Thursday, August 5, 2004

Doing Time for Political Crime

Song: Paul and silas, Bound in Jail  JOSH WHITE (1935) Blues Guitar Legend

Dave Gilbert, serving a life-sentence in New York, has just come out with an important, wonderful book, No Surrender: Writings from an anti-imperialist political prisoner, and Staughton Lynd, counsellor to death row in Ohio, has just published the scathing j’accuse of our times, Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising.

Forty years ago they were prominent in SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and around then they sang a song that had come up north with the civil rights movement and which became as appropriate to black power militants thrown into the penitentiary by COINTELPRO as it had been to ‘the beloved community’ suffering in the racist lock-ups of Mississippi.

Paul and Silas, bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

We have shut up more than two million behind bars, with almost five million on probation or parole. As the war and empire grow, so do the prisons. The one lurches recklessly about the planet, insanely flaying about like an ogre gone mad; the other swells behind green berms interlaced with gleaming razor wire where ‘stress positions’ are studied by social scientists and death is dealt out by injection needle. Empire and prison grow together in parallel. The ogre is two-headed in the USA: one head has just grunted in Boston, and during the pause before the other head starts to bellow in New York, let us bend our ears to these voices from below, from inside the belly of the beast.

David Gilbert is a political prisoner. Staughton Lynd writes about prison politics. Dave Gilbert is a lifelong staunch ally of the black revolutionary movement. Staughton Lynd has been a civil rights worker, lo! these many decades. Dave has long thought that the ‘white working class’ was on the whole hopelessly compromised by the white supremacy of the ruling class. Staughton shows that on ‘the race question’ the prisoners of Ohio’s maximum security prison – black and white - expressed themselves as “the convict race.” Dave writes now from his tiny cell about the whole world.

Staughton, a peacenik of the world (Palestine, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Youngstown), writes about eleven days in one prison down in Piketon county along the Chillicothe River.

The Dean of the University told the students “don’t go into Harlem.” David did, and he listened to Malcolm X. So much of his politics, the genius of his activism, came from the AfroAmerican struggle. Dave linked the cry of “Black Power” to the struggle of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam. Dave Gilbert in 1965 founded the first anti-Vietnam war committee at Columbia University. He welcomed in 1967 into SDS the first pure statements of women’s liberation. He then helped lead the Columbia strike of 1968. In addition to being an activist, David was a man of words, a careful fighter in the battle of ideas, able to assemble convincing argument and to express moral indignation with dignity and righteousness without yelling, as I remember from editorial meetings of the graduate student union journal, Ripsaw. He helped SDS to see that the USA was an empire (Niall Ferguson, Michael Ignatieff, take note).

Dave Gilbert helped form the Weather Underground. Without killing anyone, the Weather Underground bombed military and corporate targets, during the early 1970s. Another voice from Columbia University at the time is provided by Barry S. Willdorf, Bring the War Home! A Novel About Resistance to the Vietnam War and Racism in the United States Marine Corps.

Only thing that we did wrong
Was staying in the wilderness so long
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

Dave Gilbert wrote, “any white movement worthy of the name ‘revolutionary’ had to take on the task of building an underground that could carry on armed struggle against this criminal government.” This is the writing of historical agency, but it is also writing from too long a stay in the wilderness. What is a revolutionary? What court could bring “this criminal government” to trial? What is a “white movement”? These questions were not answered, though they remain on the table. As for the meaning of “underground”, and “armed struggle,” the answers became clear.

What David did wrong happened in 1981 when Thatcher and Reagan were in power, and the prisons grew. In fact it was the year when the “golden gulag” was placed around the neck of the republic, as Ruth Gilmore shows. David Gilbert was arrested for his role as a driver in a notorious attempt to expropriate a Brinks money truck in Nyack, N.Y., in which two police officers and one Brinks guard were killed. As an accessory he is now serving a life sentence in the N.Y. state prison system, shunted about according to the whim and ways of the Department of Corrections - now Elmira, now Attica, presently Dannemora.

