Prison America Part II

gavelIn Part I of my series, “Prison America,” which was released on this blog on August 10th we explored the prison industry that is very much the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) of today. Of course, any expose of the Obama gulag system necessarily requires an examination of just how its parent organization, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), continues to stoke the American prison furnace which remains fueled by a never ending stream of millions of largely black, brown and poor prisoners convicted of mostly non-violent drug offenses. Under the Obama administration of these past seven years, we have seen no break of any consequence in what is very much a vicious, racist and arbitrary law enforcement policy which steals lives, destroys families and ruins inner city communities from coast to coast. Despite its economic pain, tough on so-called crime remains a popular political chant, indeed vote-getter, even while many in the United States try to come to grips with a society that has less than 5% of the world’s population yet more than 25% of its prison population. No less startling are prison sentences, meted out with perverse regularity in this country, which send mostly young men of color to prison often for many decades for essentially health and mental health related issues dressed up in criminal drag in which they simply want to get high or help others to do so. Add in to the matrix a growing and aging population of mostly low level so-called white collar offenders and we see a national prison complex in which 60 % of the federal inmate population, or approximately 150,000 prisoners, serve years in prison camps or low security jails far from their families without posing any threat to their community as a whole. To jail these non-violent offenders costs approximately $29,000 per inmate per year instead of the $3,700 it would run through community based supervision and treatment of these same women and men if kept at home and employed in their own communities with appropriate supervision.

Among other things, Part I of “Prison America” provides a nuts and bolts primer of sorts of just how the DOJ investigates, prosecutes, and imprisons millions of Americans in a seeming and endless thirst to target the most politically powerless among us. In particular, it focuses on just how the DOJ singles out those daring enough to demand justice through an adversarial system which thrives on its absence, and which falls most harshly upon those foolish enough to demand and pursue their full day in court in a chase that almost always ends up with a vindictive and additional penalty for that right.

In describing the federal criminal justice system Part I makes use of such terms of art as conspiracy, cooperators, informants, superseding indictments, judicial discretion, sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences and relevant conduct. While such terms and procedures are commonplace for the courts and attorneys involved in the federal criminal justice game, to the novice, indeed, even the many defendants trapped inside it, they remain very much almost mystical phrases with no practical reference point or framework within which to understand how an abstract legal theory suddenly becomes very ugly and unduly punitive in practice as the cell door slams for years. In this light, welcome to the world of “Jerome,” a not too hypothetical montage of cases which, in one construct or another, puts a real time face on events that have saturated the prisons of this country under the stewardship of a two-term presidency launched to power with the commitment to pursue equal and color blind justice for all. Obama lied. Today, that dream remains very much just that- a mythical political cry always one step beyond the reach of most in this country who do not have the right color, prominence or connections.

Jerome is a 27 year old black male who graduated from college in upstate New York and who plays semi-pro lacrosse in a Canadian based league. He works for a sporting goods chain based mostly along the Canadian border to supplement his meager lacrosse contract. He has just spent a weekend holiday with his long-time girlfriend in Montreal driving to and from Canada with his dad’s car. The couple have been to Montreal many times over the past several years where he plays lacrosse, using the same car on each trip. Early one Monday morning they passed through a U.S. Port of Entry into the United States and proceeded south to the warehouse-office of the sporting goods chain for which Jerome works. About a half an hour later, he pulled into the parking lot of the warehouse, exited the car, and went into its trunk from which he removed two large hockey bags. While his girlfriend remained in the car, he entered the warehouse, spoke to his boss for a few minutes and then left, without the two bags. Jerome drove off, but several miles away ran into a ditch in order to avoid a deer that raced across the road.

Smashing against a large boulder in the ditch, the car began to smoke, and its trunk popped open from the force of the impact. Jerome’s girlfriend was cut by flying glass. Within seconds of the accident a US Border Patrol Agent happened upon the scene. Finding both Jerome and his girlfriend injured the agent radioed for assistance and helped to remove them from the car now beginning to smoke heavily. Within minutes another Border Patrol Agent arrived. Not long afterwards while looking into the opened trunk, he saw two large duffle bags; one was ripped open with large bricks of marihuana plain to see inside. While at the hospital, Jerome admitted to yet another agent that he had picked up the bags in Canada along with one other small one which he had dropped off at his bosses warehouse not long before. According to Jerome it had been his first such trip and that he had been asked to make the run by his boss and was being paid one-thousand dollars to do so. He concluded by noting his girlfriend had no knowledge of the marihuana and that he was to drop off the remaining two bags at an address in New York City. The bags recovered from the car each contained 75 pounds of marihuana. Not long thereafter a search warrant was obtained by federal agents and the warehouse raided. Recovered were not one, but two additional bags of marihuana which in look and size appeared to be identical to the ones recovered earlier from the car. Each contained 75 pounds of marihuana for an additional 150 pounds of the substance. In a separate location in the warehouse were recovered 30 additional hockey bags each with 75 pounds of pot, for a total of 1500 pounds of pot- the bags themselves were a different size and color than the one recovered from Jerome’s car. At the time of the raid Jerome’s boss was also arrested. Later that day Jerome appeared in federal court and was arraigned and released on bond. At that time he was charged solely with possession of the 150 pounds of pot recovered from the car he was driving. His girlfriend was not charged.

At first blush, this not too hypothetical case appears to be very much a straight forward one. Putting aside the issues of whether this pot prosecution should end up in federal court at all, as well as the propriety of the search of the car, and whether the statement made by Jerome was voluntary or not, it seems to be an otherwise simple possession case of a substance now lawful in a majority of the United States. To the untrained eye, the amount recovered from Jerome might appear to be large. However, with millions of kilos of pot floating throughout this country every year in both lawful and illegal sales, it is nothing; a veritable drop in a bottomless bucket.

So what’s to become of Jerome? Given the absence of any prior criminal record, as well as the fact that he is a college graduate and athlete, upon a plea of guilt to the simple possession charge he was arraigned upon, under a rational, just sentencing scheme before an unshackled judge, Jerome could expect a sentence ranging anywhere from probation, to home confinement, to perhaps six months in a prison camp to be followed by supervised release. However, In the real time political and often vindictive world of federal prosecutions, that would not prove to be the case at all.

Other than the statement he provided to agents at the time he was arrested, Jerome refused to cooperate any further with law enforcement. Angered by his refusal to cooperate with the on-going government investigation, the federal prosecutor set out to build a far more serious case against Jerome. Thus, because a government check of border crossing records showed that he had been in and out of the US to Canada some two times a month or more for well over a year, the prosecutor assumed that the primary purpose for each such trip was to transport similar loads of pot back into the United States thereby increasing the “ghost” loads Jerome was “responsible” for from the 150 pounds recovered from the car to over one-thousand five hundred pounds of pot which the government assumed he had previously transported.

Although little more than blind supposition, the prosecutor’s theory was to find some support — albeit self serving– when Jerome’s boss (who faced a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison himself on the basis of more than a thousand kilos of pot recovered in his warehouse as well as his own admissions) agreed to cooperate against Jerome and others who worked for him at various times in his distribution network. In debriefings, the boss admitted to having distributed many thousands of pounds of marihuana in the Metropolitan New York region over the previous five years. According to him, during the last year Jerome had been one of his transporters running loads from Montreal to his warehouse and, though uncertain about the exact amount, suspected that he had transported approximately 1500 pounds of the substance- coincidently, of course, the very figure that the government assumed he had transported. More important, the boss identified two of the hockey bags found in his warehouse at the time of the raid, and which looked similar to the two recovered from the car, as having been delivered to him that very day by Jerome. He also told prosecutors that on two occasions Jerome’s girlfriend was present, although silent, when they had held discussions about picking up a load of pot. Although at the very top of a fairly sophisticated and large pot distribution ring himself, in exchange for his cooperation in the prosecution of but subordinates and customers, his sentence would end up to be but 18 months in prison.

As for Jerome, not long before he was to enter a guilty plea to possession of the pot recovered from his car, he learned that the government was preparing to indict him for possession of one hundred kilos of marihuana or more (some 250 pounds) on the basis of the pot recovered from his car and the additional 150 pounds of pot which his former boss told investigators he had received from Jerome the day of the raid. With this increase, if convicted on the new charge, Jerome faced a mandatory minimum of five years in prison instead of the far lower sentence that he could reasonably expect to receive as a result of the initial charge for which he was arrested.

Unwilling to accept that “deal,” Jerome was planning to proceed to trial when he learned that prosecutors had decided that if he did not plead guilty to the 100 plus kilo charge a second or superseding indictment against him would be obtained which would not only charge him with distribution of more than a thousand kilos of marihuana (some 2500 pounds or more) but also charge his girlfriend. The new indictment would stem almost solely from the unsubstantiated information provided by his former boss who had cut a deal with the government to save himself.

Not long thereafter, Jerome pleaded guilty to a charge that required him to go prison for a minimum of five years. His father’s car was also forfeited to the government. In so doing, he admitted to the court that he had conspired to possess and distribute the three hundred pounds of pot recovered from his car and from the two additional hockey bags seized in the warehouse. Of course, like all who plead guilty in federal court, at the time of his plea, Jerome told the judge that no one had forced him to enter his plea, that he was doing so voluntarily and that he understood and was waiving his right to a trial by jury. This perverse game of public denial is played out in courts across this country while all its participants know it to be so much a rank fraud.

Still not satisfied with the mandated 60 months of prison time for this first time non-violent pot offender, at the time of his sentence, the government argued for significantly additional prison time on the grounds that it could connect him to more than the 300 pounds of pot Jerome had admitted to. As “evidence” it introduced statements attributed to Jerome’s former boss (who did not himself testify) and “evidence” of Jerome’s numerous trips to Canada through a computer generated Port of Entry log and little else. Finally, “expert” opinion testimony was elicited from a DEA agent about the route used by Jerome as being a well known and frequently used smuggler’s trail. Of course, the agent knew nothing about Jerome or what he did do or did not. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge found by a preponderance of the evidence — a far lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt — that Jerome had in fact been involved with smuggling well more than the 300 pounds of marihuana he had admitted to.

Although the Court did not sentence Jerome to the 84 months that the prosecutor sought, he was imprisoned for 72 months, six years in a pot case where 150 pounds of pot was actually recovered from a first time offender !!! How a case went from one of likely probation, to a mandatory minimum of five years, to six years of hard prison time speaks volumes about what is fundamentally wrong with a justice system that is anything but.

