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Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to die for murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. The trial was so blatantly unfair and tainted by racial prejudice that his case has become an international cause célèbre. Mumia was on death row until December 2011, when the authorities announced that after thirty years they would finally cease to seek the death penalty. He remains in prison as human rights supporters continue to demand that he be freed, or at least be given a new trial. Before his arrest Mumia had been a radio journalist and political activist, and was President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. While in prison, he has become a renowned author; his best-known work is Live From Death Row.
A documentary film about Mumia, "In Prison My Whole Life" (2008), is available on DVD at In Prison My Whole Life.
Many books have been written about Mumia's case. The best of them is The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by J. Patrick O'Connor.
The FREE MUMIA website is FreeMumia.com
On May 12, 2007 the National Writers Union held a speak-out in New York City for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Cliff Conner spoke and compared Mumia to Jean Paul Marat. These are his comments:
We’ve heard Mumia described many ways—as a political activist—or an unjustly imprisoned victim of a racially motivated prosecution—or a prisoner who spent decades on death row—or the focus of an international solidarity campaign—or a best-selling author—or a radio commentator—or a popular commencement speaker. And these various descriptions only reflect the views of the many people who admire and support Mumia. On the other side are the police representatives and law-and-order politicians who hate Mumia with a purple passion and want nothing more than to see him executed. But regardless of all the different hats Mumia wears, the essential description of the man is best encapsulated, I think, in two words: revolutionary journalist. All the rest flows from that.
When I think of Mumia as a revolutionary journalist I can’t help but compare him with someone of an earlier era who I wrote a biography about—one of the outstanding figures of the Great French Revolution—Jean Paul Marat. Marat, too, wore many hats, but like Mumia, when all else was said and done, his role in history was that of a revolutionary journalist. So I thought that I would pay tribute to Mumia today by recalling the role of one of his illustrious predecessors in the long-running struggle for human liberation.
Revolutions divide societies with a line of blood and engender enduring loyalties on one side and hatreds on the other. Jean Paul Marat, more than any other individual, has for two centuries remained the focus of passionate emotions unleashed by the French Revolution.
Marat’s fame (or infamy) derives above all from his role as the most influential of the revolutionary journalists and agitators. Of the hundreds of competing journals that sprang into existence with the collapse of censorship at the onset of the Revolution, it was Marat’s Ami du peuple—The People’s Friend—that most thoroughly succeeded in expressing the aspirations and mobilizing the rage of the oppressed Parisian crowd at the height of the revolutionary fervor. Eventually Marat’s enemies were able to silence him, when he was assassinated in July 1793, an event immortalized in the famous painting of Marat in his bathtub with an assassin’s dagger in his chest.
Revolutionary journalists are essentially messengers. They don’t create the grievances that lead people to rise in revolt, but by giving voice to those grievances, they draw the hatred of the guardians of the status quo onto themselves. It’s not really rational for them to blame the messenger, but that’s what happens. That’s why Marat was murdered, and that’s why Mumia has been in prison for more than a quarter of a century.
Marat’s martyrdom made of him a timeless symbol of social revolution, never more poetically described than in a few lines by Victor Hugo, which I’ll read to you now. But as I’m reading them, you might want to make some mental substitutions: Instead of “Marat,” think “Mumia,” and instead of “Marat is dead,” think “Mumia is on death row.”
“MARAT: That is the great fearsome specter of the ages. If you want to know its true name, cry down into the abyss the word Marat! The echo from the depths of infinity will answer you: DESPAIR!
“They guillotined Charlotte Corday and they said Marat is dead. No. Marat is not dead. Put him in the Pantheon or throw him in the sewer; it doesn’t matter—he’s back the next day.
“He’s reborn in the man who has no job, in the woman who has no bread, in the girl who has to sell her body, in the child who hasn’t learned to read; he’s reborn in the garrets of Rouen; he’s reborn in the basements of Lille; he’s reborn in the unheated tenement, in the wretched mattress without blankets, in the unemployed, in the proletariat, in the brothel, in the jailhouse, in your laws that show no pity, in your schools that give no future, and he reappears in all that is wretchedness and he recreates himself from all that is darkness.
