Friday, May 11, 2007

Mumia's Chance for a New Trial: May 17

On May 17, oral arguments for death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal will be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, PA. In the following days, the court will decide whether Mumia will be granted a new trial, life in prison, or whether he shall be put to death.

The issues under consideration by the court will include whether Abu-Jamal was denied the right to due process of law and a fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments because of the prosecutor’s “appeal-after-appeal” argument. This argument essentially encouraged the jury to disregard the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, and err on the side of guilt.

Also being considered on May 17 is whether the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from sitting on the jury violated Abu-Jamal’s rights to due process and equal protection under the law. In addition, the court will consider whether the jury instructions and verdict form that resulted in the death penalty deprived Abu-Jamal of rights guar­anteed by the Eight and Fourteenth Amend­ments to due process of law.

After 25 years on Pennsylvania's death row, the May 17 court date may represent Abu-Jamal's best chance yet during his long incarceration for the chance of a new trial -- especially due to newly discovered evidence, such as a crime scene photograph from Dec. 9, 1981 that purportedly documents police manipulation of the scene.

For years, human rights and legal groups such as Amnesty International and the National Lawyers Guild have called his original trial deeply flawed and have been calling for a new chance for the former Black Panther and radio journalist to prove his innocence in the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. As Amnesty International said in 2000,

Amnesty International today called for a new trial in the case of Mumia Abu Jamal on the basis that his original trial was deeply flawed.

"This is not about an issue affecting the life of just one man. This is about justice -- which affects us all. And justice, in this case, can only be served by a new trial," Amnesty International said.

After many years of monitoring the case and an exhaustive review of the original documents, Amnesty International has concluded that the proceedings under which Mumia Abu-Jamal was tried, convicted and sentenced to death fail to reach the minimum international standards for fair trials.
Their exhaustively researched report, A Life In The Balance -- The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, was made available online. It begins by noting the international significance of Mumia's case:

His case has generated more controversy and received more attention, both national and international, than that of any other inmate currently under sentence of death in the United States of America (USA).
Having lived in Europe for a couple of years, I can vouch for the passionate commitment many Europeans have for his case. While travelling through Italy, I remember once seeing a huge mural of Mumia in Milan, and in Copenhagen, Denmark, I once joined a march of thousands of Danes to the US embassy demanding a new trial for Mumia.

Indeed, as the New York-based International Action Center notes,

Mumia Abu-Jamal is recognized internationally as a political prisoner whose Constitutional rights have been consistently violated in the state's mad dash to railroad him to execution. Mumia has been declared an honorary citizen of Paris, Palermo, the Central District of Copenhagen. Mumia was awarded the coveted Solhvervfonden Foundation Award in Copenhagen, Denmark for his services to humanity as a voice of conscience.
While Amnesty International is careful not to identify him as a political prisoner, choosing instead to focus on the unfairness of his original trial, many around the world have no such qualms. While marching in Copenhagen, I remember asking one young Dane how much he knew about Mumia's case. He replied that he just knew that Mumia was an American political prisoner that the U.S. government was trying to execute in order to silence his voice.

Many of these suspicions are fueled by the criticism that Mumia Abu-Jamal levels against the U.S. criminal justice system, the failures of American capitalism, and the injustices of U.S. foreign policy -- criticisms that are so scathing that they seem to go beyond the limits of acceptable political discourse in America. His imprisonment has not stopped him from continuing to speak out, with several books published over the years, and countless radio commentaries broadcast on Pacifica Radio and other outlets.

Many of the commentaries are now available on YouTube, and listening to him slam U.S. policy, one might be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that his voice is one that the U.S. government would simply love to silence:

Whether one subscribes to the view that Mumia is a victim of a system that has targetted him due to his political views, it has become increasingly difficult to justify his continued denial of a new trial. So much evidence has emerged since 1981 that points to his innocence, it is hard to imagine what more it might take for the Appeals Court to allow it to finally be heard. One man, Arnold Beverly, has even personally admitted to the murder of Daniel Faulkner, saying Mumia had nothing to do with it.

Furthermore, it has become clear that exonerating evidence was suppressed in his original trial, that key witnesses were intimidated from testifying, that other witnesses were intimidated into fingering Mumia as the shooter, and that his presiding judge, Albert Sabo, was on a personal crusade to send Mumia to death. With a fair hearing on May 17, there's a real possibility that Mumia may be given a new chance to prove his innocence in a court of law.

But as Amnesty notes in A Life in the Balance, "The politicization of Mumia Abu-Jamal's case may not only have prejudiced his right to a fair trial, but may now be undermining his right to fair and impartial treatment in the appeal courts." With this politicization in mind, many worry that Mumia will once again be denied a new trial and sent back to prison, where he has now spent more than half of his life.