At the opening of his trial in September 1982 he said to the court which he and his co-defendants, Kuwasi Balagoon and Judy Clark, refused to recognize, “We are neither terrorists nor criminals. It is precisely because of our love of life, because we revel in the human spirit, that we became freedom fighters against this racist and deadly imperialist system.”

We may identify three types of political prisoner. The first is defined well by Dave Gilbert. “A political prisoner,” he writes, “is anyone whose incarceration is a result of his or her actions taken, or positions espoused, on behalf of a political cause – specifically a political cause on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden in society and against the powers that be.” He then proceeds to identify different types of political prisoners, viz., prisoners of war, resistance fighters, civil disobedience activists, and prisoners of conscience.

Staughton Lynd illustrates how prisoners may become political as a result of incarceration. This is a second sort of political prisoner. The prisoners learn to respect one another; the prisoners come to expect respect.

The story he tells began on Easter Sunday, April 1993, at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. A long train of abuses on the part of the prison authorities included over-crowding, racist double-celling, coaching witnesses, massive shakedowns, scrapped programs, increased use of snitches, deal cutting, criminal misconduct, and forced application of a type of TB tests which violated religious taboo. As a last resort, the prisoners, mostly black, took hostage from the mostly white guards, and over the course of the eleven day occupation of the prison one correctional officer and nine prisoners were murdered.

It was one of the longest prison riots in U.S. history, yet it was not publicized much at the time because Janet Reno, the lictor of the Clinton administration, ignited the conflageration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, where so many were consumed, white and black. The flames of federal destruction were more attractive to the media observers than the pathetic graffiti inside Lucasville – “Black and White Together 11 Days,” “Convict Race,” or hand-drawn press releases on bed sheets – “The state is not negotiating,” “This administration is blocking the press from speaking to us!!” Two members of the convict race, a white one and a black one, stood shoulder to shoulder in the middle of the yard, surrounded by the firepower of the State of Ohio and ignored by media bullhorns.

Five men are currently on death row for the murder of the correctional officer. They are George Skatzes (Aryan Brotherhood), Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Sunni Muslim), Jason Robb (Aryan Brotherhood), Namir Abdul Mateen (Sunni Muslim), and Bomani Hondo Shakur whose name means Thankful Mighty Warrior. These men are solid with each other.

There is a point at which the welder’s torch becomes so hot, and burns with such purity, that it’s flame is no longer yellow, orange, or red, but burns blue. Then it is capable of cutting through steel. Staughton Lynd has consumed the trial transcripts, he has patiently endured the hysteria of the media, he has listened to the men on death row for seven years, and he has lived the struggles of the rust belt. His torch has illuminated all the evidence, it burns well beyond heated anger and smoldering resentment, and by cutting through the state-sponsored lies, threats, evasions, harassments, racist provocations, snitching, and venality, it has attained the efficiency of the blue flame of truth.

If you want to understand the American gulag, if you oppose the death “penalty” of innocent people, if you can imagine honor, solidarity, and respect among the poorest and most degraded white, brown, and black, if you can imagine Aryan Brothers, Muslims, and Black Gangster Disciples in unity against a common enemy – the wall – then you are ready for this j’accuse: “I accuse the State of Ohio of deliberately framing innocent men.” This is state-sponsored terrorism, pure and simple. The goal is precisely to re-assert murderous race relations, for there are more parallels than one between the Lucasville rebellion and the Waco massacre.

Staughton Lynd explains that respect, derived as it is from the Latin verb “to see,” is at the base of two of the world’s profoundest political values, Satyagrah from the east, habeas corpus from the west. Satyagraha is what Gandhi believed in. It means clinging to the truth, and truth is the opposite of violence.

When we recognize the truth of another person, when we refuse to overlook them, then we respect them. Respect is tied also to the writ of habeas corpus, “the foundation of the Anglo-American system of justice, because it requires the state to produce the prisoner in open court so that friends and relatives can see the prisoner, and can confirm with their own eyes and ears that the government has informed the prisoner of the specific crimes with which he or she is charged.”

