to stay in her home, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the trial and called for the ruling military junta to release of all political prisoners in the country.

Meanwhile, a number of political prisoners continue to languish in U.S. prisons, largely unmentioned. Below is a very incomplete list of some of those political prisoners. When will the U.S. government allow their release?

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist who has been on death row since 1982, falsely accused of the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

The State of Pennsylvania claims that in 1981, Mumia, then a cab driver, saw his brother being beaten by Officer Faulkner across the street from where he was parked. They claim he ran over and shot Faulkner in the back, was in turn shot by Faulkner, and then shot Faulkner several more times in the head. The facts do not bare these claims out.

At trial, the prosecution’s main eyewitness was a prostitute named Cynthia White.  White claimed she say Mumia run across a parking lot with a gun, but two other prostitutes and another woman who knew her have since stated that White was coerced by police into giving this testimony. Two other eyewitnesses say that White wasn’t even on the corner in question when the shooting occurred.

Pamela Jenkins, another prostitute, says other police officers were present at Faulkner’s shooting and that Cynthia White was an informant who regularly preformed sexual favors to cops.

The prosecution’s other “eyewitness,” a cab driver named Robert Chobert, now admits to receiving favors in exchange for his testimony. He also stated that he wasn’t even in a location that would allow him to witness the shooting, a fact backed up by newly discovered photos of the crime scene.

Another key piece of “evidence” provided by the prosecution is a supposed confession made by Mumia as he lay on a hospital bed recovering from his gunshot wound. But no police officer claimed to hear a confession by Mumia until two months after it supposedly took place. In fact, a police officer who watched over Mumia the night of the shooting stated that he “made no comments.” The police “suddenly” recalled his confession immediately after he filed charges of police brutality.

Vietnam War veteran and small business owner William Singletary, who was at the scene of the shooting, reported to police that the shooter was wearing a green army jacket and that Mumia didn’t arrive on the scene until after Faulkner had been shot.  For this he was repeatedly threatened, his gas station was vandalized, and he was eventually run out of town altogether.

Others, including two police officers, also said the shooter was wearing a green army jacket. Mumia was wearing a red quilted jacket the night of the shooting. Other witnesses also say they saw someone running from the scene. Mumia was found shot at the scene.

Dessie Hightower, one of the witnesses who saw someone running from the scene of the shooting, says he was pressured by police to withhold his testimony.

Veronica Jones says she witnessed someone fleeing from the scene of the shooting, but was told by police that unless she testified against Mumia she would be forced to serve a long jail sentence.

What’s more, a man named Arnold Beverly has confessed that he was the person who shot Faulkner. Beverly stated that he and another man were hired by a group of cops and mobsters to kill Faulker because he was causing them problems by interfering in their illegal activities. Beverly said that it was another police officer, not Faulkner, that shot Mumia. Beverly also stated that he was wearing a green army jacket on the night of the shooting.

Ballistics evidence is nonexistent. Mumia was found with a gun the night of the shooting, but he was licensed to carry it. Police never ran any tests on the gun to see if it was fired or on Mumia’s hands to see if he had fired a gun. Different police reports make different claims as to the type of bullets found in Mumia’s gun. A fragment from one of Faulkner’s wounds and a medical examiner’s X-ray of Faulkner’s body have disappeared.

There is no reliable evidence connecting Mumia to the shooting of Daniel Faulkner, let alone establishing his guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” By all accounts, Mumia is and has always been a calm and collected person. In fact, his only “record,” was that of a former member of the Black Panther Party and a well known journalist who exposed and fought against exploitation and injustice — including the firebombing of the back-to-nature MOVE commune’s house by Philadelphia police.

His trial was presided over by Judge Albert Sabo who has sentenced more people to death than any other sitting judge in the United States. During Mumia’s trial Sabo said “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.” He allowed the prosecutor to argue for the death penalty on the basis of Mumia’s former membership in the Black Panther Party.

Mumia’s imprisonment has been condemned by a large number of political organizations, artists, unions and educators.

Mumia is confined to a tiny cell 23 hours of each day. He describes it as living in a bathroom. He is denied contact visits with his family and has been punished for continuing to write from behind bars.

Eddie Conway

Eddie Conway

Marshall “Eddie” Conway, falsely accused of the murder of a Baltimore police officer, has been in prison for close to four decades.

On April 25, 1970, two police officers were fired upon while sitting in their patrol car. One officer was killed and the other was injured. Soon after two men were arrested at the scene. The next day, Conway, a postal worker and member of the Baltimore Branch of the Black Panther Party, was arrested on the (supposed) word of an “unnamed informant” and an officer who arrived at the scene of the shooting and claimed to have seen a third man “at a distance.”

Eddie Conway has never been linked by any physical evidence to the shooting. According to police, Conway confessed to a repeat informant that was placed in his cell against his protest (which was made, in writing, to prison guards). The use of such informants was well known to the Black Panther Party, which was subject to attack for years. The third police officer who arrived at the scene of the shooting claimed to have “followed a man who seemed to be acting suspiciously.” He originally failed to identify Conway from a set of  photos. It was only after he was shown a second set of photos, in which Conway’s photo was the only one repeated from the first set, that he identified Conway as the man “acting suspiciously.” The “identification” took place in the same station house that Conway was being held in. A lineup could have easily been arranged, but never was.

