Political Prisoners in the USA

A version of this document was first published on September 11, 2013. As of April 2017, we are working on updates as well as a Spanish translation. We want to acknowledge Stan Smith and the Chicago Committee to Free the Five (773-376-7521, uscubachi@yahoo.com) for initiating this project and compiling the original list.

This is document names individuals who are currently incarcerated in the U.S, are targets because of their actions threatening US imperial power, and who were imprisoned for their political activity. Thus, we can call them both political prisoners and Prisoners of Empire. However, the entire US justice system is political in nature. Please see the notes at the bottom of the page regarding Mass Incarceration and Immigrant Detention.

We need your help. This list is an ongoing draft. If you see any mistakes, persons who should be listed who are not included, have updates on the status of political prisoners or have any other questions or comments, please send them to nasim@AFGJ.org.

Leonard Peltier is an activist in the American Indian Movement. In a COINTELPRO style operation, he was sentenced to life for murdering two FBI agents. Evidence exonerating Peltier was withheld by the FBI. In his appeal, the government admitted it had no evidence to show he killed the two FBI agents. Peltier has been imprisoned for 35 years for this crime that he did not commit. To learn more see Robert Redford’s documentary “Incident at Oglala” or visit http://whoisleonardpeltier.info.

Mumia Abu Jamal is the most prominent political prisoner in the US. In 1981, COINTELPRO style, he was arrested and sentenced to death in an unfair trial for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Mumia was an organizer and campaigner against police abuses in the African-American community, and was the President of the Association of Black Journalists. During his imprisonment he has published several books and other commentaries, notably Live from Death Row. See documentaries “Mumia Abu Jamal: A Case For Reasonable Doubt?” and “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” or visit http://freemumia.com/ or http://millions4mumia.org.

Army Private Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning) was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking a video of US war crimes in Iraq and classified documents to WikiLeaks detailing attacks against civilians and exposing abuses and true objectives of US war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. For over a year she was held in solitary confinement and subjected to psychological torture. Private Manning’s sentence was commuted on January 17, 2017 and is scheduled for release on May 17, 2017. http://www.luminarity.com/, http://couragetoresist.org/chelsea-manning.

Guantanamo Inmates are prisoners held in indefinite detention without trial, most since 2002. The Guantanamo Prison, part of the US base there illegally occupying Cuban land, is notorious for its inhumane and degrading conditions and systemic use of torture. According to Witness Against Torture there are 55 prisoners at the prison despite 16 of them having been cleared for release. http://closeguantanamo.org, http://www.witnesstorture.org

Simón Trinidad, aka Ricardo Palmera, is a long-time leader of mass movements for social change, and was a top negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP). He was arrested in 2004 in Ecuador in the process of negotiating with the UN for their release of FARC prisoners. He was then extradited to the U.S. on charges of narco-trafficking and kidnapping and subjected to four separate trials due to the difficulty the prosecution had in securing a conviction. A Colombian government spokesperson told the Alliance for Global Justice in April 2015 that the repatriation of Trinidad to Colombia is key to the success of the peace talks between FARC-EP and the Colombian Government. So far, the US government has refused. Learn more at http://freericardopalmera.org.

Black Panther Party (BPP), New Afrikan, and Black Liberation Army political prisoners were victims of the COINTELPRO operations in the 1960s-70s when the FBI sought to destroy the Black liberation movement. This U.S. government campaign resulted in at least 38 Black Panther Party members being killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Chicago BPP leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered by the Chicago police on December 4, 1969 in one of these operations. Dozens of Black liberation activists have been imprisoned because of these operations, and some have now been incarcerated for over 40 years. Many continue to provide intellectual leadership to the struggles for racial justice from behind bars. Those currently incarcerated include, but are not limited to:

To learn more about Black Panther Party (BPP), New Afrikan, and Black Liberation Army political prisoners, see the documentary films The FBI’s War on Black America: COINTELPRO, Cointelpro 101, or visit the Prison Activist Resource Center and the Jericho Movement.

Shukri Abu-Baker and Ghassan Elashi of the Holy Land Foundation, were each sentenced in 2008 to 65 years in prison. Three others of the Holy Land 5 were sentenced to 13-20 years: Mohammad El-Mezain, Abdulrahman Odeh and Mufid Abdulqader. All were imprisoned for giving more than $12 million to charitable groups in Palestine which funded hospitals, schools and fed the poor and orphans. The U.S. government said these groups were controlled by Hamas, a group it lists as a terrorist organization. Hamas is the elected government of Gaza. Some of these charitable committees were also still receiving US funding through USAID as late as 2006. Testimony was given in the case by an Israeli government agent whose identity and evidence was kept secret from the defense. This was the first time in American legal history that testimony has been allowed from an expert witness with no identity, and therefore immune from perjury. The defendants were acquitted in their first trial when the jury remained deadlocked. http://freedomtogive.com

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is an American-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted in a U.S. court of assault with intent to murder her U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan and sentenced to 86 years in prison. Four British Parliamentarians wrote to President Obama “there was an utter lack of concrete evidence tying Dr. Siddiqui to the weapon she allegedly fired at a US officer”, calling for her to be freed immediately. The weapon she allegedly fired in the small interrogation room did not have her fingerprints, nor was there evidence the gun was fired. http://freeaafia.org

Dr. Rafil Dhafir founded the charity, Help the Needy in direct response to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the brutal sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For 13 years before his arrest, he publicized the plight of the Iraqi people and raised funds to help them. According to the government, Dhafir donated $1.4 million of his own money over the years. As an oncologist, he was also concerned about the effects of depleted uranium on the Iraqi population which was experiencing skyrocketing cancer rates. In February 2003, just before the second US war on Iraq, Dhafir was arrested as a “funder of terrorism,” though no evidence was presented at trial. Dhafir was sentenced to 22 years in prison connected to breaking the sanctions against Iraq. http://dhafirtrial.net