Marilyn Buck who herself has served twenty years in prison for political crime, writes of the difficulty of writing, “It is a never-ending effort to get hold of reading materials and to keep them, or to do research, much less to read, study, and think. Thought is constantly disrupted; arbitrary rules and interruptions create a chaos in which sorrow, discontent, and rage are the generalized response to and currency of the harsh cruelty, brutality, and absences of imprisoned women’s and men’s lives. Noise, stress, fear, even mental breaks fill the time and space of the prison world.”

The outstanding journalists in the American prisons are Paul Wright, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Ray Luc Levasseur, Marilyn Buck, Sundiata Acoli, Wilbert Rideau, Ron Wikberg,Jalil Muntagim, and Dave Gilbert, comparable to the revolutionary 1790s in England when an extraordinary assortment of ‘guests of His Majesty’ involuntarily gathered in Newgate prison – radicals, democrats, commoners, abolitionists, mutineers, Jacobins, vegetarians, Irish freedom fighters, union organizers.

Let us describe the virtues of No Surrender with the help of Ho Chi Minh, also a prison poet.

The body is in prison,
The mind escapes outside:
To bring about great things
The mind must be large and well-tempered.

David Gilbert’s mind escapes outside, to the whole world. He describes it in a nutshell. “Today’s world economy has evolved into a colossal system of debt peonage, with some 70 nations and billions of human beings in its cruel thrall. It’s a system that brings unprecedented wealth to the superrich while, literally, squeezing the lifeblood out of the people who can least afford it.”

He describes it in the round. He writes about extraordinary Sandinistas, twelve women in Nicaragua; he writes about young Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists during the intifada in Gaza; he writes about the trafficking of Burmese women and girls into brothels in Thailand; he writes with unalloyed admiration of the restrained testimony of Japanese American women; he writes about the disappeared in Guatemala and the deterioration of human rights in East Timor; he writes about the dirty war in Columbia and the democratatorship in Bogotá; he writes about Chico Mendes and the empate, or stand-offs, of the Brazilian rubber-tappers; he writes about the organ cancers of Navajo teenagers and ecological “sacrifice zones” of New Mexico; he writes with lyricism and fellow-feeling for the Zapatistas of Chiapas; he is open-minded about the Sendero Luminoso in Peru and distills a useful set of criteria for noticing when a revolutionary movement is going badly astray; he writes with passionate intensity about the eboli virus in Zaire and the prevalance of AIDS in Africa.

Indeed on that subject though the “body is in prison” it could as well be in Africa. He pioneered the system of AIDS education known as “peer counseling,” against bureaucrats of health as well as the bureaucrats of punishment. In this, he was like his forbears, Dr. James Parkinson, the English Jacobin who diagnosed shaking palsy and was a revolutionary democrat during the 1790s, or Dr. Che Guevara for whom the health of the body politic was foremost and whose clinic straddled the Atlantic to include Africa and America. Dave Gilbert has ‘brought about great things.’

David’s mind has become large and well-tempered. He grapples with some of the thinkers on the outside who also aspire to do great things. He thinks with, rather than against or upon, Barbara Kingsolver, bell hooks, Manuel Castells, Walter Rodney, and Christian Parenti, in essays that are independent appreciations in respectful, intelligent conversation.

His essays on other political prisoners like Leonard Peltier or Mumia Abu-Jamal are tributes of intelligence and honor. His recollection of his comrade, Ted Gold, who died in the townhouse explosion on 11th street in New York on March 1970, and his tribute to his comrade Marilyn Buck doing twenty years in California prisons, are written with ardor and passion. His three haiku poems to Mumia I can compare only to E.P. Thompson’s homage to Allende. He reaches out to his fellow internationalist, the Belfast freedom-fighter of the IRA, Joe Doherty, who did nine years in the U.S. gulag quoting his poem,

Some say soon, my walls will fall
In the dust I’ll dance to the chorus of Mankind.

Joe Doherty was released as part of he Good Friday Agreement off 1998.

Gilbert is liberal with praise, and though criticism is always direct it is always gentle. His letters to his son, like Gramsci’s letters from prison to his son, are pure fancy, pure delight. The two of them, father and son, engaged in an epic creation on successive long-distance phone calls which, like the blind bard who told the story of Troy, they had to do so sightless. They call it “The Vortex.” As an introduction to the feeling of the Weather underground organization nothing exceeds the courage, cunning, suspense and righteous adventure of “The Vortex” except perhaps the South African novelist, Neil Gordon’s The Company You Keep.