In an attempt to ensure that Mumia is finally granted the fair trial that he has for so long been denied, several groups are urging concerned citizens to descend on the courthouse in Philadelphia on May 17. The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition is calling on people converge at 8:30 am at the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia on 6th and Market Streets to demand justice for Mumia.

The New Emperor's New Clothes

By Inez Hollander, Ph.D.
May 11, 2007

In 2000 I lost my Dutch citizenship to become a God-fearing and patriotic American. This was never much of a moral dilemma as Lady Liberty had been a shining beacon throughout my life in The Netherlands.

Americans had liberated Holland when my parents were still teenagers: conversations around the dinner table sometimes went back to that moment of liberation when my parents had been dancing in the streets, decked out in red, white and blue, smoking American cigarettes and eating chocolate handed out by good-looking GIs.

Read on.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Unrest in France Following a General Trend Across Europe

In France, anarchists and other leftists are reacting to the electoral victory of conservative Nicolas Sarkozy with riots, although you probably have not heard about the unrest in the U.S. media. While it is obvious that many of the rioters see Sarkozy as an anti-immigrant zealot and denounce him as a "fascist," informative reporting from the streets may be hindered by a law recently passed by the French Constitutional Council that effectively criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists.

Despite the new law, there is plenty of footage on YouTube, some of which we are providing here.

While there may not be one single issue that could be blamed for sparking the riots, it's worth noting that Sarkozy is decidedly pro-American, and with so much anger in France over the Iraq war and other unpopular U.S. policies, it shouldn't come as a great surprise that passions are so intense over the election results. Also, Sarkozy has vowed to tackle the French "welfare state," promising to “restore the value of work, authority, merit and respect for the nation.” In a country like France, with its 35-hour work week and generous vacation time, many see Sarkozy as a threat to their very way of life.

In a broader sense, it could also be pointed out that the riots seem to be following a general pattern that is being seen across Europe recently. From Greece to Italy to Denmark, people are taking to the streets -- sometimes violently -- to protest neoliberal economic policies such as the privatization of the university system in Greece and American encroachments into Europe such as the new military base proposed for Vicenza, Italy.

In typically tranquil Denmark, thousands of youth recently rioted in response to the Danish government's decision to shut down a decades-old anarchist squat known as Ungdomshuset, or "The Youth House." Following the eviction of Ungdomshuset, the Copenhagen neighborhood of Norrebro became the scene of ongoing street battles for several days:

A similar scene played out in Greece in March, when the Greek constitution was amended to allow privatization of the country's university system:

These scenes of violence may soon sweep Italy as well, if the U.S. government carries through on its plans to make the northeastern Italian town of Vicenza the largest US military site in Europe. David Swanson of reported yesterday that "the people of Vicenza, and all of Italy, have sworn it will never happen," and noted that in February 200,000 people descended on the town in protest of the plans.

Largely as a result [of the protest], the Prime Minister of Italy was (temporarily) driven out of power. Meanwhile, just outside Vicenza, large tents now hold newly minted citizen activists keeping a 24-hour-per-day vigil and training hundreds of senior citizens, children, and families every day in how to nonviolently stop bulldozers. The bulldozers they are waiting for are American.

The conflict, should it come about, will be as surprising to American television viewers as were the attacks of 9-11, unless someone tells them ahead of time what is going on. This week a group of Italians is in Washington, D.C., attempting to do just that. A group of Italian Members of Parliament also visited Washington last month in opposition to the base.

While so far the demonstrations have been peaceful, it should not come as a great surprise if Italian anger over the proposed base spills into violence, if recent trends across Europe are any indication.

Panel Calls for Due Process for Journalists Held by U.S. Military

On a panel held yesterday in connection with World Press Freedom Day, representatives of two journalists held by the U.S. military called upon the U.S. to either charge them with crimes or release them. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held in Iraq for a year, and Sami al-Hajj, a cameraman for the Middle East television station Al-Jazeera, has been detained since late 2001 and is currently at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Neither have been provided an opportunity to prove their innocence in a court of law.

U.S. officials claim that because Hussein took photographs of explosions in Iraq, that he must have been at the locations ahead of time, and therefore complicit with the Iraqi insurgency. But Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP, said he was "simply the unlucky fellow who happened to be the photographer for the world's largest newsgathering organization in a difficult province." She called the U.S. claims against him a "rolling set of allegations that arise and then disappear without the benefit of a trial."

Similarly, Al-Hajj has faced varying allegations, but has been denied the opportunity to refute them because the U.S. government has never filed charges or presented evidence against him. He has been in custody since he was stopped at the Afghanistan border by Pakistani authorities in December 2001 and turned over to U.S. authorities six months later.