In the hypothetical matter of Jerome, there were a number of crossroads where the prosecutor chose to exercise his discretion to coerce a plea and exact cruel and usual punishment for a young man where none was otherwise necessary or just. The decision to proceed with the prosecution of Jerome in federal court as apposed to one in state court set the stage for what was to come. The decision to make a deal with a so-called kingpin (who received a relative slap on the wrist) to successfully prosecute and entomb his subordinates is common place in this federal chase for numbers. The decision to increase Jerome’s sentence exposure through an indictment that unnecessarily overcharged him is an every day occurrence which ties the court’s sentencing hands and has been a common practice for years. The decision to once again increase Jerome’s sentence exposure if he exercised his right to go to trial is routine in courts throughout this country. The decision to threaten to charge a loved one of an accused if he goes to trial is much more common place than expected. The decision to seek an even greater sentence through a so-called relevant conduct increase before a judge and not by an indictment or a jury has become very much a mainstay of the sentencing policies of the Department of Justice. None of these decisions is mandated by law. All are discretionary. That discretion is vested entirely in the hands of the executive branch of this country, ultimately in policies set forth or very much approved of by the President himself.

Jerome’s “case” is by no means unique. It is of course a combination of many other like prosecutions, including more than a few that I have defended in federal courts. Nevertheless, this example of prosecutorial abuse is very much the frightening rule and not the exception for federal prosecutions that occur daily throughout the United States under the Obama administration. Indeed, DOJ takes great pride in near unanimous conviction rates that in a just and free society do little to hold out the promise of equal justice but much to establish the pursuit of it as so much a wasted journey. For those who challenge the government in court, and do not prevail, cruel enhanced and maximum sentences await them for little more than their temerity to believe in American justice and what turns out to be a naive attempt to obtain it. Today, federal prisons remain packed with tens of thousands of “Jeromes” victimized by a system that essentially seals your fate once you find yourself targeted by a machinery of government with endless and misplaced resources that sees fairness and compassion as little more than unacceptable signs of weakness. To line prosecutors and their bosses throughout the country its all about overarching prosecutions, coerced pleas and unwarranted, excessive sentences. The White House knows it, wants it and has approved of it since the very first day that Barak Obama took control of the Department of Justice and its subordinate agency at the Bureau of Prisons. Law and order sells- even where the cost of it is the soul of a country.

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Prison America

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This piece is not about Stanley Cohen. For that you will have to wait for the play, the book, the movie or, better yet, the cartoon strip yet to unfold. Or try the “haters” section in Google. However, one thing is for sure; after three plus decades as a criminal and political defense attorney and adviser to some foreign governments and a good number of national liberation and revolutionary groups I know as much about this thing called the U.S. criminal justice system and its profit-making prison industry as any politician, academic, journalist, jurist or attorney. Oh, yes, did I forget ? As I write this piece. I am no longer Stanley Cohen, Esq. but rather, inmate # 19846-052 locked up as I am in a U.S. Federal prison camp. It’s not the first time I have been jailed as a result of my work or beliefs or activism. Besides my current internal exile for “impeding the IRS,” I served about a month in a Quebec prison in 1990 for seditious conspiracy for my work at Khanesatake (“Oka”) during the Mohawk standoff with the Canadian army. On that occasion, I was vindicated some two years later. I’ve also been arrested about another half dozen times or so on minor political charges arising from my own activist life all these years. And I am currently banned from Israel and Egypt and, possibly, Jordan and Kuwait because of my legal work and politics- seen by some regimes as dangerous to their “security.”

As an activist, social worker and attorney I’ve probably seen the outside– and now — from the inside, prison cells and courtrooms in this country and abroad enough times for several lifetimes. I’ve appeared before hundreds of judges and opposed even more federal and state prosecutors in the United States and overseas. Although the criminal justice system in this country mystifies many Americans, horrifies others and, to most, is simply ignored as so much out of sight out of mind, it’s not at all difficult to define or to understand: by design, it targets certain people largely on the basis of color and class. It feeds on political dissidents- those whose politics or mere presence serve as friction unto the machine, or so-called whistle blowers who disturb the secrecy of the powers that be. In every sense of the word, it’s a vicious destructive machinery of state that sucks whatever decency remains in the marrow of this Nation. Only the naive and those who believe that the earth is still flat can in 2015 honestly say that our criminal justice system is just at all. By design, from top to bottom, in all places, at all times, it pursues it’s intended targets with endless resources, cold hearts, and steeled, corrupt intentions.

Over a career that has so far spanned more than 30 years of criminal, “terrorism,” and human rights cases, I’ve represented thousands of accused in state and federal courtrooms throughout the U.S. and in international proceedings that have criss-crossed the world many times over. One example of this workload includes my traveling abroad overnight to spend days cross-examining a “protected” witness in a terrorism case with his testimony piped contemporaneously back, albeit in a different time zone, to overflowing federal courtrooms in Manhattan where the proverbial pin could be heard to drop. When done, I flew back to New York to continue the trial the very next day.

Overseas, my practice has brought me before courts and to prisons and detention centers on international criminal and terrorism cases in Romania, the Dominican Republic, Iraq (at the height of the bloody resistance) Palestine, Israel, and Peru to name just a few of the States where I have appeared. In South Africa, I worked on a case defending against allegations of so-called hate speech being prosecuted by some truly hateful people. I’ve served as a negotiator outside of the US many times including at the three month armed standoff at Oka between the Mohawk Nation and Quebec which was set off by a gun battle in which a Canadian cop was shot dead.

I’ve handled federal issues at trial and on appeal in the United States Supreme Court, seven different Circuit Courts of Appeal and approximately twenty-five District Courts throughout the United States from coast to coast. One such case raged on for more than twelve years appearing before the Supreme Court twice, with two Circuit Court briefs and arguments, including an en banc one before all fourteen judges of the appeals court, and two separate sentencing hearings some ten years apart.

As a Legal Aid Attorney in the South Bronx in the early eighties my cases ranged from mundane shop lifting charges to the defense of the “notorious” cop shooter Larry Davis and others who, like him, were prosecuted for murders in the day when the NYC body count seemingly soared higher than the pyramids. I have handled other matters in which the federal government sought the death penalty and one where my client was known to have committed nineteen drug related homicides. More than once I have done hearings in hospital wards including several in which I stood next to semi-conscious clients shackled to their beds recovering from police inflicted injuries, including gun shot wounds to their back.

I’ve huddled on the floor of a drunk tank in rural Walker County Alabama with a man sentenced to die who thought Jesus had sent me to save him; I’ve sat on broken metal benches with kids at Rikers Island in New York City who wished they were- no, not saved- but dead. In a massive federal prison complex located on a Texas military base, I’ve walked the halls of a “hospital” filled with hundreds of elderly disheveled women — many oozing blood from open sores– most rolling wheel chairs and breathing tanks while the more fortunate paced pointless circles round and round, dazed by pain medications forecasting their own impending deaths.

In Butner, at the men’s medical facility in North Carolina, just out of sight is the final resting place of dozens, perhaps more, of unclaimed men buried, not by name but by their prison number, all because their families were either long-gone or too poor to pay the thousand dollar fee to reclaim their loved ones for a proper burial at home.

In the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, special housing unit floors nine and, now, ten south have for years been home to detained terror suspects– real and imagined– awaiting trials that are typically little more than rote show case political persecutions staged to appease the public and to show a strong face to presidents- republicans and democrats alike. There, counsel talk through walls of mesh wire to clients, mostly kidnapped from abroad and tortured, under the watchful eyes of guards in monitored meetings where the attorney-client privilege is so much just cheap overheard talk. Long before 9-11, a shark-tank like cage was built for my numerous visits with one “terrorism” client in particular at MCC who guards cackled at while he prayed on the floor.

This “security” game is, of course, played out over and over again throughout the United States wherever the President needs to earn points through costly and unnecessary Joint Terrorism Task Forces that mostly target 20 year old kids named Mohammed or Jamal who, lost in a world of social-network rhetoric, are swept up in sting operations orchestrated by government agents or informants who walk them down the hallway of a conspiracy just far enough to make breaking news on Fox. Almost all end up with 25 year sentences for nothing more than idle talk and cop sponsored training. I’ve handled cases in courtrooms divided by unnecessary bullet proof plexi-glass shields which do little more than protect those charged with the most serious of offenses from the presumption of innocence. Who needs a jury when you send a message that the accused are so dangerous or deranged that the public must be separated from them in such a manner?

It is simply not enough to say that the U.S. criminal justice and prison systems are fractured without understanding the whys or the crossroads of its breakdown. How the nightmare of prison America can be undone does not require a brave new world at all; just a commitment to take some hard unpopular and dramatic steps- ones based upon humanity, not harm; hope not defeat; redemption, not retribution. We are not talking here about building a new weapon of mass destruction but rather taking one apart and quickly if we are to move forward in this country with a real sense of equality, justice and decency. To challenge the cancer of our prison system demands in the first instance that we understand that the US prison industry can not be seen as some sort of compartmentalized tension between those that arrest, prosecute and judge and those that afterwards oversee a vindictive structural thirst for cruel and usual punishment. While the headquarters of the Department of Justice may be housed in Washington D.C. and the Bureau of Prisons in Texas in reality the process of charging, trying or extorting pleas from the accused are, in federal land, brought to you by the same people who oversee the prison process afterwards. A badge is a badge whether flashed by a DEA agent, an Assistant U.S. Attorney or a cop at the SHU- a prison special housing unit. There is after all no separation of powers issue here- the DOJ is the overseer, indeed, the masah to the BOP plantation that, ultimately, is owned by whomever sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue- white or black, male or female.

Just as Barack Obama serves as the Commander in Chief of our country’s armed forces, so too, he is the grand overlord of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Bureau of Prisons (BOP). You know, he’s the guy with the biggest badge of all. While the President nominates and Congress may approve both the Attorney general and the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, ultimately they answer solely to executive power, whim and priority.

Of course there are those out there right now squirming as they read these words yelling out ” no Cohen . . . its the law that they answer to.” Ughhhhh, that’s so much an empty fight looking for an argument; sort of like saying we are a race blind culture.

