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Political Prisoners in the U.S.: Systematically Neglected and Ignored
North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee statement on the state of health care of Political Prisoners in the U.S.
Denver, October 16, 2013 - On October 4, 2013, the world lost one of its greatest fighters in the struggle against oppression and injustice. Herman Wallace spent 41 years in solitary confinement after being targeted by the state for his work against racism and oppression from within the prison system. Amnesty International and mainstream news sources recently highlighted the release of Herman Wallace from prison. Tragically, Herman was able to breathe the air of freedom for only 3 days before he passed away. Herman was denied any kind of compassionate release by the state of Louisiana, despite his advanced liver cancer and the prognosis of a mere two months to live. Though it was the circumstances of his original conviction that compelled a judge to grant Herman his freedom, it was the state’s lack of concern for his medical condition that led to the resurgence of public and media interest in his case.
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.
Unfortunately, cases like Herman’s are far too common. Albert “Nuh” Washington, Bashir Hameed and Marilyn Buck are other recent victims of prison medical neglect. Some, such as Merle Africa, have died under suspicious medical circumstances. More will soon follow, if swift action is not taken.
Lynne Stewart is a 73 year old movement attorney convicted of materially aiding a terrorist organization for issuing two press releases on behalf of her client Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Lynne was initially sentenced to 2 years in prison. But after publicly claiming that she could survive the 2 years, the government appealed her sentencing and she was punitively re-sentenced to an outrageous 10 years in prison. Diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer prior to her sentencing in 2009, Lynne was denied compassionate release because the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) claimed "she is not suffering from a condition which is terminal within 18 months," though treating physicians have estimated her life expectancy at 12 to 18 months. She is currently awaiting a decision from an independent committee within the BOP. From there it will go to the director of the BOP for the final recommendation and request for a motion to the Judge. Lynne’s health deteriorates daily. Her case is one example of many ongoing cases of medical neglect, including Abdul Majid, Robert Seth Hayes, Tom Manning, Jalil Muntaqim, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Chelsea Manning, and Leonard Peltier.
There are currently over 100 political prisoners in the United States. These women and men are listed and recognized as political prisoners by numerous human rights, legal defense and progressive/socialist organizations. They come from the Civil Rights/Black Power/New African Liberation struggles, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Indigenous Peoples survival struggles, Chicano/Mexicano Movements, anti-imperialist/anti-war movements, anti-racist/anti-fascist struggles, the Women’s Movement, social and economic justice struggles, and especially in the past several years, from the Environmental/Animal Rights movement. They are Black, white, Latino and Native American. Most of these political prisoners have been in captivity since the 1970s and 80s. Some were convicted on totally fabricated charges, others for nebulous political conspiracies or for acts of resistance. All received huge sentences for their political beliefs or actions in support of these beliefs.
Despite international recognition of political prisoners within the US, the US government continues to deny their existence. An article in the Harvard Black Letter Law Journal Vol. 18, states that “Despite their prevalence in United States society, U.S. Government officials have long denied the very existence of political prisoners. When Andrew Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, publicly acknowledged the existence of over 100 political prisoners in his country, he was swiftly removed from office.” - The Reality of Political Prisoners in the United States: What September 11 Taught Us About Defending Themby J. Soffiyah Elijah
The harsh punitive conditions of confinement, often in special “control unit” type prisons, that political prisoners face daily, decade after decade, exposes and refutes this government myth.
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 BOP 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 BOP 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 Faces of Medical Neglect
The problem of medical neglect is a systematic one and affects many Political Prisoners / Prisoners of War. Following you will find some examples of folks who are suffering right now, as well as a list of people who have died because of medical neglect in prison or who were denied compassionate release before dying in prison:
•Abdul Majid: Black Liberation Army / Republic of New Afrika POW who recently suffered pressure on his sciatic nerve and was rendered unable to walk. After a week in this condition, he still had not been seen by a doctor, despite following the "sick call" procedure and all other necessary steps to get medical attention. After a call-in campaign, he was seen by a doctor but had not received the surgery he needed. It is presumed he is still unable to.
•Oso Blanco (Byron Shane Chubbuck): Indigenous POW, long-term chronic liver patient. Oso Blanco has been denied medical treatment for daily vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, irregular breathing, etc. He was unable to eat and had a large, hard mass in his liver, though Florence medical staff refused to do anything about it except look in his cell and pronounce him "fine." A call in / letter-writing campaign was necessary to get him a blood test, and he still did not receive a proper ultrasound (which was part of the call-in request). More answers from Oso are required before Dr. Lana Habash can properly interpret the results of his blood test. Oso also faced retribution from the call in campaign in the forms of mail being held and phone calls being cut short. As of right now he is still experiencing liver pain.