His attorney, Zachary Katznelson, pointed out that the evidence being used to justify al-Hajj's detention is classified, so neither the journalist, his lawyers, nor the public have been able to see it. In al-Hajj's ongoing interrogations at Guantanamo, U.S. officials have focused almost exclusively on obtaining intelligence regarding al-Jazeera and its staff. His interrogators have told him that he would be released if he provided information about the satellite network’s activities, an offer that al-Hajj has consistently refused. Al-Hajj, who has been force-fed while on a hunger strike to protest his incarceration, appeared weak during a recent visit, the lawyer said.

Katznelson called upon the U.S. to make public the classified evidence that the U.S. says justifies his detention. "If there is any evidence, then let's see it," Katznelson said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which sponsored yesterday's panel at the National Press Club, details Al-Hajj's case in a 2006 report called, "The Enemy?"

In the report, CPJ notes that al-Hajj

has been held for nearly five years on the basis of secret evidence; he has not been convicted or even charged with a crime. Until this year—when an Associated Press lawsuit prompted the Pentagon to identify the detainees—the military would not acknowledge al-Haj was in custody. Al-Haj’s lawyer, who has been barred from attending his client’s hearings, has called the allegations baseless and the justice system at Guantanamo a sham.

“There is absolutely zero evidence that he has any history in terrorism at all,” said Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve, a London-based human rights group, who took up al-Haj’s case in 2005. Stafford Smith contends that al-Haj’s continued detention is political, and the main focus of U.S. interrogators has not been al-Haj’s alleged terrorist activities but obtaining intelligence on Al-Jazeera and its staff.

CPJ also notes that the detentions of al-Hajj and Hussein are part of an ongoing pattern by the U.S. military to detain reporters without charges, in what could be seen as a concerted campaign of intimidation.

Hussein’s detention is not an isolated incident in Iraq. Over the last four years, dozens of journalists, mostly Iraqis, have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research. While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction. In all previous detentions journalists were released without charges ever being substantiated.

Even without the arbitrary detentions of journalists by the U.S. military, Iraq is already the most dangerous place in the world for reporters to work. Of the 56 confirmed deaths of journalists worldwide in 2006, CPJ notes that 32 were in Iraq.

The latest victim was Dmitry Chebotayev, a Russian photographer killed on Sunday in Baqouba. He was 29 years old.

The Right's Parallel Universe

By Richard L. Fricker
May 9, 2007

To understand how the United States got itself into its current fix, it’s helpful to understand that the American Right and its powerful media apparatus have created a kind of parallel universe that has its own internal logic that sort of makes sense even if the “reality” isn’t exactly real.

So, on the Iraq War, everything is going pretty well except, as Fox News reminds its viewers, the “liberal media” keeps hiding all the positive developments from the American people. Plus, the only way to explain hostility toward George W. Bush is to postulate that his critics are consumed by irrational hatreds. The Right’s reality-divergent narrative exists on domestic policy, too.

Read on.

Blaming the Iraqis

By Ivan Eland
May 9, 2007

The Bush administration and Congress have put too much faith in governments—the U.S. as well as the Iraqi—to remedy the chaos in Iraq.

To keep the pressure on the administration for eventual U.S. troop withdrawals, the Democrats have already begun to blame the Iraqi government for not meeting benchmarks for progress and are threatening to include them in legislation.

Read on.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Qaeda's Reverse-Reverse Psychology

By Robert Parry
May 8, 2007

George W. Bush loves to tell his audiences that they must “listen to the words of the enemy” and “take their words seriously,” thus setting up his argument that al-Qaeda wants the United States to leave Iraq so the U.S. military must stay in Iraq

Like much of what Bush has said about the Iraq War, this presidential homespun wisdom always has had more emotional appeal than actual logic. But a newly released videotape from al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri demonstrates why Bush’s argument has never made sense.

Read on.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bush Sat on Evidence of Cuban Terror

By Robert Parry
May 7, 2007

Earlier this year, as accused right-wing terrorist Luis Posada Carilles successfully sought to be freed on bond, the Bush administration possessed secret evidence implicating the 79-year-old Cuban exile in terrorist bombings in Havana a decade ago.

The evidence, an FBI document based on interviews with confidential sources in the late 1990s, linked Posada to a wave of hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. Administration lawyers have now filed the document in court as part of the illegal immigration case against Posada that is scheduled to resume in Texas on May 11.

Read on.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Tenet-Bush Pre-9/11 'Small Talk'

By Robert Parry
May 6, 2007

In late August 2001, when aggressive presidential action might have changed the course of U.S. history, CIA Director George Tenet made a special trip to Crawford, Texas, to get George W. Bush to focus on an imminent threat of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack only to have the conversation descend into meaningless small talk.

Alarmed CIA officials already had held an extraordinary meeting with then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on July 10 to lay out the accumulating evidence of an impending attack and had delivered on Aug. 6 a special “Presidential Daily Brief” to Bush entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.”

Read on.