In reality, and in accord with well settled Constitutional principles, ultimately every federal prosecutor in the United States serves at the will and behest of the President. Indeed, the same is true for all broad brush federal criminal justice priorities. Of course, that is not to suggest that the White House plays a hand’s on role on a given case — heaven forbid, that would strike as so much naked nepotism (compare the treatment of Chelsea and Edward with Gen. Petraeus) — but rather, that the policies that pursue and swallow millions of the people of this country by federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors and prisons are very much either set by or greeted with the smiling stamp of approval of the White House occupant. To be sure, though each US Attorney throughout the country is free to set standards and goal to implement those announced by his or her direct boss, the Attorney General, ultimately they are merely reflections of the political and economic winds blowing out from the West Wing. Thus, if the President says we must deprioritize drug prosecutions that’s what happens. If he says hands off the banks or their officers no federal agent will dare show up at Chase except to take a loan. If the so-called hacker group Anonymous turns their lap tops on, cybercrimes become the mantra of the latest White House press conference. Can it be long before Ddos (direct denial of service) becomes the 21st century counterpart to Harper’s Ferry?

If recent figures are true there are approximately 7 million Americans with felony records of one sort or another. If accurate, its simply shocking- that’s approximately one in five of us that have been disenfranchised on one level or another by state or federal courts throughout the United States. Before your panic attack ends, keep in mind that while the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population we have about 25% of its prison population. Currently there are 2,500,000 men, women, men and children, yes children, imprisoned in state, federal and local prisons. Of that total more than 250,000 women and men are serving federal sentences in prisons for which Barack Obama is, ultimately, the warden.
60 % of all federal inmates, approximately 150,000, are imprisoned in camps or low security facilities which, by their very nature, indicates that they have not been convicted of violent offenses or pose no threat of violence to the community at large. Yet, they remain needlessly and expensively separated from families and communities at an average cost of $29,000 per year, per inmate as opposed to an approximate cost of $3,700 per inmate per year if returned to their families under community based supervision including probation and or home confinement or sentenced accordingly in the first instance. Approximately 60 % of all federal inmates are serving sentences for complaint-less offenses, many running into decades, for nothing more than getting high or helping others to do so. Another 10 % or so are low level “white collar” offenders doing sentences often running them into old age, if that’s not already the starting point as the cuffs are locked on their wrists.

Approximately 60 % of all persons imprisoned in federal prisons today are persons of color. Most are inner city young and poor- under-educated black and brown men. Many were drug abusers and the sons and daughters of addicts who, themselves, were imprisoned at one time or another in a vicious cycle of getting high and getting prison, generation after generation, mostly for offenses that in a healthy, caring society are understood to be and treated as purely health and mental health related issues-not crimes. Currently, there are approximately 4,000 federal prisoners convicted of marihuana offenses and little, if anything, else. In 2015 in a country where some three dozen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marihuana for medical or recreational use, some three dozen of their citizens are doing LIFE sentences in federal prisons with no chance of release because of multiple convictions for possession or distribution of marihuana.

Although the Department of Justice has of late obtained several criminal corporate pleas involving banking crimes such as money laundering for drug cartels involving many billions of dollars worth of criminal transactions, none has involved a conviction of a person, be it a CEO, board member, president or manager of the offender institution. Logic would seem to dictate that a human being and not an elevator entered into these massive criminal enterprises yet none has stood before the court to answer for these institutional white collar frauds, and none has been forced to wave goodbye to their family as they are led away in handcuffs with their life and that of their loved ones left in shambles. Although the government has recouped billions of dollars in fines from the offending banks for crimes which threaten, indeed attack, the fabric of our society, deterrence it is not, as no prison yet exists that can house the 50 story corporate headquarters itself and the offender institutions get to write off the fines from their corporate taxes leaving it with no net loss at all and their licenses intact, free to steal and steal and steal again.

With his most recent, cheap fire and brimstone show, President Obama once again took to his orator’s pulpit to decry yet another US structural problem that somehow slipped through his executive radar screen over the seven years that he has crafted and overseen that very structure. My, my, he did however look just splendid in his smartly tailored suit with his sharp tongue but all too weak pen as he decried the problems of the US prison system which he, and not Congress, directly runs- pointing of course to the convenient excuse that these are problems he inherited almost, what, two full terms ago ? And the photo ops of the solemn Warden in Chief walking out of his Oklahoma prison that he recently toured to give hope to the hopeless he has imprisoned or kept jailed all these years surely inspired many tens of thousands of women and men across the country counting their lives in prisons not with the passage of birthdays or holidays but decades for non-violent offenses.

Is there any doubt that soon the walls of the White House will display a new photo of Obama hugging an elderly broken black man in the privacy of his prettied up cell whispering in his ear, “Have hope brother, soon freedom will be yours ” – a mere 24 years after it was snatched away for some drugs. Can it be long before that photo makes its way to the front page of an upscale magazine, where prison reform has now become this presidential campaign’s hip buzz ? When will that prisoner be greeted at the White House to receive a new Presidential pen used to sign off on a bill or two that in reality will be, very much, too little, too late? Will that pen find him a job, or a home or meaningful help or hope ? Of course not.

What has Obama done to undo the largest prison Gulag in the history of the modern world ? Many ask what can he do without Congressional oversight or approval to initiate desperately needed change in the way that we prosecute and imprison people and destroy lives. As the ultimate policy maker of the Department of Justice and its Bureau of prisons, a great deal.

Obama has sent more people per capita, mostly of color, for non-violent offenses to prison over the course of his almost two terms of shining and showing his badge than any of his predecessors. Although he recently commuted the sentences of some 44 prisoners, thus bringing the total of his releases to 88 during his reign, it remains but mist, not even a drop, in the proverbial bucket. Indeed, although math has never proven to be my strong point it would appear that the 44 inmates represent but one-sixtieth of one percent of the federal prison population and a spike in the heart of the 50,000 or so others who actually took the time to apply for sentence commutation, but were somehow overlooked though most satisfied the same criteria of those who won the release lottery. The demographics of the released prisoners is interesting not so much for what they say, and accomplished, but what it did not.

Thus, all of those released had originally been sentenced to decades or longer in prison for drug violations, most to be followed by ten years post-release supervision which includes reporting to federal officers on a regular basis, drug and employment monitoring, and severe restrictions on where an “ex-con” can live or go, with whom and for what purpose. In the event of a post release violation, a return to prison, typically for years, is a given, and simply a matter of a judge saying back you go- and little else. Excluding the 15 prisoners who had initially been sentenced to life, the average initial sentence imposed upon the others was twenty-five years- that’s three hundred months! Of those who received the presidential blessing, the average time served was approximately 16 years in prison with about 45 % coming from a camp, a medical facility or a low security prison- the rest were jailed in a medium or maximum security prison. 80% of those whose sentences were commuted were people of color, almost all black and most males. The average age was 48 years old.

There is nothing remarkable about these particular demographics. The nature of the convictions, the sentences imposed and actual time served, along with age, race, and prison placement factors are very much indicative of literally tens of thousands of federal prisoners currently jailed throughout the US prison system. So what was it about these particular 44 prisoners that explains their release, while the vast majority of those similarly situated, continue to suffer under draconian like sentences with terms and conditions that would make the devil blush with envy?

Of course, some will assume that because they were released, these 44 women and men in particular had exemplary prison records of accomplishment over the course of their internal exile while the many others, do not. It’s a leap of blind faith unsupported by the facts which clearly show that the vast majority of all federal prisoners do their time without incident or additional prison imposed sanctions. However, if you’re still not convinced, let’s reduce the population of fifty thousand similarly eligible prisoners to say thirty-thousand who have attended education or drug treatment classes within jail (most are mandated), earned certificates of achievement (handed out like candy), and have not presented their jailers any disciplinary problems whatsoever, especially after decades behind bars. Others might also assume that these 44 had favorable resources awaiting them — family and friends within their communities– thus making the prospect for their successful reintegration most favorable, while others simply do not. Sorry, its but another straw (wo)man argument- inmates who are released to communities across this country are not free to set sail where and when they want, but rather are in fact greeted with stringent release conditions and supervision that are intended to make reintegration more likely and recidivism less so; for those who fail to comply, prompt rearrest and re-incarceration awaits with scant due process or cost to the government at all, save for their re-incarceration. Indeed, it should be noted that while the real time prison sentences of those commuted recently will end this coming November 15th, almost all still owe 10 years of supervised release and those who violate that release can and will be returned to prison for upwards of ten additional years. Finally stands the shrill cry that our communities do not have the economic wherewithal to withstand a large influx of long imprisoned inmates who present unique problems and costly demands to communities already starved for necessary resources. Nice try: as noted, each prisoner released to community-based supervision, including home arrest saves the country more than twenty-five thousand dollars per year per inmate otherwise wasted on human warehousing behind barbed wire and high brick walls, which does little but feed the prison industry that is America. Ultimately, there stands the biggest challenge to prison reform and prisoner release in this country.

It takes little but an adept finger or two and Google to quickly discover the nexus between prisons, long sentences and the economic health and welfare that is largely rural America. Across this country stands a massive prison complex that pours billions into failing local economies through employment of many tens of thousands of guards, administrators and local contractors. Throw in the salaries of judges, prosecutors, court appointed defense attorneys, cops and an array of court staff, and mental health experts and my how quickly we see that the proverbial emperor does indeed have clothes- clothes sewn with the human stitch of largely poor and black or Latino urban Americans being prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for the economic benefit of largely professional elites and rural communities. Like the dust bowl of the depression era of the thirties, many of these communities would simply dry up and go away without the dark vast prisons that dot their countryside not far from the nearby farms and VFW halls that remain vibrant only on the backs of prison buses and prison walls. The cycle is endless: buses in, buses out, drug cases in drug cases out in a never ending stream of liberty for sale. For far too long Americans by the millions, indeed, the tens of millions, have been swept up as so much human feed in a prison for profit industry that smiles only when bursting at its seams. Those seams are no stronger now with the recent show-boat commutations by President Obama.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge Obama, his photo moment, or the family reunions awaiting the the 44 as they go home, if in fact they have families or homes left to go to after decades in prison- I just don’t understand why the 44 was not fifty or a hundred or five-hundred times as many, and why the release did not include all 4000 prisoners doing federal time for marihuana offenses. Can it be that the spector of thousands of prisoners of color and poverty released from prisons across this country would prove to be so much political suicide especially during a presidential campaign year as the stories of their release broke across the screen of Fox News and CNN ? Heaven forbid. Can it be that in 2015 race and class continue to be the trump card that determines who goes to prison and who does not? Who is released and who stays buried?