•Robert Seth Hayes: Black Liberation Army POW with Type II diabetes and Hep C. Seth has been fighting for adequate blood sugar monitoring since 2000. He had been consistently denied medical care for frequent, insulin-shock-induced blackouts in 2004 at Clinton Correctional facility. In 2009, when his sugar plunged to 32 and then up to 620 in a short amount of time, he had a seizure, for which he was taken off of honor block and thrown in keep-lock in Wende Correctional facility (supposedly a medical facility, though they denied him the diabetic diet necessary for his health). In August of 2012, at Sullivan Correctional Facility, he broke his index and middle fingers (injuries to the hands and feet, which can heal on their own, are very dangerous for diabetics). He was given x-rays and seen only by a physician’s assistant (not a doctor), and the diagnosis as to which fingers were broken kept changing. He has now lost the full range of motion in his hand.
•Tom Manning: United Freedom Front POW. In February of 2010, he needed a transfer to a medical prison to biopsy a lump in his groin, under his nipple and inside his shoulder blade. Recently, he was in need of knee replacement surgery. Also suffering from two tears in his shoulder tendons and advanced muscle atrophy, he was unable to lift a cup and unable to participate in the physical therapy necessary for walking (after eventually getting the knee replacement surgery). Nothing was done until a call in campaign was launched.
•Jalil Muntaqim: Black Liberation Army POW. Jalil had a stroke in January. The treating physician recommended he be transferred to an outside hospital, but the head physician refused. Four months later, he was given a CT scan, which reported brain damage consistent with a stroke. In June he was finally taken to Wende, where a neurologist examined him. After refusing Jalil's request for an MRI, the neurologist said that all the damage that will be done has been done, and that he should continue to exercise as he has been.
•Mutulu Shakur: Black Liberation Army / Republic of New Afrika POW, up for release in 2015. Mutulu has yet to be given physical therapy for the stroke he suffered in February.
•Chelsea Manning: "Whistleblower" who made available thousands of classified files pertaining to US war crimes / crimes against humanity. We do not know if her gender reassignment needs will be met by the military prison in which she is incarcerated, and how this will affect her physically and psychologically (she has already been subjected to torture while in the penal system).
•Leonard Peltier: American Indian Movement POW who had a prostate cancer scare (was exhibiting symptoms) in 2010. In June of that year, after being pressured by lawyers and the community, the BOP ordered blood tests. He received the results 4 months later. A biopsy was deemed necessary for proper diagnosis (and had not been performed as of April, 2011), and even if cancer is/was not present, a serious medical condition was nonetheless indicated by his symptoms. He has suffered a stroke which left him partially blind in one eye. For many years, he had a seriously debilitating jaw condition which left him unable to chew properly and caused consistent pain and headaches. The prison medical facilities could not properly treat this condition. In fact, two prison surgeries only worsened Leonard Peltier's condition. A physician from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, offered to repair Leonard Peltier's jaw free-of-charge, but was turned down again and again by prison authorities until the United Nations sharply rebuked the United States for subjecting Leonard Peltier to inhumane conditions. Surgery was performed and Leonard's condition improved somewhat. Subsequent surgeries are required, however, to fully address his condition. To date, such treatment has not been approved by prison officials. In recent years, Leonard Peltier has again begun to experience severe discomfort related to his jaw, teeth, and gums. Today, Leonard Peltier suffers from bone spurs in his feet and is affected by diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart condition, and other emerging health issues. According to an affiliate of Physicians for Human Rights, he risks blindness, kidney failure, and stroke given his inadequate diet, living conditions, and health care.
- Bashir Hameed, a Deputy Chairman in the Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO target, was charged and convicted of the murder and the attempted murder of two police officers in April 1981. This conviction came as a direct result of his political activity. Bashir Hameed and his co-defendant, Abdul Majid were tried three times (Queens Two) before the state was able to convict them. Bashir was serving a sentence of 25 years to life when, in 2008, he began to physically suffer. He was continuously denied any kind of medical attention or care. In May 2008, the Anarchist Black Cross Federation joined with comrades from Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Jericho Movement to coordinate call-in days during the month of June of 2008, demanding immediate medical attention. By early July, Hameed was receiving the requested care and testing thanks to consistent agitation from his family and supporters. Bashir Hameed died from complications of a triple bypass surgery at the New York prison system on August 30th 2008 because the prison administration refused to take him to an outside hospital.
-Kuwasi Balagoon, a member of the Black Liberation Army. Captured and convicted of various crimes against the State, he spent much of the 1970s in prison, escaping twice. After each escape, he went underground and resumed BLA activity. He was captured in December 1981, charged with participating in an armoured truck expropriation in West Nyack, New York, on October 21 of that year, an action in which two police officers and a money courier were killed. Convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, he died of pneumocystis carninii pneumonia, an AIDS-related illness, on December 13, 1986.
-Albert Nuh Washington, former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. Washington was imprisoned in 1971 as a result of the U.S. government`s war against the Black Liberation Movement and subsequently spent 29 years as a political prisoner (one of the New York Three). He died of cancer in the U.S. prison system on April 28, 2000.