But David Gilbert was a Weather person, and doesn’t he deserve to suffer? This is the tune of the New York Times whose fulsome pleasure greets the surfacing of these revolutionary militants from the cold underground with odious little pills of hate setting in motion, as Wordsworth put it under similar circumstances, “the insinuated scoff of coward tongues.”

Radical chic to identify with the outlaws; social banditry became the icing on the cake; and of course it is easy to scorn these postures and pretensions are deservedly scoffed. The postures – “We are all outlaws”- claimed the Berkeley radicals, Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers. Are all prisoners political prisoners? No, but we held that all prisoners could become political prisoners, since inherent in times of change is the view and the experience that human beings can change, our sympathies may enlarge, our consciousness can be raised. Later, after the times changed, well then, we separate the sheep from the goats, and any fool can see that you were a sheep all along, and you, why you were born a goat!

At some moments in history it is not yet clear what is going to happen, we already know that our own actions help determine the outcome, we have a full sense of historical agency. It is not the times that are a-changing, it is we who change. It is the revolution which makes the revolutionaries. On the other hand, realism is the cry of repression; it clangs shut with a metallic finality, and we turn away, shoulders slightly sunk, scratching our heads sadly. If we look back in that mood feeling only “the melancholy waste of hopes o’erthrown” (Wordworth again), we begin to prepare the ground for apostacy. Realism is a mask that protects us from both. That scholarly stance is well represented by Cummins in his account of the California prisoner movement.

The course of Michel Foucault through this time had a similar starting point in the general strike of Mai ’68 and an apparent similar conclusion in the incarceration of its ultras by 1971. That year he formed Groupe d’information sur les prisons, whose methodology was to have those who suffered speak for themselves. In September was the Attica massacre, in December a prison mutiny at Toul, France. In November 1971 he shocked Noam Chomsky in debate by declaring, “The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power.” It’s a point.

In contrast to the Marxist tradition which puts the concept of Value at the center of its critiques, Foucault put the emphasis on Power. This corresponded to a late 60s discourse that emphasized ethnicity in the Third World revolutions, black, and brown and red. In those days the word “nation” among revolutionaries carried much the same freight that the term “commons’ does today, a locus of collective resources, a place of cooperation, mutualism. Unlike the commons whose borders remain contested, the ‘nation’ was an ethnic, a racial construct.

In weakness we create distinctions, then
Deem that our puny boundaries are things
Which we perceive, and not which we have made.

The study of the labor theory of value leads to the understanding of the global nature of capitalism without the puny boundaries. This has become clear with neo-liberalism. The second significance of this concept of value is that in raising the problem of the transformation of value into price, it enables us to understand the re-distribution of surplus-value as rent, interest, and profit, and the continuous struggle for unity within the capitalist class.

Five years after the massacre Foucault visited Attica concluding, “Attica is a machine for elimination.” Prison was a place of exclusion and marginalization. In contrast to ‘workers,’ it contains ‘plebeians.’ This was a distinction that ran parallel to a Marxist contrast between ‘proletariat’ and the ‘lumpen-proletariat.’ In England at the time the Warwick School distinguished ‘social crime’ from ‘crime without qualification.’ I don’t think either the French scholars nor the ones in England fully absorbed American experience, which, as Gilbert points out, is the experience of slavery and genocide, the preconditions for the economic and technological base of the continent and the cultural and political superstructure of the regime. In America the prison was seen in continuity with the plantation, while in Europe its progenitor was the workhouse. In America simplification gave us white and black rather than pleb and prol or worker and lumpen. Foucault’s microphysics of power became totalizing, and petrified in American academia. Hence, Foucault’s epigones were seriously flawed.

Hence, also, as Staughton Lynd implies, the fallacy of essentialist whiteness studies which the ‘convict race’ overthrows.

Foucault’s last lectures were on Diogenes, the ancient Greek slave philosopher, who faced with imperial warfare sought to serve the cause, or reflect it back to the citizens, by incarcerating himself in a barrel. Truth is always embodied.