Long term, of course, remains the lurking question of why the need for high cost prison camps and low security facilities, at all, if those entombed there — some 60 % of all federal prisoners– necessarily pose no threat to society as a whole and can be punished, safely monitored and “rehabilitated ” through far less costly and onerous community-based alternatives while they live with and provide for their families.

While some will argue that because sentences are the unique purview of the courts — a separate but equal branch of our government– they should rarely be disturbed. Nevertheless, independent of the President’s lawful authority to commute sentences, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (a presidential appointment ) also has the lawful authority to release prisoners, even en masse, through rarely used, but lawful, furlough procedures. These procedures, which permit for stringent community-based supervision, be it through halfway houses or home confinement, are an entirely discretionary alternative to prison and can proceed without interference from the courts. Why this function of executive authority has not been exercised with regularity and in meaningful ways, within the Bureau of Prisons itself, remains very much a mystery. Unless, of course, fear of political fallout has rendered this sweeping institutional power to be little more than an unused Presidential and BOP tease. No less important is the nagging question of just how do so many persons who get swept up by the Department of Justice end up in prison at all — as opposed to probation or home confinement– let alone with the extraordinarily lengthy sentences they receive upon conviction.

Although volumes could and have been written about these core questions, as a starting point, it is important to note that only in the movies are the scales of justice evenly weighted or truly blind. Policy decisions are routinely reached by the President, transmitted to the Attorney General, and then forwarded to line federal prosecutors throughout the country regarding the types of crimes to investigate and charge and those to simply ignore, or go easy on. Thus, crack prosecutions, which fell disproportionately on inner city black and Latino youth were pursued with rabid obedience, landing offenders in prison often for many decades while well-heeled white corporate cocaine snorters who carried their mirrors for all to see, were rarely charged and, if convicted, sentenced typically to little more than probation. Although the glaring sentencing disparity was ultimately undone with some nominal sentence reductions initiated by the Courts, today federal prisons remain jam packed with crack offenders while cocaine still runs like water on Wall Street and at ABA meetings for all to see.

While large US based banks, brokerage houses and multinational corporations have conspired with various criminal cartels across the world to launder money, skirt regulations and shun reporting requirements, under Obama, when uncovered, most have simply entered into civil consent decrees with large cash settlements and little more. Can it be that fines alone, even massive ones, can still buy justice in this day and age by those who can afford it? Indeed, just ask the corporate officers who approved of these billion dollar thefts and, when uncovered, agreed to hefty DOJ cash settlements, thereby ensuring no personal criminal liability for themselves. Be assured, ultimately, the decision to sue and not slam these starched white-collar titans came not from the office of some Assistant US Attorney, but directly from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Meanwhile so-called hackers have been targeted with a political vengeance from an administration that punishes whistle blowers whenever it has found itself to be embarrassed by leaks of dirty deeds that makes the infamous Watergate break in and cover-up look like a dime store heist. At days end, under the discretionary authority of the president and his DOJ appointees, those who expose this government’s wrong-doing get jailed for years, while those who perform it spend their weekends at the shore, sending campaign contributions to both political parties.

Indeed, no where is the executive’s authority over who to prosecute, and to what end, more painfully clear than in a host of so-called National Security investigations and prosecutions carried out under the Obama watch. Thus, while General Petraeus, the former commanding officer of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and former Director of the CIA, lied to federal officers (a felony) after releasing a treasure trove of the most sensitive of national security documents to his lover (also a felony), he received but a misdemeanor conviction, limited probation and some community service. Apparently, the Department of Justice was moved largely because it was not the specific intent of Petraeus to harm the United States, but simply – to get laid. Meanwhile, whistle blowers such as Chelsea Manning and ex- CIA Agent John Kiriakou, who released publicly far less sensitive materials than Petraeus, and did so only to bring illegal government practices to the light of day, received sentences of years in jail- in the case of Manning 35 years. Predictable, unlike Petraeus, their defense, namely, “I did not intend to harm the US by my acts” fell on deaf ears in the White House and at Justice Main. Although not yet arrested, Edward Snowden’s plea that his release of the largest illegal government surveillance program in US history was an act born of patriotism, and not treason, has likewise failed- he too faces decades in prison should he be arrested, even though the courts, Congress and, begrudgingly, the President himself, have since found or acknowledged that the subject matter of the Snowden leak clearly violated the law.

While political priorities during Obama’s presidency remain very much the prosecutorial fuel that drives the DOJ machinery in selecting who to prosecute, and who to leave alone, net result concerns at DOJ do grave damage to the cornerstones of our criminal justice system- a balanced adversarial system which, among other things, provides for the right to a jury trial and to confront witnesses. As a result, unwarranted dispositions are often reached with people sent to prison for many years through desperate guilty pleas to avoid the possibility of even greater sentences should they go to trial and lose. To fully comprehend these factors is to understand that the 90 per cent guilty plea rate for the DOJ is not a good thing at all, or even indicative of success, let alone actual guilt as charged. Simply put, under the watchful and approving eyes of White House policy makers, the DOJ today continues to exercise arbitrary, overwhelming power to deter trials, induce guilty pleas and craft draconian sentences where few are necessary, even less, justified. The DOJ rise to often untempered and destructive power is not hard to track.

Breaking with settled history, in 1987 U.S. District Court judges were essentially stripped of their almost limitless discretion to impose sentences based upon the given facts and circumstances of a particular case and the accused- be it by plea or after trial. At the same time, parole in the federal system was abolished thereby further diminishing the sentencing and real time discretion previously available to federal courts and prison administrators.

Until several, relatively recent, landmark Supreme Court cases, since 1987 federal judges nominated by the President and approved by the Senate were reduced to little more than numbers crunchers forced to impose sentences not because they were just or necessary, but because they were mandated by artificial sentence guidelines that essentially treated all cases and all accused alike. With a dramatic and dangerous shift in the scales of justice, overnight, prosecutors often with little experience of their own in the ways of the world, let alone criminal justice, suddenly became empowered in ways previously unknown. Armed with little more than a guideline book and sentencing chart, Assistant U.S. Attorneys became empowered to dictate the outcome of most criminal cases through their ability to coerce excessive pleas, with mandated prison time, and promote enhancements that can be used as “relevant conduct” at the time of sentence. As a result, for for many years now punishment has essentially been meted out not by a court based upon its own independent view as to what would be a just and reasonable sentence under all of the attendant circumstances, but rather, prosecutors and capricious guideline considerations mostly under the unilateral control of the government.

Under the sentencing changes in 1987 came new, sweeping discretion for prosecutors to manipulate the adversarial system in dangerous coercive ways previously unknown or rarely used. Indeed, a criminal justice system long anchored on negotiated pleas and trials that permitted both sides to make their pitch to a neutral judge responsible for the imposition of just and reasonable sentences once guilt has been established, became one where prosecutors could craft and coerce a particular plea to control the sentences ultimately meted out by courts who were suddenly reduced to little more than rubber stamps. Even with recent changes in the sentencing scheme, judges across the country can still be heard to complain that they have no choice but to impose sentences even when and where they disagree with the mandated outcome.

Indeed, over the years, punishment long vested solely in the hands of the court, has increased dramatically through new mandated minimum sentences which can often move prison exposure from just several years, if that, to decades behind bars. Required upward adjustments (sentence increases) based upon one’s criminal history score — even for old and relatively minor offenses — have further tied the court’s hands when it comes to its once independent responsibility to see that justice be done. For the recalcitrant target who demands her full day in court, including a trial by jury, vindictive prosecutors have learned to up the anti by over-charging cases and obtaining new indictments on the eve of trial with, still yet, even higher mandatory minimum sentences that can kick in upon conviction.  Not ones to blush at their own creative use of legal extortion, federal prosecutors have learned to threaten to file charges against marginally involved loved ones of those who refuse to plead guilty and to add restitution and or forfeiture counts – that they would otherwise overlook – if one goes to trial.  Those additional sanctions can often bankrupt an accused and his family for the rest of their lives and leave their families destitute while a loved one spends years behind bars for non-violent offences.  Finally stands the ominous “relevant conduct” hammer, always lurking not too far off in a federal prosecutor’s arsenal of cruel and unusual punishment.  Under relevant conduct provisions, prison time can be further increased and dramatically so at the time of a sentence, not by allegations proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, or even acknowledged by an accused at the time of a given plea, but rather by the court alone which can find uncharged “related” misconduct to be credible. Under these circumstances years of imprisonment can be added to a given sentence on little more than unchallenged hearsay and rank rumor and by merely a preponderance of the evidence.

Prosecutorial abuse rings certain in the caseload of experienced criminal defense attorneys from coast to coat. Indeed, federal prisons remained packed with tens of thousands victimized by a system that is unduly weighted for the government, built on the back of coerced pleas with mandatory minimum sentences designed to deter the exercise of one’s right to a trial by jury. It’s all about a body count for federal prosecutors, and today their cemetery is overflowing.

Ultimately, that cemetery flies the flag of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So Mr. President, the next time you plan a trip to a prison down South and a chance to embrace a lost life buried deep in one of your prisons for a photo op, and little else, on your way there, stop in at your Department of Justice and have a few words with your Attorney general about, pain, suffering and redemption. Thank you Mr. President, we have had quite enough speeches from on high about overflowing prisons. Stop it, now. You, and you alone, can and must do it.

It Ain’t Vigilantism

Organized Hate
Organized Hate

With predictable excuse, Zionists everywhere including Israeli political, religious and government leaders have once again raced to distance themselves from the most recent deadly expression of settler hatred- this time it was the fire bombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank in which an 18 month old child burned to death while committing the terrorist act of dreaming. His more “fortunate” parents and 4 year old brother were left in critical condition with third degree burns over most of their bodies, charred not just by the flame of the Molotov cocktails, but the hatred that is Israel.

In the hours following this latest savage attack, Israelis and Jewish supporters worldwide raced to distance themselves from what is very much the criminal norm of the settler movement that they have empowered not just in the West Bank, but everywhere within the Zionist community- a community where blind obedience to a state built upon genocide, apartheid, collective punishment and ethnic cleansing represents the express will of most Israelis today. To suggest that such policies occur without the manifest support of a racist state and it’s people is to close your eyes to an unbroken official state policy to target and extinguish the human and civil rights of all Palestinians these past seven decades.