The MOVE 9 were sentenced to 30-100 in prison After the August 8, 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by 600 heavily armed cops. The entire group was falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire, despite the trial judge’s statement that he had no idea who shot the officer. The MOVE 9 were part of the communally-living, radical black MOVE family, a longstanding target of the Philadelphia city government. In 1985, eleven MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops when a bomb was dropped on their living quarters. Merle Africa and Phil Africa died in prison. Debbie, Delbert, Charles Sims, Eddie, Janet, Janine, Mike Africa remain in jail. http://move9parole.blogspot.com

Jeremy Hammond was arrested in 2012 for the hacking of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), leaking information to Wikileaks showing that Stratfor spies on human rights activists at the behest of corporations and the U.S. government. He has been denied bail and held in solitary confinement, facing a maximum sentence of ten years. http://freejeremy.net

Patrice Lumumba Ford was a Muslim targeted after 9-11 as part of the Portland Seven. Lumumba accepted a plea agreement, but he refused to further the “war on terror” by helping with more prosecutions. For that refusal, he was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security federal prison on “conspiracy” charges. http://freelumumba.org

Rev. Joy Powell was a consistent activist against police brutality, violence and oppression in her community. She was warned by the Rochester Police that she was a target because of her speaking out against corruption. Rev. Joy, a Black woman, was convicted of burglary and assault by an all-white jury; the state provided no evidence and no eyewitnesses. She was given 16 years. http://freejoypowell.org

Amina Ali and Hawo Hassan were convicted of “material support for terrorism” in 2011, and given 20 and 10 year sentences respectively. The two Rochester, Minnesota women had collected clothing and raised money to help destitute people in their homeland. The prosecution claims that they helped al-Shabab, an Islamist organization that fights to free Somalia from foreign domination.

The NATO 5 were jailed in May 2012 before the NATO summit in Chicago, based on entrapment and accusations of undercover police informants. Brent Betterly is now released, Jared Chase remains in prison, Brian Church is in a halfway house awaiting release. Sebastian Senakiewicz was deported to Poland. Mark Neiweem has been released. http://nato5support.wordpress.com

Marius Mason (formerly known as Marie Mason) is an environmental political prisoner serving a 22 year sentence. In March 2008, Marius was arrested for vandalism of a laboratory creating genetically modified organisms for Monsanto. He was charged with arson for this and for damaging logging equipment in 1999 and 2000. No one was harmed by these actions. Marius pled guilty to arson charges, but the judge applied a “terrorism enhancement.” He was sentenced to 22 years, and is now serving the longest sentence of any “Green Scare” prisoner. http://supportmariemason.org

Immigrant Detention

Immigrant detention centers hold undocumented workers, families and students. Every year more than 400,000 immigrants are detained, and on any given day there are around 40,000 persons in immigrant detention centers. These individuals are jailed because of the US’s fervent anti-immigrant political ideology.

As recently as the 1980s, immigrants were rarely detained. They were either accused of misdemeanors and quickly deported or permitted to go about their lives pending immigration hearings. In recent years there has been a massive boom in immigrant detention and deportation. Even though we are experiencing the lowest level of immigration from Mexico into the US in 45 years, private immigrant detention centers are a booming and highly protected industry. The US government has promised to supply enough undocumented immigrants to keep 36,000 beds in detention centers occupied all year round.

Racism, class repression, and xenophobia are the political forces underlying the boom in immigrant detainees. The US government increasingly criminalizes undocumented people. Rather than treating them like low-level civil offenders, our new policy is to target them arbitrarily, and once they are arrested to lock them up. Being undocumented is a highly-politicized crime. Those incarcerated in immigration detention centers are a class of Prisoners of Empire too numerous to name.

Mass Incarceration

US prisons have been foundations for racist and anti-worker oppression. But not every target of state repression makes it to jail or is given a chance to defend themselves in court or even be charged with a crime. Many of those who die as a result of state-sanctioned violence are guilty of nothing more than fitting an ethnic profile that makes one a suspect by virtue of the color of their skin. Every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman or child.

While non-hispanic Whites make up 63.7% of the US population, people of African heritage and Latinos make up almost two thirds of those in US jails. Persons lacking a GED or high school diploma make up 47 percent of inmates, and the annual income of the incarcerated, prior to their arrests, was 41% less than their peers among the un-incarcerated.

With under 5% of the world’s population, the US jails 25% of the world prison population, with 2.3 million prisoners. The development and growth of the mass incarceration model took place at the same time crime rates have been in decline. The primary purpose of the US prison system appears to be about social control, intimidation of resistance and the maintenance of a massive and legal form of slave labor.

Conditions in US prisons reflect a lack of basic health care, isolation from family and community, lack of educational opportunity, widespread incidents of torture and beatings, and generally degrading treatment. US prisons hold over 80,000 persons in solitary confinement. In 2012 alone the Justice Department estimates there had been 216,000 victims of prison rape.

While we do not call all prisoners political prisoners, we must note that they are all subjects to a politically motivated system of oppression. The repercussions of the US incarceration model are felt acutely far beyond the locked doors and bars of our jails. The politics of fear is diffused throughout US society, particularly for poor people and racial minorities. We have seven million US residents who are in prison, on parole or on probation. When we consider the massive government monitoring of our population, we can justifiably call the United States a prison nation.