At the end of Huckleberry Finn Tom Sawyer makes a game with Huck about the escape of Jim. “I was studying over my text in Acts Seventeen, before breakfast.” Tom Sawyer is such a jerk - his reference to scriptures should be to Acts Sixteen, and he is such a white jerk, right out of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” But Acts sixteen records a serious liberation episode.

But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened. (Acts 16: 25-6)

It is not just the apostles or the political prisoners who were freed, there is no sharp distinction here between the political prisoner and the other kinds.

There is a third meaning (I think) to political prisoner, in addition to the one Dave Gilbert defines or that Staughton Lynd describes. The prisoner may be freed, or released, or amnestied, as a result of political changes. The act of freeing the prisoners, the opening of the jails, may be an act which in itself politicizes prisoners at the instant that they cease to be prisoners, and it is not an attribute of individual. This we could call the jubilee moment. Isaiah (6:1) explains, “he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the like opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Later when the carpenter’s son returned to his birthplace, he preaches to the poor the very words, “he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and the recovering of sight to the blind, and set at liberty them that are bruised.” (Luke 4:18) Later we learn that this particular son of man will separate the sheep from the goats:

“when I was hungry you gave me nothing to eat, when thirsty nothing to drink; when I was a stranger you gave me no home, when naked you did not clothe me; when I was ill and in prison you did not come to my help.” (Matthew 25: 42-4)

How can we contribute to the climate of opinion which will look upon amnesty favorably? We must be prepared to discuss regime change at home. How do we get Diogenes to come out of his tub? We have some inspiring experience. For instance, Staughton Lynd concludes his j’accuse with a chapter on Attica and amnesty.

Armed forces of the state, governed by Rockefeller, killed 29 prisoners and 10 hostage guards on September 1971. Within a mere five years scandal broke out in the prosecutor’s office, and amnesty was declared to all concerned. Since the scandal of prosecutorial misconduct is as serious in Ohio as it was in New York, Lynd can call for amnesty for the Lucasville Five on death row, innocent of killing.

The very moment we thought we was lost,
Dungeon shook and the chains fell off.
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

In the middle ages it was an aspect of kingcraft: opening the jails at coronation! In the coronation charter of Henry I for instance 5 August 1100 he pledged, “I forgive all pleas and all debts.” Also, “I remit all murder-fines which were incurred before the day on which I was crowned king.” The world celebrates 14 July, Bastille Day, when the hated prison of the French monarchy was opened by the sans-culottes in 1789. At the beginning of that decade Newgate prison in London was opened up by the London crowds. The first long poem of the American Revolution was a poem about POWs and the British “prison ships.” In 1796 when Paul became Tsar of Russia he opened the prisons releasing all the captives including Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish patriot and one time artillery officer for George Washington. In the February revolution in 1917 when the Tsar fell, Lvov freed the political prisoners in St. Petersburg, and the proletariat of the city completed the work he began by opening the prison doors for all. Thus, the dungeon can shake!

In a December 1990 meeting in New York of former political prisoners, Dorubha, the former Black Panther, took a race line, and began to “mau mau,” or berate, the predominantly white audience concerning the inherent racism of the white working class. We sat in silence. Who wants to defend the white working class? In the following months, however, here’s what we noticed.

With the downfall of Duvalier, Fort Dimanche was opened in Port-au-Prince just a few days before Titid was inaugurated president. The Free Mandela campaign had vast planetary effort which opened the door for him in 1990. In 1991 April three dozen more political prisoners were released from Roben Island. Then the Birmingham Six were released in England . In June 1991 a guerrilla attack freed 131 people incarcerated in San Salvador’s largest prison: dynamite blew a hole in the wall, guards and guerrillas battled for an hour, with four guerrillas and two soldiers killed. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 between Britain and Ireland provided for the release of prisoners. Thus the chains may fall off!