Almost immediately after the fire bombing, across the airways could be heard the denunciations from the same Israeli and Zionist leaders that have initiated and applauded attacks against Palestinian men, women and children for 67 years in a land that they have stolen, against a people they have murdered and a religion that they have vilified, beginning well before the staged UN vote of 1948 that brought the stamp of international terror to the peaceful land of Palestine, long before the West began to understand just how ugly that term could be.

Make no mistake about it, to describe this particular infanticide as but a despicable act by so-called “vigilantes” is to layer yet another round of alibis to defend the indefensible. After all, this act was not the product of a small group of rabid settlers. It was not an isolated act driven by aberrant behavior. It was not a spontaneous outburst by deranged Israelis. And it was not a predictable result of any “provocation” on the part of Palestinians who foolishly believe that they can still freely breathe their own air in their own nation. The days of blaming the all too convenient few, the vigilantes, for the disease that has long since infected the many, is a time tested and failed experiment at preventing the truth from breaking through the thick, dark haze of Zionist propaganda. Those days are gone, at least among those who possess a commitment to the ring of truth and the shine of justice.

Despite the professed rationale for the Zionist land grab in Palestine as a necessary, but unfortunate precursor to a just democratic state for all, Israel, as an enlightened experiment, failed long ago. Indeed, from its earliest beginning, it never passed the smell test- at least not to a million or more Palestinians who overnight became stateless refugees fleeing their burning homeland in the wake of Zionist atrocities that ranged from the murder of many thousands, to the rape of hundreds, to the destruction of as many villages and orchards that had peacefully dotted the Palestinian landscape for time immemorial. From the very first day, Zionists have never balked at the use of rank terrorism to spread their deadly criminal reach. The most recent settler attack– one of hundreds this year alone– is but a continuation of the same government practices in which defenseless civilians lose their lives, homes and land as so much the cost of being Palestinian and little else.

Indeed, one cannot walk down the pathway of the Zionist history in Palestine without encountering yet another of its brazen atrocities. While the massacre at Deir Yassin, the destruction of Jenin, and the slaughter of many thousands of civilians in Gaza, are but a few of the numerous deadly attacks now well known to the outside world, every day in countless ways Palestinians are victimized in their own land by repeated acts of institutional discrimination and brutality carried out under a long illegal occupation.

Today, all Israelis are very much complicit in a society driven by hatred; one fueled by religious and cultural superiority with notions of racial supremacy unknown since the 1930’s when yellow stars of David were very much the precursor to the pass card and travel system imposed today upon all Palestinians who live within the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. The hatred that is Israel is by no means aberrant or isolated. It permeates the marrow of it’s state. It corrupts each of it’s institutions and informs every single act of it’s government, whether carried out in occupied Nablus or Rafah, or Tel Aviv itself. To say that most every soldier, police officer, agency, court, political and religious leader views all Palestinians as without human rights- indeed, less than human, fairly well describes a fractured society capable of excusing the most despicable of acts always carried out under the false guise of self-defense and always directed at Palestinians.

Indeed, hatred and religious superiority have infected every aspect of Israeli life from it’s politicians who win votes on the back of calls for more genocide and less justice, to its transport workers who regale in throwing Palestinians off public buses, to their hospitals and schools which refuse Palestinians necessary medical treatment or education, to isolated villages where murderous settlers, under the protective eyes of the IOF, rampage daily against Palestinian families doing nothing more than daring to go out doors in their own communities.

The hatred is not by accident. It’s promoted in Israeli schools, supported by most religious leaders and wildly ratified in Israeli media circles. It’s crafted, embraced and implemented by generation after generation of Zionists who no longer feel compelled to couch their hatred in soft tones but rather, with almost perverse pride, raise their voices with each passing election to demand that their government inflict more and more harm upon millions of defenseless human beings. The constant drumbeat of anti-Palestinian rhetoric and violence is endemic to an Israeli society which seemingly thrives on Palestinian pain and suffering but yet attempts to distance itself from individual personal responsibility for the very crimes carried out in it’s name. Was it so long ago that the defenses of “I didn’t know” or that “I was just doing my job” were soundly rejected by international law at the Nuremberg Tribunals following World War II ?

To be sure, the next time a Palestinian woman is sexually harassed at a checkpoint by a California surfer in an Israeli uniform it’s not his grope alone violating someone’s daughter, mother, sister or wife, but rather that of every Israeli. When a Palestinian father is bullied into silence in the presence of his family, lest he be disappeared at a so-called security zone, it’s not just a Russian Zionist enjoying the abuse of his brute power, but that of all Israelis for whom he speaks. When Al Aqsa is closed for prayers to all Palestinians under age 60, the barricades are controlled not by a handful of JSIL security personnel, but by millions of Israeli Jews who remain silent in the midst of systemic religious persecution of millions of Muslims who seek nothing more than to practice their faith. When an Israeli import agent born in Brooklyn stops 30 truck loads of critically needed foodstuffs from entering Gaza lest the daily caloric intake there increase from one-thousand per day per person, these are not her dietary restrictions, but those imposed by the will of the entire Zionist state. Though out of sight, out of mind, may provide some degree of comfort, the switch that dropped a three ton bomb on a civilian home murdering 90 unarmed men, women and children in Gaza was not pulled by a single pilot, but by all Israelis that acquiesced to this war crime and to the many others before and since.

Ultimately, every Israeli and their myopic supporters worldwide, are responsible for the murder of 18 month old Ali Dawabsha. If history is to be a guide, then it must be said that blood drips from the hands of all Israelis for this murder and the many others that preceded it. Under international law, wherever persons accept, indeed encourage, a culture of hatred and violence in which people are targeted on the basis of race or religion– whether called for by their leaders, or carried out by their military or next door neighbors– collective national responsibility ensues. To distinguish the Israeli genocide of Palestinians from that of the many other dark stains upon history whether it be by the Hutu in Rwanda, the Boers in South Africa, or the Nazis of Germany on the grounds of a body count alone, is to beg the issue of the day; indeed every day in Palestine since 1948. Under international law, genocide does not require the murder of millions: it is the “deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion or race.” Can anyone reasonably deny that this legal definition first announced and applied by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg to prosecute leaders of the Nazi regime for inhumane acts committed against Jews and others for acts of persecution on political, racial or religious grounds, does not find a neat fit today for the actions of Israel against Palestinians?

The match lighting the Molotov cocktails which murdered Ali Dawabsha was not ignited by two lone masked vigilantes operating of their own volition under cover of darkness, not in a country where repeated acts of widespread genocide and ethnic cleansing bring a smile to the face of millions of Zionists who shout out for more and more and more . . .

Tragically, the horrors suffered by Jews as victims of an earlier genocide have apparently been forgotten by Zionists who have since become world class victimizers themselves.

Eulogy for Said

Dear Said:

So I raced to my email yesterday and then again early this morning hoping to find one last message from you dear brother, at least from this world. You know, the one that said it was going to be all right. That shit happens. That you just had to leave. To move on. That the door was closing-faster than you thought. That your time was now. That you were ready for the journey, not afraid of it. That you were eternity bound.

I stared and stared and stared at the screen but it just wasn’t there. It seems very much like the way of life. To find love and lose it. To grow comfortable with its reach and then to find it stretch just far enough beyond your touch that it slips away. It’s just so short, so fast- too fast. And tears never repair the pain, they just allow you to yell out with less silence.

Over these final months ours was a steady flow of letters and, when you could no longer write, emails till the very end. You honored me. You gave me the courage and strength and heart to go on in so many ways. You were my hero and will always be my inspiration- the face behind the voice of humanity. Some things just don’t change. Even with illness and time slipping away, the great remain so, as they race to give more and more to others. It’s nature’s way of smiling, of gifting the wisdom and courage of those few who stare out into the darkness with no fear for themselves, only concern for those they love and who love them back. In the midst of your great pain you found a way to make me and so many others, near and far, smile. It’s all about giving, Said, and you were the grand master from whom we learned much about dignity and grace and life- even as your own ran down.

I remember in one of our last chats, I was very down. With your gift to look beyond mere words and to touch the author, you sensed it, and soon brought a smile to my face. Few have it, fewer appreciate it, even less understand it. Its a blessing, one that only the truly blessed have. You did. While many have chased power and self-interest, to you, this journey has always been but a precious loan of life, just a speck in eternity’s travel, a brief moment to make a difference- a rare grant of beauty and love unconnected to anything else but your own heart. To the very end, your’s was the heart large enough to beat for the millions who face each day with fear and uncertainty. How many times did I hear you say it’s for them that we breathe.

Last night I looked through what is now to me a shrine of your final letters. Expecting to sob all the while, I soon found myself laughing with the subtle way within each that you “suggested” I slow down, to breathe in and out before racing on. I’m sure you got a kick out of being the passing voice of reason telling the roar to tread ever so lightly- I did. Your message that you hoped that your beloved son Ramez, in whom you’ve had such enormous pride, and I would meet some day so that “he might influence me to be less angry, lol, made my night.

Though wracked with pain, you never failed to remind us that this journey of ours was not one of promise or entitlement but the pursuit of justice and love- love for people and principles and moments of peace. How many times did you say that we have to find this thing called decency and grab it, hold it close to our souls and rejoice in it- that nothing else mattered. Faith, you said, was blind, just so much hope and little more, and all too fleeting. To you, the journey was all about love- love for family and friends, the world’s creatures, our collective hopes and dreams, in all their splendor. To you the “impossible” is just so much a test of our commitment to one another. On that test none have ever scored higher than you.

Although yours was a voice that weighed in on the great debates of our time, you cared no less about the little things, the small steps that can elevate a leap of faith to real time legend. You were that and so much more Said. One minute you would roar out about injustice and suffering in Palestine and take to the barricades, the next race home in the quiet moment of your beauty to massage the belly of your beloved Simba until, with paws reaching sky high, he fell asleep- always of course rubbing up against you. I will never forget our final walks down memory lane together, the very path that you and your life-long love Ariane had taken long before. A candlelight dinner, a glass of wine, a moonlight glance, warm words exchanged- for you, these moments remained the essence of your life together with a glow that carried you to its very end. When you told me that your love for Ariane was one for the ages, I finally understood what heaven on earth could be. How right you were. Hers were the shoulders upon which your sun rose and set from the first day you met, until your final moonlit night among us.