“Oh, beware, human society: you cannot kill Marat until you have killed the misery of poverty. As long as there are desperate, suffering people there will be a cloud on the horizon that can become a phantom and a phantom that can become MARAT.”
. . . or MUMIA. Thank you.
Lynne Stewart’s case is the subject of a documentary film, “Lynne Stewart: An American Story.” To see a trailer for the film at YouTube, click here.
The JUSTICE FOR LYNNE STEWART website is www.LynneStewart.org
You can write to Lynne at her prison address:
WHO IS LYNNE STEWART AND WHY IS SHE IN PRISON?
Lynne Stewart, a courageous civil liberties and human rights attorney, is currently serving a ten-year sentence in a federal prison. As an attorney, she represented, as a matter of principle, controversial and unpopular defendants who less courageous lawyers would not defend. One of her clients was Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who had been accused of plotting terrorist attacks in New York City.
Lynne took the case of Sheikh Abdel-Rahman (known in the press as “the blind sheik”) at the request of another prominent people’s lawyer, Ramsey Clark, a former Attorney General of the United States. She gave the Sheikh her best efforts but he was convicted.
For serving as Sheikh Abdel-Rahman’s lawyer, Lynne herself was accused of conspiring with terrorists. The government’s prosecutors claimed that she was a sympathizer of her client’s political aims. In fact, Lynne found his Islamic fundamentalist ideology to be repugnant. She represented him because she believed he had a right to adequate counsel.
In the course of providing a vigorous defense of her client, Lynne held a press conference during which she read a statement from the Sheikh. That was the act for which she later would be accused of conspiracy with terrorists. It was alleged that the statement she read included a coded message to his followers in Egypt.
She had previously been required to sign a statement acknowledging an order that she felt violated her rights as an attorney as well as her client’s right to counsel. It forbade her from making public any communications with her client. She knew that reading the statement to the press conference could be interpreted as a violation of the order, but she also felt her action was legally justifiable. She consulted with Ramsey Clark and they decided that to defend her client it was worth the risk of herself being possibly censured by the court. They believed, based on precedent, that the worst that would happen would be that the court would remove her as the Sheikh’s attorney.
As it turned out, she was not charged with violating the order and no action was taken against her at that time. The Clinton administration’s Justice Department paid no attention to it. It was only several years later that the George W. Bush administration decided to make an issue of it. Bush’s Attorney General, John Ashcroft (one of the most discredited figures in recent American history), charged Lynne with conspiring with terrorists and launched a prosecution that threatened a thirty-year prison sentence. Ashcroft went on a popular television talk show, The David Letterman Show, to announce the prosecution to the country—a clear attempt to politicize the case and link Lynne to terrorism in the minds of the American public.
She was arrested and tried. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the prosecution successfully played on the jurors’ fears. In February 2005, following a nine-month trial, Lynne was found guilty. Ramsay Clark stated:
“It is clear that Lynne Stewart, and the truth, and the Constitution of the United States are all victims of 9/11 and of a repressive government that is taking advantage of the fear that they have helped create arising from that that is destroying freedom in this country. This case would never have been brought except for the fear generated and the advantage that the Bush administration was taking of it by the events on September 11, 2001. In ordinary times and circumstances, it would be recognized that everything that Lynne did was exactly what an effective attorney representing a client zealously would be obligated to do. I don’t know of anything that Lynne did that I didn’t do. We did what we had to do to represent our clients. And if you don’t do that, then you don’t have truth before the jury or before the public and you don’t have the Constitutional right to the assistance of counsel.”
The judge who tried Lynne’s case, John G. Koeltl, was a Reagan appointee who was not expected to be sympathetic to her. Apparently, however, he was conscientious enough to read hundreds of letters written to him urging him to consider, in sentencing her, her long record of service as a defender of the civil and human rights of social underdogs. Although the government prosecutors had demanded a 30-year sentence, Judge Koeltl’s sentence was considerably shorter: 28 months. Her supporters, of course, did not want to see her go to jail at all, but were relieved that she would at least have a good chance of not dying in prison.
But the government prosecutors and the patriotic press were outraged at the “leniency” of Judge Koeltl’s sentence. The sentence was appealed, pressure was brought to bear against Koeltl, and he ignominiously resentenced her to ten years in prison. For Lynne, who at that time was seventy years old and in poor health, that was tantamount to a life sentence.