So much of American history takes place in the prison, the plantation, or the factory. Dave Gilbert has been inside too long, listening to the discussions outside without being part of them. His politics is expressed sometimes in a kind of shorthand or formulas which derive their meaning only from a living context . He often laments the absence of the “mass base.” Once such shorthand was necessary in the heat of the times. However, the context has cooled considerably. The formulas are left, like fossils. We find them, beautiful in their detail, embedded in rock at various strata.

We have to deduce their context, and think to ourselves, for example, something like: ‘ah, there must have been an ocean here once: must have been zillions of beautiful critters: looks like something came down on them heavy, seems that over here it was sudden, over there it was gradual. The compression is the result of the weight of time and the heavy toll of repression – COINTELPRO, assassination, cocaine, betrayals.

“To be buried in lava and not turn a hair, it is then a man shows what stuff he is made of,” Samuel Beckett wrote. Let the lava be white supremacy of the ruling class. Then the steadfast hair may be John Brown, or George Skatzes, or David Gilbert. Anyone who has taken this journey has met such living fossils, tiny signs, which as soon as you get used to looking, seem to be everywhere. History is moved forward by such exceptions. At the time of the Roman empire, I think the number of exceptions was twelve, though most of them turned a hair when the heat came down. When Gandhi visited with the King of England he did not wear trousers, and I do not believe that a single hair on his spindly legs turned either.

Not lava, but an eroding mudslide was provided by William Bennett’s Book of Virtues which we search in vain for an entry on “love,” or one on “generosity,” or on “solidarity,” or on “hospitality.” These are some of the virtues of Dave Gilbert’s book. Jason Robb on death row in Lucasville, Ohio, provides Staughton Lynd with the “Noble Virtues” and the “Nine Charges” of the Aryan Norse which begins with the oath: “to maintain candor and fidelity in love and devotion to the tried friend: though he strike me I will do him no scathe.”

These values can help us recover from ‘Vietnam syndrome.’ We have tried increasing the number of capital punishments, only to learn that it leads to more war. We have tried increasing the number of prisoners as a means of combating crime only to become more frightened. The ‘Vietnam syndrome’ is the result not of defeat, for in truth, we (you and I, dear reader) were not defeated. The corporate, ruling class was defeated. A ‘syndrome’ is a cluster of pathological symptoms. In this particular syndrome, dread and shame are outstanding components, to wit, the shame of the criminalization which we have perpetrated within our own class, and the dread that some time, some way, we will be held to account. “While there is a soul in prison, I am not free,” said Debs.

Huge amounts of social complicity and political denial are required to be ‘good Americans.’ It happened two hundred years ago at the time of the French Revolution; let us call it ‘the Jacobin syndrome’ which Wordsworth diagnosed:

… mid indifference and apathy
And wicked exultation, when good men
On every side fall off, we know not how,
To selfishness (disguised in gentle names
Of peace and quiet and domestic love,
Yet mingled not unwillingly with sneers
On visionary minds) … in this time
Of dereliction and dismay

The ‘Vietnam syndrome’ cannot be overcome with more wars (Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Iraq). The wars are prepared - we are softened up - by the exercise of capital punishment. At first just one or two - the hood is placed over our eyes - like Ricky Ray Rector, (you will not find this death in Clinton’s My Life), but then with legislative sensitivity making more capital punishments possible, as in the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act - the electrodes are attached to our fingers - until the possibility is realized by the Governor of Texas who kills more than one hundred - we are placed on a little box and told that an abyss awaits us. We ignore the judicial slaughter, the lord high executioner then becomes President, and the public - hooded, electroded, pushed to the edge, and now suffering itself to be barked at - is sufficiently softened to be taken to war, cowering, stunned, and ever so soft, only to find … the Hard Site at Abu Ghraib. There one of the imperial torturers, one of the softeners up, had learned his trade as a guard at S.C.I. Greene where Mumia Abu-Jamal had been locked down.

From Pennsylvania to Baghdad! From the Alleghenies to Mesopotamia! O my people!

Regime change in the USA? ‘Regime’ does not mean government or administration. ‘Regime’ means the set of conditions by which the system is maintained. This helps us understand our tasks. While imperialism runs on oil it is not driven by it; while a gang of neocon free marketeers usurps the government, it does not control the capitalist regime or the production of surplus value. The death penalty and the growth of the gulag have been essential to the form and function, the soul and spirit, of the global empire. Our movement must free our political prisoners and abolish the death penalty, two preconditions of the regime to come. Otherwise, we may tumble uselessly in our tubs.