Right now part of me hurts so bad and the other just wants to surrender. They both want to find a dark and soft place and just lie down and cry until I have run out of tears, with my eyes aching and my heart broken. Not to worry, brother, I won’t. ‘Til the very end you reminded me by word and deed that each of us must go on despite our pain with our commitment to justice until our own final smile- that others in need are waiting. It’s what you did your entire journey and will do forever more as eternity opens her warm embrace to you.

Said, only now have I come to grips with the fact that you’ve moved on. Until my own last breathe, I will not forget that you and I shared your final journey together, closer than brothers born of the same mother. Your passing cannot be measured in mere words or tears. None can describe your beauty, and our loss is beyond the sadness that is the sob of our eyes. I cannot believe that our time together is done- I promise, it’s not. Not long before you passed, in what was to be your final message to me, your wrote with the beauty that was yours:

” We live, we fight, we love, but we never die. Because we live on through the hearts of those we loved and who loved us back.”

I love you.

Up the Rebels.

said el said

He isn’t dead…he’s just moved on

owen paypal14

I have been truly blessed to know and love many great people of all ages, stature and beliefs from all over the world. At this point, but for one, their names or what they’ve done matters little. What does matter is that this community of ours shares a common bond, a belief that together we can and will make a difference. That we can change this world; that we are fellow travelers in a struggle to make this thing called humanity kinder, warmer, more humane- a community built on shared values, purpose and principle not greed or surrender to power. Today, I learned our community has lost one of its giants, far too soon.

Dennis “Owen” Collins has passed, but not died. Like Joe Hill, he lives on eternal wherever women and men of principle and vision dare to struggle, dare to win. Dennis has not left us, he’s just moved on to another fight in a different place with other folks. I envy those that are now walking with him at their side. They are now so much more fortunate than us.

I first met Dennis about three and a half years ago in Northern California when the Pay Pal 14 appeared together in a federal courtroom to answer charges that this collective of wonderful women and men had not forgotten the lesson of those who protested by sitting in at racist counters in the deep South of this country a half century earlier. To the Pay Pal 14, it was clear that association, speech, protest and yes even a Ddos action was so much more important, indeed necessary, than the unchecked economic privilege and power that is today the multinational corporate and surveillance culture that we have become. It was my honor to be one of the Pay Pal 14 attorneys. For more than three years I looked forward to the frequent red-eye flights to and from California. It was empowering, to say the least, to stand with mostly youthful resisters from all over the United States who refused to go silently unto the night. Although those charged were not required to attend most court proceedings, those that did always recharged my batteries with their smiles, determination and self sacrifice. Collective political defenses are not easy, especially ones with 14 indefatigable voices and 20 some odd lawyers, as our beauty lies not in our many similarities but our principled differences. Needless to say, in the best of times there were differences, even dramatic ones, within our defense. Whenever we knew that disagreement was sure to boil over at an upcoming court appearance, a call was made to Dennis. Though broke, and ill, he would find a way to muster the strength and appear in court. Whenever he arrived, we lawyers would find our own way to disappear during breaks in the proceedings as the “14” would gather just among themselves to debate their dissidence, always under the determined and vigilant leadership of Dennis. Somehow when the collective returned they spoke with a unanimous focused voice. We knew.

Dennis Owen Collins was my client, more important, he was my friend, a truly remarkable, caring, and giving man who never said what he wanted but was always first in helping others to obtain what they needed. When Israel said no to an embattled Gaza, and shut down its access to cyberspace at a pre-announced time, I suspect Dennis said yes- almost miraculously, it returned a minute or so later and remained on – enough said. It wasn’t the first or the last time that he was to help embattled people to resist and did so in creative ways, and did so anonymously :)))))

Dennis made the connections between oppression overseas and that at home. He understood that oppression of one was oppression of all. He knew that the struggle in Gaza was cousin to the struggle in lower Manhattan when Wall Street and later a hundred other places were occupied, as so much inspiration to those who resist worldwide. He saw the connection between corporate violence and that of the police in urban America. Wherever people suffered from isolation, despair, and occupation of the body or the mind, Dennis threw caution to the wind and jumped to their aid. He knew that to be silent was to be complicit. Although ill these last few years, he always had the strength and determination to stand up and be counted. He very clearly understood that our time in this thing called life begins to end from our very first breath. He knew that life is precious, and every moment of it committed to resistance, a gift; that we could, can and must make a difference and set about to do just that. Dennis never waived a flag, sang a pledge or flashed a passport. To him. they were little more than ugly nationalist boundaries created to divide us. Dennis was the internationalist shout in the night that could be heard screaming out ” shit, this is wrong ” and set about to right it!

If someone stopped Dennis on the street to ask him for five bucks and he had but four, he would go and borrow a dollar and give the five to the stranger. Of course, that night, with a shrug he would have to walk home three miles in the pouring rain, ill all the way, because he had no money left for a bus. That’s the kind of guy Dennis was.

Love means many things to many people. To some, it’s that warm intimate embrace. To others, the spark in your mind’s eye that glows when a name is heard, a moment recalled. To Dennis, who knew both, it was also the race to the barricades to right a wrong and do so in a way that no longer requires us to leave our home to weigh in. After all, we live today in an age where the pen or the keyboard is indeed so much mightier than the sword. Dennis understood that better than most and, above all others I knew, was the first to speed to his lap top so that he could roar out, usually anonymously- though folks who knew, knew.

When the history of resistance is written, the name of Dennis Owen Collins will resonate with the echo of the greatness, kindness, and love that was his to all people, in all places, at all times.

The last time I saw Dennis, he and I sat outside the courthouse in California in a peaceful sunlit day knowing full well we would likely not touch each other again, at least not in this lifetime. I was on my way to prison- he his final battle in this world. We spoke of struggle, resistance, and sacrifice. To talk to Dennis was to move from the stage of international geopolitical struggle to a technical cyberspace lesson in how to create a new alternative means of confronting the beast. As if yesterday, I remember him sitting on the courthouse bench that day talking about finding creative, daring ways that gave people hope and comfort that they were not alone even in the loneliest or darkest of times.

Dennis never feared prison: to him, like death, it was just so much a step in a journey of life that gave meaning to its existence. Just before coming to prison myself, I received an unsigned cryptic message from Dennis. I didn’t need a signature – I knew its author, it was an anonymous smile, the kind that said thanks and hurry back we will be waiting for you.

Dennis understood that resistance has its price- justice and liberty never becomes cheap. He understood that evil people, indeed evil governments, do evil things. He knew that all too well, being indicted not once but twice on both the West and East coasts of this country for largely the same conduct which occurred at essentially the same time. It was so much about wearing him down- it always is. Even though sick, it did not. I understand that with his dying breath he was hard at work with his lap top open, his keyboard rocking and his resistance grinning.

Just a few days ago Dennis sent his regards to me through some mutual friends. I sent mine back. There wasn’t much more to be said between us at the time. There was no need. Our respect and love for one another was one of those things that just was. Having fought the good fight together, we were past the point of words. In retrospect, it may very well have been his way of saying it was time for him to move on.

It’s often tough to sleep in prison. Surrounded by a 120 men all wracked with pain and despair with the ever-present stench of untreated illness and institutional brutality, you are far away from those you love- more important, from those who love you. It’s a place and time that daily challenges every kernel of your life, your beliefs, your hopes, no matter who you are or how strong you may be.

I finally fell asleep last night after tossing and turning for what seemed like hours. Not long thereafter I was suddenly awakened by what struck me as so much an odd burst of sunshine- though outside it remained still dark and dreary. Now wide awake and staring up at the cracked metal bottom of the bunk above that is my night-time sky, it dawned on me that Dennis had come to say his final goodbye in his own personal way. Although I had struggled throughout the day with this ode to my friend, suddenly I recalled the first few times that we had met. I smiled. On the first occasion, not long after the Pay Pal 14 and their lawyers including me had entered the courtroom in Northern California, the web site and a separate case information system (ECF) of its parent Court of Appeals, inexplicably went dark. As the last of us left the courthouse several hours later, almost magically, both systems returned. At our next group appearance a month or so later, literally as the last of us entered the same courtroom, all the bells, whistles, lights and alarms went on and off throughout the courthouse forcing a mass evacuation of the building. Milling around outside among ourselves, Dennis and I were cracking jokes with our normal degree of healthy sarcasm when I was approached by the Chief U.S. Marshal. Asking to speak with me alone, I joined the marshal but a few feet a way; in a very soft tone he quipped “counsel, please tell your clients enough is enough.” :))) Surely these unnatural but almost predictable events can, with the passage of time, become the stuff of urban legend- not here, they both happened.

Towards the end of the Pay Pal 14 case I found myself alone at a table with Dennis at our adopted local watering hole where all the Pay Pal 14 and counsel would descend after a long day in court to have some laughs and liquid relief. As we sat reminiscing about the days in and out of court that were very much a roadmap for a successful political defense of very political people, my discussion with Dennis turned to these two events in which seemingly the gods of cyberspace had intervened almost as if to let us know it would be all right.

Dennis simply said “shit happens” as he grinned from ear to ear and finished his beer. Yes, Dennis, shit does happen. I will miss you terribly my dear friend. We all will.

Someone I care very deeply about in Gaza recently sent me a message: ” we live, we fight, we love, but we never die.” Though she’s never met or heard of Dennis Owen Collins, she must have had him in mind when she wrote these beautiful words.

We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget.

“We Wanted Coltrane – We Got Kenny G With a Tan” Dr. Cornell West

MemeCenter_1425763481516_649                                                                               click pic to enlarge

The late great community organizer and Martin Luther King advisor, Saul Alinsky, once quipped that the definition of a liberal is one who with righteous indignation stomps his foot down in thin air. He must have had Barak Obama in mind.

To Alinsky, like MLK, it was simply far too easy, if not meaningless, to weigh in against issues such as hunger, homelessness, and racism without tearing down the ugly institutional fabric and priorities that make these American mainstays very much a part of its crafted and accepted landscape.

Today, Alinsky and King must be growling as they watch the likes of governors, senators and Barak Obama fall all over each other in their race to win empty moral points and votes by tearing down the confederate flag, the rebel “stars and bars,” from government buildings all over the South in this readily transparent, cheap answer to the still breathing institutional reach of “badges and incidents of slavery.”