Lynne’s supporters and legal team are continuing their efforts to exonerate her. For more information, go to the JUSTICE FOR LYNNE STEWART website at www.LynneStewart.org.
The following statement about Lynne’s case appeared on The New York Times Op-Ed page on February 17, 2005. Andrew P. Napolitano is a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, an analyst for Fox News, and the author of Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws.
by Andrew P. Napolitano
The conviction of Lynne F. Stewart for providing material aid to terrorism and for lying to the government is another perverse victory in the Justice Department's assault on the Constitution.
Ms. Stewart, the lawyer who was convicted last week of five felonies, will be disbarred and faces up to 30 years in jail. She represented Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, not exactly a sympathetic character. He is the leader of the Islamic Group, a terrorist organization that plotted the assassination of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
He was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison. When Ms. Stewart sought to visit her client in jail, prison officials required her to sign an affirmation that she would abide by special rules requiring that she communicate with the sheikh only about legal matters. The rules also forbade her from passing messages to third parties, like the news media. Yet the jury found that Ms. Stewart frequently made gibberish comments in English to distract prison officials who were trying to record the conversation between the sheikh and his interpreter, and that she "smuggled" messages from her jailed client to his followers.
But if the federal government had followed the law, Ms. Stewart would never have been required to agree to these rules to begin with. Just after 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft gave himself the power to bypass the lawyer-client privilege, which every court in the United States has upheld, and eavesdrop on conversations between prisoners and their lawyers if he had reason to believe they were being used to "further facilitate acts of violence or terrorism." The regulation became effective immediately.
In the good old days, only Congress could write federal criminal laws. After 9/11, however, the attorney general was allowed to do so. Where in the Constitution does it allow that?
Mr. Ashcroft's rules, with their criminal penalties, violate the Sixth Amendment, which grants all persons the right to consult with a lawyer in confidence. Ms. Stewart can't effectively represent her clients - no lawyer can - if the government listens to and records privileged conversations between lawyers and their clients. The threat of a government prosecution would loom over their meetings.
These rules also violate the First Amendment's right to free speech. Especially in a controversial case, a defense lawyer is right to advocate for her client in the press, just as the government uses the press to put forward its case. Unless there is a court order that bars both sides from speaking to reporters, it should be up to the lawyer to decide whether to help her client through the news media.
Ms. Stewart's constitutional right to speak to the news media about a matter of public interest is absolute and should prevent the government from prosecuting her. And since when does announcing someone else's opinion about a cease-fire - as Ms. Stewart did, saying the sheik no longer supported one that had been observed in Egypt - amount to advocating an act of terrorism?
In truth, the federal government prosecuted Lynne Stewart because it wants to intimidate defense lawyers into either refusing to represent accused terrorists or into providing less than zealous representation. After she was convicted, Ms. Stewart said, "You can't lock up the lawyers, you can't tell the lawyers how to do their jobs."
No doubt the outcome of this case will have a chilling effect on lawyers who might represent unpopular clients. Since 9/11 the federal government's message has been clear: if you defend someone we say is a terrorist, we may declare you to be one of them, and you will lose everything.
The Stewart conviction is a travesty. She faces up to 30 years in prison for speaking gibberish to her client and the truth to the press. It is devastating for lawyers and for any American who may ever need a lawyer. Shouldn't the Justice Department be defending our constitutional freedoms rather than assaulting them?
Bradley Manning is a U.S. Army soldier who had access to information revealing crimes against humanity committed by American military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was accused of passing that information to the website WikiLeaks, which made it public. If true, he should be hailed as a hero. Instead, he was arrested, held in prison under abominable, inhuman conditions, and charged with crimes that carry the possibility of life in prison or even the death penalty.
For more about Bradley Manning’s case, go to BradleyManning.org.
In the following analysis, Marjorie Cohn makes the case that the information Manning allegedly revealed was instrumental in forcing American military withdrawal from Iraq, and in sparking the great insurgency in the Middle East known as the “Arab Spring.”
Bradley Manning: Hero, or Traitor?
By Marjorie Cohn