Only thing that we did right
Was the day we begun to fight!
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. He is the author of two of CounterPunch's favorite books, The London Hanged and (with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Linebaugh asks that any readers who have cases and stories of amnesties, and getting out of jail, by all the variety of means, contact him at:

Reviewed by Peter Linebaugh Counterpunch, August 5th 2004


Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens, Paul Wright (ed.), The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry (Common Courage Press: Monroe, Maine, 1998)

Richard Cummins, The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement (Stanford University Press: Stanford, California, 1994)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Vintage: New York, 1979)

Michel Foucault and John Simon, “On Attica,” Telos 19 (spring 1974) David Gilbert, No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner (Abraham Guillen Press: Montreal, 2004)

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Globalization and US Prison Growth: from military Keynesianism to post-Keynesian militarism,” Race & Class 40, 2/3 (1998/9).

Neil Gordon, The Company You Keep (Viking: New York, 2003)

Lee Griffith, The Fall of the Prison: Biblical Perspectives on Prison Abolition (Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993)

Staughton Lynd, Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising (Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 2004)

Barry S. Willdorf, Bring the War Home! A Novel About Resistance to the Vietnam War and Racism in the United States Marine Corps (A Gauche Press: San Francisco, 2001)

Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (Verso: New York, 1999)


Appealing a Death Sentence Based on Future Danger USA-HOUSTON, June 9 - Texas juries in capital cases must make a prediction. They may impose a death sentence only if they find that the defendant will probably commit more violent acts.

Death Penalty Forensics?
In proposing a new death penalty for Massachusetts last month, Governor Mitt Romney offered firm assurance that no innocent people would be executed: Convictions, he said, will be based on science.

Clive Stafford-Smith: The Death Penalty
British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, who for the last 20 years has worked with death row prisoners in the U.S. is returning to his home in Britain, to fight for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Cuba.

Silencing the Cells: Mass Incarceration and Legal Repression in U.S. Prisons People without a voice are not people in any meaningful sense of the word. Silenced people cannot express their ideas; they can neither consent nor protest. They are reduced to being pawns in the schemes of the powerful, mendicants who must accept whatever is imposed upon them. In order to keep people in a state of subjugation, silencing their voices is essential. Nowhere is this clearer than in U.S. prisons.

U.N. Group Seeks End To Executions The United States, Japan, China, India and Muslim nations including Saudi Arabia opposed the resolution. Burkina Faso, Cuba, Guatemala, South Korea and Sri Lanka abstained.

US Execution: Huang Thanh Le
Dear Friends, this is so sad especially for our dear friend, San Nguyen. San who lives in Oklahoma worked very hard with the rest of the Vietnamese community to stop Mr. Le's execution.

US Execution: Please contact the Governor
The Vietnamese-American Community, the ACLU, and many others want the March 30 execution of Huang Thanh Le commuted.

Death penalty: a lawyer sees the light
The observation by [Cherie Blair?] "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" is illustrated by the two nations' differing reactions to the use of the death penalty as a legitimate punishment for murder.

Cherie Blair attacks US over death penalty in Catholic paper
Cherie Blair has renewed her attack on America's use of the death penalty. In a book review in the Catholic journal The Tablet, under her maiden name Cherie Booth, she says: "Capital cases are uniquely prone to error and thus call into question whether we can ever be really sure of obtaining the just result.

Insane prisoner granted stay in the USA
The case of a condemned killer with a history of paranoid delusions and violent outbursts raises questions about executing the mentally ill.

OHIO: Judges join dissent on execution delay
Lewis Williams - his attorneys argued that he was mentally retarded, was executed by lethal injection on Jan. 14 2004 in Lucasville, Ohio at age 45.