Slavery was more than the purchase and trade of human beings as so much chattel to feed the economic machinery of Southern white elite- it was a then statement of lawful institutional power, indeed absolute control, over the life and death of millions of people of color controlling every aspect of their existence, day in and out, from the cradle to the grave. No aspect of the slave experience in America was then the lawful province of a black man or woman: not their choice to come to America; who to partner with; whether to have children and what was to become of them; which religion, if any, to observe; what education to pursue; where to reside; what to own or sell; what to eat and when; where to travel and, of course, work; what to say or merely think out loud, to name but a few of the many essential aspects of life and individual freedom that we take for granted. Some things just don’t change.

The machinery of state that brought us slavery hundreds of years ago has never disappeared-it’s just been reconfigured, prettied up, so to speak. Today, wrapped in a new suit of red, white and blue and fueled by trite football stadium pledges, it perpetuates the same institutional control and misery over the lives of millions of people of color throughout the United States just as it first reigned supreme in the South 350 years ago and has continued unabated through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, ” separate but equal,” and the era of civil rights legislation and activism. It continues today, indeed rests comfortably, at the front door of the White House that serves as home to it’s first African American tenant.

Although the purchase of human beings is now illegal in the U.S., practically speaking, government ownership of human and political rights, aspirations and opportunity based upon color, class, and politics remains today every bit as routine and acceptable as it was in South Carolina 150 years ago. Some things just don’t change.

Today, the howl of the pandering political chorus is just so much noise. Although some elected officials may actually be willing to challenge the racist institutional beast in this country, in reality very little can be done by them in confronting the ugliness of its marrow- now in its third century. Of course, a representative can change a state flag, or allocate funds for revitalizing urban infrastructure, or truly end red-lining in the housing market. None, however, has the power of a willing President who from his bully-pulpit built on executive power can make meaningful changes like no other. Ask Lincoln or LBJ- a Southern president who broke the back of Jim Crow.

Barak Obama is a remarkable speaker, certainly among the most gifted and charismatic orators the White House has ever known. A week ago in a packed arena in downtown Charleston, he gave the eulogy at the funeral of nine African Americans of all ages and backgrounds who were murdered, apparently by a crazed 21 year old fueled by the seductive appeal of white supremacy and the stench of nationalism- of course armed with his Second Amendment rights. There Obama spoke with dramatic thunder from on high perched on a mountain top that he has never had to personally climb, let alone cared to traverse. Obama’s career is indeed a remarkable one built from his earliest days as a “community organizer” who helped evict poor and working class black families from inner city brownstones to make way for church sponsored development projects that would improve the plight of upper-middle class blacks.

In eulogizing Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the historic black church where the mayhem took place, the President praised his lifetime commitment to truth and applauded him for exposing and confronting the poison that is racism. In particular, the President noted that Pinckney felt ” strongly about equal justice, economic fairness, and universal access to healthcare and education.” Where have we heard these words before? Is this the same Obama who in his first run for president threw his African American pastor of 20 years, Rev. Wright, under the electoral college bus because of his similar, but then, ” intemperate” and “radical” sermons about two Americas- one white, the other black? What was there about Wright’s peaceful and consistent lifetime call to arms and struggle to confront the ugly pervasive reach of structural racism in this country that rendered his word “divisive,” but now, praiseworthy from Pinckney? How is Obama’s call for a “reckoning on race” any different today than Rev. Wright’s powerful and principled challenge to modern day slavery, found to be so offensive to Obama seemingly just yesterday? What has changed in this relatively short time since then candidate Obama banished Rev.Wright from the moral pulpit preaching out against racism and it’s deadly reach other than the President is now so much a lame duck preparing not for another term, but for the road and its speaking circuit that, like Bill Clinton, will earn him hundreds of millions of dollars in engagements. Can it be that as ex-president Obama will seek to promote himself as so much the traveling moral voice of justice and equality which he so carefully promoted throughout his lifetime campaigns for higher and higher office but, in practice, artfully avoided like the plague in his political life- be it on a local, state or national level?

Obama’s description of the confederate flag as a terrible legacy, a continuing symbol of “systematic oppression and racial subjugation” while apt was still yet another example of his Mandrake-like ability to exalt form over substance and in so doing make his apologists smile and feel warm and hopeful while he waves his magic wand. At days end, that flag, like the stars and stripes (indeed, like all flags) are so much about PR and little else- a chant, a promise, a feel-good moment to cover over the despair of the many for whom a flag has never meant solace or justice. Whether in the days of de jure slavery or the de facto institution of today, neither flag has spoken with honesty and truth about the many Americas that are this country: one white, one of color; one rich, one poor; one privileged, one powerless; one trapped by poverty, and the other which exploits it. Flags are mere symbols. Words verbal gestures. Nothing speaks louder than deeds – taking daring steps at the risk of personal pain and political failure in pursuit of essential, fundamental and necessary changes to a country stolen from Indians, built by slaves and now occupied by the sons and daughters of immigrants.

Obama is right: to remove the confederate stars and bars as a symbol of racial supremacy is “one step in an honest accounting” in American History. However, taking down that flag or raising the stars and stripes does not mean a draw-down is near to the police murders of young black men throughout this country that have become very much endemic to this administration’s reign. Nor does it mean an end to the destructive and record imprisonment of women and men of color that this administration continues to set each year under the watchful eyes of a black president and the obedient ones of his black Attorney General and black Director of the Bureau of Prisons. Ultimately, racial oppression is just that whether carried out under the watch of a black man or white woman.

No, Mr. President, it is not enough that we stop using the word nigger or demand that Jamal get a second call-back for a job interview the same way that Johnny does, not when your prisons are bursting at the seams with people of color imprisoned mostly for non-violent and complaintless drug offenses. And what of Tarik and Rula and Juan and Running Bear . . . Words about breaking down the historical walls of racial divide may be soothing and can surely inspire, but your administration has erected more walls of poverty, despair and rampant police violence in inner city communities across this country than George Bush and his likes ever dreamed of.

Just ask the millions of people of color who have been racially profiled, harassed and arrested throughout the United States these last seven years because of increased Obama funding of police departments- who see the so-called stop and frisk programs as an effective way in which to control inner cities at the expense of the constitutional rights and and personal dignity of those who live or are trapped there on the basis of race and class and little else. And what of the billons spent by this administration, essentially militarizing the same police with advanced high-tech weaponry, vehicles and military style uniforms that not only remind us of images from Middle East war zones, but embolden them to act not just as protectors of our laws but, rather, as soldiers in life and death combat, with every person of color that they encounter on our streets
considered to be suspicious or an enemy. Indeed, the massive proliferation of so-called JTTF’s (Joint Terrorist task Forces) from coast to coast from large cities to small has turned thousands of once traffic-cops into “special intelligence” agents with no particular intelligence or specialized training at that.

Indeed, the list of broken domestic dreams and lost opportunities runs on and on under an administration that was swept to power on the back of charisma and bold promises to make the kinds of essential structural changes necessary to remove race, class, and politics as a stepping stone for the “American dream.” With two terms of school and hospital closings, decaying infrastructure, soaring college costs in the face of lost scholarships and college loans, and meaningful employment opportunities largely limited to the sons and daughters of the white classes, Obama’s rhetoric has proven to be just that and little more.

Poetry can make people smile. The truth however can and should make us weep that the color of one’s skin remains more important today than the content of their character more than 50 years after Martin Luther King’s famous dream.

Now midway through our second continuous decade of war, expanding week by week in ferocity and venues, Barak Obama, our Nobel laureate of peace, has proven to be every bit as violent and deadly as George Bush when it comes to the murder of people of color abroad. The road map of peace is after-all covered with the bodies of thousands of civilians whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, armed with the name Mohammed, praying five times a day instead of once per week, when the killer drones struck. Can it be a stretch to argue that the foreign policies of this administration which include extrajudicial assassinations of U.S. citizens, race and religious based rhetoric and attacks, and which convert all “enemies”– real and imagined– into terrorists along with the militarization of our police, has helped to foster a domestic environment of fear and hatred in which madness seems not just possible but, to the disturbed among us, acceptable- indeed, noble? In these past seven years how many hundreds of our young and old of all color have been lost in schools, churches and workplaces to the mindless rage of rhetoric and a deranged call to arms?

To sermonize from on high about lofty goals, but yet, calculate them in terms of little more than votes and not in human costs with a face is the hallmark of a fraud; a label well-worn by Obama, and most of his predecessors. It is simply not enough to roar with the heart of a lion unless you have the soul of a sage and the integrity of a visionary. History will show that Barak Obama was little more than a gifted speech maker who froze when confronting the living reality of racism and the innate disease that is it’s public face and continuing reach.

Prison

Here, the beat of time
a darkened broken rhyme.
Night in night out
life’s cadence, pained-a quiet shout.
Tears can’t fall hind rows of wired wall
lives frozen . . . a timeless crawl.

Broken, wasted, lost-
boundless senseless cost.
Endless gnawing pain
it’s cadence matched by thin hope’s drain.

Tattered, torn so much the journey’s pawn.
Days come . . . they go.
Tick by tick the clock moves
yet so slow.
Too numb, too bleak to care
if hope is ever near.

It’s not.
Can this be but hell’s searing lot ?

The Persecution of Ahmed Mansour

Several days ago Germany rejected a request by the Egyptian government to extradite famed Al Jazeera anchor Ahmed Mansour for imprisonment for 15 years following his “trial” and conviction in absentia. Germany’s decision to break with fairly settled international law speaks volumes about the nightmare that has become Egypt, a now rogue state with a corrupt judiciary owned by a despot who looks upon human rights, free speech and association as little more than mere impediments as he accumulates more and more personal power and control in the largest and oldest continuing Arab state.

I know Ahmed Mansour very well and have for a long time. We have been close friends for about a decade. I have appeared on his wildly popular internationally acclaimed one-on-one television show “Open Borders” three times- in Doha, Beirut and Cairo. Last year, I was to make a fourth appearance on his show in London to discuss the complaint that I filed with a group of other international human rights lawyers against Egypt in the African Union for its arbitrary and criminal closing of the Rafah border crossing to refugees, relief workers and humanitarian aid during Israel’s most recent illegal onslaught on Gaza. However, I could not appear because of my ill fated efforts to negotiate the release of American hostage Abdul Rahman Kassig- who was subsequently executed by ISIS.

