In the movie Casablanca, Claude Raines, the corrupt police inspector, instructs his deputies to "round up the usual suspects." So too with the latest attack. Intelligence agencies that were totally clueless about the attack to begin with, were able to identify Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden as the likely perpetrator of the attacks within a matter of hours.
On a more mundane level, the federal government seems to be rounding up the usual suspects already within its custody. The U.S. government has always denied holding political prisoners. In reality it holds at least several dozen, ranging from domestic anti-imperialists (such as the former members of the United Freedom Front, Black Liberation Army, Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional) on the left, to members of The Order on the right, as well as foreign radicals, such as members of the Japanese Red Army and Muslim fundamentalists.
PLN columnist Marilyn Buck is a political prisoner, having been convicted of bombing the U.S. Senate and Naval War College to protest U.S. foreign policy during the 1980's. She is a longtime antiimperialist activist. On September 11 she was watching television in the dayroom of the federal prison in Dublin, California, when she was placed in segregation, ostensibly for her own protection. Marilyn's attorney, National Lawyer's Guild member Scott Flemming, attempted to visit her and was told no one could see Marilyn, and she could not call anyone nor send and receive mail to or from anyone, not even her attorneys.
In a phone conversation on September 23, 2001, Scott told me that in addition to Marilyn, he had confirmed that other political prisoners given the same treatment in federal prisons around the country are black nationalist Sundiata Acoli, Puerto Rican independentista Carlos Torres, and peace activist priest Phil Berrigan. Scott and other progressive lawyers were still trying to determine how widespread this was and who had given the orders for the prisoners to be locked up and isolated. The BOP was being less than cooperative.
This is the first time that I am aware that prisoners in the United States have been denied all access to their attorneys by phone, mail and in person visits. Government officials claim, without presenting any evidence to date, that Muslim fundamentalists linked to Bin Laden are behind the most recent incidents. Yet Marilynn, Carlos, Sundiata and Phil are not Muslim fundamentalists, nor are they even Arabs. Instead, the bombings are being used as a pretext to round up all political dissidents from across the political spectrum and put them on ice, so to speak. As usual, prisoners present the thin edge of the civil liberties wedge and are the easiest to target.
We have repeatedly seen the American ruling class cynically exploiting tragic events to advance its policy goals of increased repression and an expanded police state, as a frightened public is coerced into trading liberty for security and ultimately winding up with neither.
Supposedly in response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (which was initially blamed on Arabs), congress enacted the AntiTerrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which effectively gutted habeas corpus for two million American prisoners, of whom two dozen or less have actually been convicted of killing someone in a terrorist offense. (Even more ironically, Timothy McVeigh, the claimed reason for AEDPA, waived all his appeals and never even filed a habeas challenge to his conviction and death sentence).
Efforts to gut habeas corpus had languished in congress for 15 years before AEDPA was passed as a response to the Oklahoma City bombing. Obviously AEDPA's passing did nothing to prevent the September attacks five years later. Even more obviously, suicide bombers are not overly concerned about post conviction remedies in the judicial system, but the ruling class is.
Already there are calls for greater covert surveillance of mail and other communications, a national identification card, and more. On ABC News , retired Senator Warren Rudman called for the suspension of habeas corpus to "show we are serious." Reactionary politicians and the national security establishment are already intent on capitalizing on these tragedies to pass further legislation to further diminish the liberty of all citizens. Among the proposals are ones to eliminate civilian trials, with the traditional right to a jury trial and rules of evidence, for people accused of terrorist offenses. Prisoners can expect more bad things.
If patriotism is a scoundrel's last refuge, then racial and religious bigotry are the penultimate refuge. ArabAmericans and dark skinned Asian immigrants and Americans have already been the target of violence and intolerance. Ironically, many find themselves in the U.S. as refugees from intolerance and extremism in their own nations. The only interests advanced by bigotry are those of a ruling class intent on keeping poor people divided.
During the Gulf War in 199091, many American prisoners leapt on the patriotism bandwagon to try to buy some respectibility from our captors. It didn't work then and it won't work now. With economic crisis and war comes opportunity. For prisoners and our advocates, this may well be a good time to press for an armistice in the war on drugs, to call for an end to the politics of mass imprisonment and no parole and draconian prison conditions.
More importantly, the foreseeable future is probably going to be a crucial time for progressive prison activists to try to hold what ground we have in the face of likely attacks on what remains of habeas corpus and civil liberties in general, for all citizens, not just prisoners. An economic decline may make it difficult if not impossible for many states to pay for a bulging prison system. Our goal should be to move any debate into the area of reducing and eliminating mass imprisonment rather than seeking other sources of funding as if mass imprisonment were some vital social function to be supported at all costs.
If it was indeed Bin Laden and his associates who carried out the WTC and Pentagon bombings, it is worth noting that for many years the U.S. government bankrolled, armed and trained Bin Laden and other Muslim fundamentalists to undermine the secular left in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. At the time, critics questioned the wisdom of mobilizing medieval fanatics to advance U.S. interests against the then Soviet Union.
The wisdom of such critics may well be borne out by recent events, but it does not appear likely that any government official will be held accountable for their policy decisions, just as none were held accountable when longtime CIA asset Manuel Noriega became an embarrassment or Saddam Hussein, armed and supported by the U.S. and its allies in its war against Iran, decided Iraq should be a regional power. Even in foreign policy, birds come home to roost. Just as government officials express surprise that with two million people locked up some 600,000 prisoners are being paroled to their communities each year, in most cases worse off than before they went to prison.
On more mundane notes, PLN is almost completely finished updating and switching over its subscriber database and answering all mail that had accumulated during the past seven months as we rebuilt our office and office operations. If you have written to PLN between January and August 2001, and did not receive a prompt reply, please accept our apologies. If you have or have had any problems with your PLN subscription or any book orders please contact us now to resolve it.
PLN 's matching grant fundraiser is still underway. Now more than ever we need your support to continue our work as well as expand our circulation and reader base. If you haven't donated yet, please do so. Enjoy this issue of PLN , and encourage others to subscribe.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login