Mexico Awaits Hague Ruling on Citizens on U.S. Death Row
Sbaldo Torres, a convicted murderer on death row in Oklahoma, should have been dead by now, his appeals exhausted, his time up. But because 15 judges in The Hague, acting at the request of the government of Mexico, have forbidden his execution for now, he is alive in a cell in McAlester, awaiting the next move from the Netherlands.

Jury Passes On Business Of Killing
US: This drives the death penalty crowd in the legislature nuts. Yet another jury - another 12 men and women, tried and true, who had all attested to their belief in the death penalty - has refused to join in the killing business.

Ultimate Punishment: Dealing With the Death Penalty
Scott Turow has long juggled two careers‹that of a novelist and that of a lawyer. He wrote much of his first and best known legal thriller, Presumed Innocent, on the commuter train to and from work during the eight years he spent as an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago, and he has churned out another blockbuster every third year since joining the firm of Sonnenschein Nath and Rosenthal in 1986.

A Question of Innocence Rubin Carter: Day after day, week after week, I would sit in that filthy cell, seething. I was furious at everyone. At the two state witnesses who lied, at the police who put them up to it, at the prosecutor who sanctioned it, at the judge who allowed it, at the jury who accepted it, and at my own lawyer, for not being able to defeat it.

Are you sane enough to be executed?
New York: The US Supreme Court has let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court in February that officials in the state of Arkansas had the right to force a convicted murderer to take drug treatment to make him sane enough to be executed.

Amnesty steps up campaign to abolish death penalty
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International is urging people around the world to pressure countries to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty director Irene Khan has released a statement, which raps governments for carrying out "executions".

Port Lincoln Mayor has lost the plot!
Controversial Port Lincoln Mayor Peter Davis has called for drug addicts to be given a lethal injection to cut rising illicit drug use on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

'LAND OF THE FREE' SET TO EXECUTE TWO PRISONERS BY FIRING SQUAD: Wanted: Willing executioners for two convicted murderers. Must be psychologically sound and familiar with .30-calibre rifles. No victims' relatives need apply.

There has been some debate whether: 'Capital punishment should be re-instated in Australia, since the terrible events that took place in Bali' In all democratic nations, every human being is considered innocent of any alleged crime, until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a court of law. For this reason, certain safeguards must be used for capital punishment cases.

Keith Clay was executed tonight, becoming the 300th prisoner in Texas to die by lethal injection since the rogue state resumed the death penalty 20 years ago.

" ... Our nation was built on a promise of life and liberty for all citizens. Guided by a deep respect for human dignity, our Founding Fathers worked to secure these rights for future generations, and today we continue to seek to fulfil their promise in our laws and our society.

Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Please note the following article shows clearly the hateful, uncaring and anti-human rights attitude as reflected by the Governor of Texas (and most other elected Texas officials).

Supreme Court Justice Blocks Execution
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens blocked Indiana from putting to death its oldest death row inmate Tuesday to give the 71-year-old prisoner, who is partially deaf and blind, extra time to file federal appeals.

Stephen Romei: Death knell sounds for US capital law
GEORGE RYAN, outgoing governor of the US state of Illinois a republican who leaves office today, has put US capital punishment on the road to oblivion by commuting the sentences of all 167 of the state's death row inmates. Three were re-sentenced to 40 years' jail and the remaining 164 got life without parole.

Bush rules out death sentence review US President George W Bush says has dismissed any chance of a review of America's system of capital punishment.

Amnesty urges Bush to shut death row
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged US President George W. Bush to take a "moral stand" and abolish the death penalty after the Illinois Governor dramatically emptied that state's death row.

USA - A NATION IN TURMOIL: As the year 2002 draws to a close, little if anything, has changed in the United States in regards to state-sanctioned killing. Various campaigns, calls for clemency, petitions, and international condemnation, have failed to humanize U.S. politicians.

Here come de Judge - Time to Leave [266]
There have always been examples of rulings and interpretations that have supported the saying "The law is an ass". This is increasingly the case, because even the best intentioned judges are now facing an avalanche of new technologies and social change. But, it is no good making excuses for the judiciary and continuing to accept their strange interpretations. We must recognise that not only judges but the whole legal system will struggle more and more. In the end the whole system will become a farce. This is the way empires end.