Erudite, forceful and contentious himself, Ahmed does not suffer fools lightly. His shows are anything but the typical main stream media sound-bite or institutional puff pieces. He asks tough questions about timely, explosive issues of often controversial guests. To spend an hour and a half with Ahmed live in front of an audience of millions is not easy- he is extraordinarily smart, prepared to the smallest of points and routinely asks questions of his guests very much on the minds of his engaged audience, but not at all the irrelevant ones that the power brokers want asked let alone answered. Ahmed is not a mouth piece. Party line is not his party- truth is. His shows touch the heart, soul and moods of the day to many in regions of the world where each moment itself breathes with the beat of the street and can suddenly become a profound issue of life and death with implications that extend far beyond the borders of the Middle East, the Gulf and Africa.

The shows that I appeared on fit that bill- they ranged from discussions about international law and human rights to national liberation movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah to the plight of various political refugees, to lawsuits that I and others had filed for war crimes and human rights abuses against repressive regimes such as Israel, the United Sates and Egypt. Although the suits in particular were and are (some still pend) highly technical, Ahmed welcomed the subtleties of the action and nuance of the proceedings and pursued them in a way which not only brought a face to the victims and their claims, but generated tremendous audience interest and on-air participation. Ahmed is very much the modern day pamphleteer who stands on the 21st century street corner and shouts out challenges to traditional notions in a way that leaves the listener educated and then free to draw his or her own conclusion about important people, places and events.

As if yesterday, I can remember well one occasion when I was in Cairo not long after Ahmed, an Egyptian himself, had done a show which called to task the brutal, indeed deadly Mubarak tyranny of some 40 years;  it was not the first time that he had done so. Not long after leaving the studio, he was viciously assaulted by a group of thugs who shouted out that it was retaliation for his anti-Mubarak sentiments. Fleeing from the assault, battered and bloodied, Ahmed returned to the studio interrupted the live on-air show and with blood streaming down his face told the world that he would not be silenced in speaking truth to power. Only then did he leave to receive badly needed medical attention.

Off air, over the years Ahmed and I have stayed in touch whether by emails and calls just to say hello and talk of personal matters or to discuss the political issues of the day. Whenever our schedules permit, we see each other usually in the Middle East and Gulf States. In fact, before travelling to the region, I always reach out to him to learn his own schedule before booking mine so that we can spend some time together, if at all possible.  Whether dining together, or going to a gallery opening, or having tea or simply walking through the streets of an age old Suq it is impossible to do so in anonymity with Ahmed –  he is a rock star of the Arab world with one of its most widely recognized face and trusted voice. Often, complete strangers will approach him on the street  to thank him for a show they had seen or to ask a question about its content or some other concern of the day.  Ahmed does not walk away from a casual street-side greeting or a chance restaurant encounter, even from a complete stranger, until after he has exchanged a warm and earnest thanks and answered any questions they might ask.

In the two years or so since the military coup in Egypt that overthrew Mohammed Morsi – the first freely and fairly elected Egyption President since Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956 – Abdel Fattah el- Sisi has made many yearn for the “softness and justice” that was anything but under the blood stained tyrant Hosni Mubarak. Reliable sources both within and outside of Egypt report that since the coup in excess of ten-thousand political opponents have been murdered by the Sisi junta with ten times as many injured, detained and tortured. Opposition political parties have been banned with their leaders tried for various forms of “treason”, typically pure speech and association and nothing more. University associations have been closed with fortunate student activists merely expelled from schools, not murdered or disappeared. Free speech and association, never more than a hushed secret meeting of one under Mubarak, is now fully criminalized with violators disappeared for their audacity to think and speak out loud. In a series of mock mass trials, thousands have been convicted of political offenses with many hundreds sentenced to death including deposed President Morsi. These judicial lynchings which typically run but a  few days from start to finish have been held behind closed doors or in crammed courts with few from the public permitted to attend. Like under Mubarak, hundreds of accused are tried at once with little or no access to counsel or a right to mount a defense. Kept in a mass cage built into the courtroom, the “witnesses” against them are little more than rank rumor, suspicion and association. Hundreds of others have been tried, convicted and sentenced, including some to death, in their absence and denied the most rudimentary of rights long recognized as essential to a fair trial under international law. Ahmed Mansour is one such victim.

Journalists have been particularly targeted under Sisi in his relentless witch-hunt against those who would challenge his autocratic and deadly will. Under his reign of terror, numerous newspapers, radio and TV networks have been closed or shows cancelled for nothing more than exposing and debating the Sisi policies in the light of day. While the staged case against  Al Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy,  Baher Mohammed and Peter Gerste convicted and jailed for “airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian National Security” is well known, the persecution against Ahmed Mansour has not generated as much public exposure until recent events in Germany.

Since the nightmare began, Ahmed Mansour has been consistent and principled in his public and professional opposition to the Sisi coup and the deadly, pervasive state of siege that has ensued. Unlike those who have sought personal safety in the quiet of their muted voice, Ahmed has roared wherever and whenever possible against the generals that once again control Egypt after the all too brief taste of freedom that followed the successful revolution against Hosni Mubarak.

Little is known about the charges brought against Ahmed by a special obedient state prosecutor other than he was accused of torturing a lawyer in Tahrir Square in the final days of the successful 2011 revolution against Mubarak and his military state. Interestingly, the accusations themselves were not pursued let alone filed against him until after the Sisi coup several years later. What is however now known is that the accusation points to deep irregularities in its “investigation” which not only ignored established criminal and judicial protocols and  procedures but was based upon nothing more than rumor, unreliable hearsay, and innuendo emanating from political sources and opponents who had long seen Ahmed as a voice to be silenced, and set about to do just that.

To know Ahmed is to know that the accusation is baseless. To follow Ahmed is to know that he has never found comfort in violence of any sort at any time. To be free, independent and untouched by the evil and hatred that is very much the Sisi regime today, is to know that the accusations against Ahmed Mansour do not possess a single ring of truth.

And what of the underlying court proceeding itself ? Tried in secret, in absentia, without notice, counsel, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard, and lacking in any recognized judicial safeguards, Ahmed’s persecution like so many others in Egypt in this day and age and, before, under the predecessor tyranny called Mubarak, are routinely rejected by the world community as so much a sham, a political vendetta lacking independence and trustworthiness. Indeed, as noted by the German government which refused Egypt’s request to extradite Ahmed, “Egypt’s judicial system is politically motivated.” Not long before, the African Union, of which Egypt is a member state, concurred in that finding specifically taking note that the Egyptian judiciary is politically controlled and corrupt. In that matter, the AU rejected an Egyptian claim that a complaint lodged against it in that forum need first be litigated in domestic Egyptian courts and only then could proceed to an international tribunal. Finding the generally applicable doctrine of domestic exhaustion irrelevant, it noted that it would be a futile and unnecessary step given the fact that Egypt’s courts are essentially a judicial imposter.

Years ago in the final days of his journey, my godfather, a renowned union organizer and president, human and civil rights and anti-war activist and advisor to Martin Luther King, commented to me that at day’s end one can measure the success in their activist life not by the honors  bestowed upon them, or the friends that they keep, but rather, their enemies. To him, a so-called hater’s list was vindication of a life well lived; one committed to justice- to the despaired, the despised, the disaffected. Although enormously popular, indeed, revered by millions, Ahmed Mansour’s success as a thinker, a journalist, and an advocate for the truth is best exemplified by the rogues gallery of those who have tried to silence or to destroy him through beatings and mock judicial proceedings.

Long after the memories of Mubarik and Sisi have faded into the dust bin of infamy which they each so richly deserve, Ahmed Mansour will live on as a shining example of all to follow in his enormous wake of integrity and determination and through his fearless commitment to the truth.

To the Haters

A message to the haters who, I understand, are once again jumping up and down attacking me as so much the self hater or a mere federal prisoner. Fuck you. I have found more integrity and principle in the midst of the despair and isolation of this prison then exists in all the so-called halls of justice in Tel Aviv and every other city, block and house stolen by Zionists from Palestine and Palestinians. Brooklyn calls.

Pray for Palestine, Bless the Resistance.

Oh yeh, I forget to tell you- in case you haven’t heard, this internal exile ends in a wink. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the waters of ignorance hatred and rank hasbara- it ain’t.

ZIONISM=DEATH

Up the Rebels.

Fathers Day

When you exchange your loving words, hugs and meals tonight, for just a second, stop and be thankful for each other and the fact that you don’t live in Palestine or in other nations in the Middle East, parts of Africa and South Asia or elsewhere where families have been destroyed, children slaughtered, fathers disappeared and daughters stolen or sold as so much the “need” of men in war, in fights started, funded and perpetuated by those who hang on to deadly and dated notions of racial and cultural superiority or religious supremacy-because they can, because we let them.

Under the false wrap of freedom and “enlightened” democracy, today’s crusade continues to a beat largely driven by a “free-market” Western and Judeo-Christian plunder and tradition that began in these regions well more than a century ago largely by white men. Today It continues with their sons who now find themselves desperate to hang on to what’s left of their inherited neo-colonial stretch through bombs dropped under their own flags or those flown by their surrogate states- states themselves desperate to stop a tsunami of change that will sweep away their House along with the House of McDonalds and every other false idol erected on lands owned by others who see their lives and world in a different light. And are willing to take it back.

Tonight walk into your kids’ bedroom, stop and watch them as they sleep safe and happy. You know, that little smile that says hi to you even with closed eyes; its warm, it knows no limits- surely it brings a smile to your face as well. And what of that little body flutter as they dream dreams that for them may very well become reality under the watchful, caring and protective eyes of their dad. Can you hear their laughter? See their tears as they fall and break a toy? See them grow before your very eyes? Await nervously as they come home from their first date?

Now, imagine their beds empty, covered with stone or dust and blood- your wife wailing as they are laid to rest, screaming out “why, why, why” . . . as she yanks her hair from her flailing head. Or picture them walking dazed, aimless, alone in a refugee camp, or hungry and lost wandering down broken streets crying out for lost dead parents- mom and dad slaughtered by flags and anthems and carved artificial borders built on theft that have no meaning or place anywhere but, perhaps, the soulless states from which they have come- if then.

Happy Father’s Day.

The Cry