At the time of Conway’s arrest, the Baltimore Branch of the Black Panther Party had already come under attack. Recently released documents show that Conway and the rest of the branch were under constant FBI surveillance prior to his arrest and that the branch was infiltrated with government agents and informants. A mass arrest of members the Baltimore Branch took place immediately prior the police shooting on claims that they tortured and murdered an informant. The first of those members to stand trial was acquitted after a mere two and half hours of jury deliberation. The charges against the remaining members were dropped.

At trial, prosecutors relied on the testimony of this informant and the third police officer. Conway wanted to defend himself, but was denied the ability to do so by the judge. On most of the days of the trial, Conway wasn’t even in the courtroom. The jury was not sequestered and was no doubt exposed to the inflammatory anti-Black Panther Party rhetoric which filled the local media (and which has since been connected to the FBI’s counter intelligence program which had the stated goal of destroying the Black Panthers).

The Cuban 5

The Cuban 5

The Cuban Five are five men from Cuba imprisoned for long terms in the United States on false charge of espionage.

Anti-Cuban terrorist groups have waged attack after attack on Cuba for close to fifty years, leaving more than 3,000 Cubans, along with several tourists, dead or injured. These groups operate with the full knowledge, and support, of agencies like the FBI and CIA.

Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González volunteered to come to the United States to infiltrate the terrorist groups in order to prevent future attacks on Cuba, at great risks to themselves.

But far from being embraced as anti-terrorists, the Five were rounded up by U.S. authorities and held in solitary confinement for seventeen months.  Their trial was held in an atmosphere of absolute hysteria in Miami, home to the largest number of opponents of the Cuban Revolution in the world. The judge repeatedly denied attorney’s motions for a change of venue despite the obvious fact that a fair trial could never be held there.

In 2001, after a seven month trial, the five were convicted of four life sentences and 75 years in prison.

The Five are held in separate, maximum-security prisons around the United States. The wives of two of the Cuban Five have repeatedly been denied visas that would allow them to enter the U.S. in order to visit their husbands.

Their trial, and subsequent treatment, has been condemned by groups and individuals in twenty U.S. cities and more than thirty countries, along with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and eight international Nobel Prize winners.

In 2009, the Supreme Court refused to review the convictions of the Five after Solicitor General Elena Kagan filed a brief on behalf of  U.S. President Barack Obama requesting that they refuse to reopen the case.

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier, a former leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has been imprisoned for more than 32 years on false charges of murdering two FBI agents. He is serving two consecutive life sentences.

In the early 1970’s, the tribal leader of the Pine Ridge Reservation hired a group of vigilantes, who referred to themselves as GOONS, to rid the reservation of AIM members and supporters by force. Dozens of people were injured or killed as a result. The FBI supplied the GOONS with information and even ammunition.

In response, a number of people asked Peltier and other AIM members for help. Peltier and a small group of young AIM members set up camp on a ranch inside of the reservation.

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents in unmarked vehicles drove onto the ranch. They originally claimed they were in pursuit of a man in a pick-up truck. No pick-up truck was ever found. Later, after they found that the truck could not be tied to Peltier, one of the agents changed his claim and said that they were in fact in pursuit of a red and white van that Peltier was occasionally known to drive.

The arrival of the FBI agents frightened residents of the ranch. Shots broke out. Soon a full out shootout was taking place. Before long, more than 150 FBI agents, law enforcement agents and GOONS surrounded the ranch.

After the smoke had cleared,  two FBI agents and one Native American boy were dead. The death of the Native American, Joseph Stuntz, has never been investigated.

The U.S. government moved quickly to charge Peltier and two other AIM members (Bob Robideau and Darrell Butler) with the shootings. Robideau and Butler were acquitted by juries who found they acted in self-defense. No charges were ever brought against any of the other 37 people the FBI claimed were involved in the gun battle.

Peltier managed to escape to Canada but was eventually captured in 1976. Peltier was extradited to the U.S. on the basis of affidavits signed by a women Myrtle Poor Bear who claimed that she was Peltier’s girlfriend and had witnessed the shooting. In fact, Myrtle had never even met Peltier. She later admitted that she was forced to sign the affidavits by the FBI.

Peltier’s trial took place in 1977. The judge refused to allow Myrtle to testify and excluded other evidence which had been allowed in the cases of Robideau and Butler.

A ballistics test showing that the bullets that killed the FBI agents did not come from the gun was initially hidden. Another 140,000 pages of FBI documents concerning the case were also kept out of the hands of the defense and view of the jury.

Three Native teenagers testified against Peltier, though none of them identified him as the shooter. Later, they admitted they were forced to testify by the FBI. The FBI openly admits it paid another woman who testified against Peltier $42,000.

Amazingly, the prosecution admitted during the trial that they did not actually know who shot the two FBI agents.  Still, they claimed, Peltier was guilty whether or not he was the one that killed the agents since, according to them, he participated in the shootout.

Peltier has repeatedly been denied parole despite admissions by the Parole Commission that “the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that he personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents.”

Peltier’s case has won the support of numerous individuals and organizations around the world.