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November 07, 1989 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-11-07

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0

OPINION
Tuesday, November 7, 1989

a'

Page 4

The Michigan Daily

U.S.

by Eric Jackson
Our government routinely denies that it
holds political prisoners. Yet in most post
offices, one can find wanted posters which
state that a fugitive is known to associate
with revolutionary groups. And when Re-
sistance Conspiracy tDefendant Susan
Rosenberg was confined in the experimen-
i Lexington Control Unit with Puerto
Rican independence activist Silvia Baral-
dini, she was told by Bureau of Prisons of-
ficials that the only way that she would
get out is by changing her politics.
"Uncle Sam is playing a semantics game
here. Our government equates the term
"political prisoner" with what Amnesty
hiternational calls "prisoners of con-
science," that is, one who is jailed only
because of his or her political beliefs. For
example, Amnesty International does not
consider the world's best known political
prisoner, South African leader Nelson
Mandela, to be a "prisoner of conscience"
because he is incarcerated for his armed re-
sistance to the apartheid regime, not just
for his opinions. By the official U.S.
name game, Mandela is not a political
prisoner either, but merely another crimi-
nal.
In reality, Mandela is a political pris-
oner because he is being held for his polit-
ical actions. In reality there are several
hp ndred prisoners in state and federal pris-
ons and jails in the United States who are
also political prisoners, being held for
their political acts. Some of these are in-
nocent of any real offense against the law,
but were framed on false accusations be-
cause of their beliefs. These political pris-
oliers are also prisoners of conscience,
though by legal fiction they are common
criminals.

imprison
If we define "political prisoner" as one 1
who is imprisoned for his or her political
acts, beliefs or associations, we will find
several types of political prisoners in the
United States. Though most political
prisoners are of the left, there are some ofl
the right.
Political prisoners of the right include '
bombers of abortion clinics as well as Op-;
eration Rescue militants who are jailed for
trespassing and blocking abortion clinic
doors. They include armed armed racists
like Klansmen and those neo-Nazis who
killed a Denver radio talk show host. They
NOELLE VANCE/Daily
include Lyndon LaRouche and the partners
in his swindle schemes. Right-wing tax
resisters, those who for political reason
practice violence against homosexuals, ra-
cial minorities or immigrants, and armed ;
Cuban exile groups provide the balance of
right wing political prisoners.
The ranks of right wing political pris-
oners in the United States do not include
the very worst criminals from that end of
the political spectrum. Oliver North su-
pervised a war which the International
Court of Justice declared criminal, a cam-
paign of violence which took the lives of
over 50,000 - mostly innocent
Nicaraguan civilians. For that he was de-
clared a hero by Ronald Reagan. For the
minor infractions for which he was tried
and convicted, North got a light sentence
of community service. Similarly, nobody
who ordered war crimes in Vietnam has

political

"criminals"

been punished for it.
The more numerous political prisoners
of the left include a high proportion of ra-
cial minorities. They include Geronimo
Pratt, a Black Panther leader who has been
held for nearly two decades, one of the
world's longest-held political prisoners.
They include militants of the Black Liber-
ation Army, an underground organization
that grew out of the Black Panther Party.
There are many Black nationalists who ad-
vocate an independent African American
country called New Afrika being held for
their actions on behalf of this cause. A
number of Native American leaders are
among U.S. political prisoners. Most no-
tably, Leonard Peltier is serving a life sen-
tence for allegedly killing two of the hun-
dreds of FBI agents who, in a bid to crush
the Treaty Rights movement, raided the
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1977.
The FBI's suppression of evidence which
would have exonerated Peltier has led 75
members of Congress, Jesse Jackson,
Desmond Tutu and others to conclude that
Peltier is not only a political prisoner but
a falsely convicted prisoner of conscience
as well.
Our country's largest remaining colony,
Puerto Rico, is the scene of an indepen-
dence struggle which gets little attention
around here. The independence movement
has active support in the diaspora Puerto
Rican communities of the United States.
Puerto Rican independence fighters fill
U.S. prisons. Many, such as Alejandrina
Torres (who is serving a 35 year term for
conspiracy to overthrow the US govern-
ment of her homeland) demand treatment
as prisoners of war. This, based on the
principle that she is a soldier for her own
country, Puerto Rico, which has been in-
vaded and occupied by a foreign power, the

United States. As a corollary, Torres and
many other Puerto Rican independence
fighters refuse to recognize the jurisdiction
of US courts.
Militant white revolutionaries, most of
whom trace their political roots to the

readily seen by comparing the fates of 01-
lie North, who has the blood of tens and
thousands on his hands, is getting rich on
the lecture circuit. The Resistance Con-
spiracy Six killed nobody, but they have
all spent years in prison and face lifetimes

'In reality there are several hundred prisoners in state and fed-
eral prisons and jails in the United States who are also political
prisoners, being held for their political acts. Some of these are
innocent of any real offense against the law, but were framed
on false accusations because of their beliefs.'

6

struggles of the 1960's, constitute a large
minority of U.S. political prisoners. The
Resistance Conspiracy Defendants are rep-
resentative of this group.
A number of pacifists, most of whom
come from religious backgrounds, are
serving long terms in prison for offenses
such as damaging nuclear missile silos.
Some environmentalists are imprisoned
for acts of sabotage in defense of the envi-
ronment. Some political prisoners find
themselves behind bars for aiding undoc-
umented Salvadoran refugees.
Depending on how one counts, there are
about 150 to 200 US political prisoners of
the left who are serving or facing long
prison terms. Uncounted others include
people serving short sentences for things
like refusing to register for the draft, tres-
passing at nuclear test sites, blocking en-
trances to nuclear weapons plants, hanging
environmentalist banners from polluting
smokestacks, defacing sexist billboards,
assaulting those who cross labor picket
lines and many other politically motivated
acts.
The difference in treatment between po-
litical prisoners of left and right can be

behind bars.
The same Justice Department which so
vigorously denies the existence of political
prisoners in the US routinely asks for (and
gets) unusually severe sentences based
upon the leftist politics of the accused.
Thus our government commits war crimes
with impunity and intimidates any who
dare resist. Thus opposition to the colo-
nial subjugation of Puerto Rico is at-
tacked. Thus the African American com-
munity is told to shut up about racism and
Native Americans are told to forget about
their treaty rights.
Meanwhile, individual human beings are
subjugated to special forms of brutality
and deprivation that go beyond what other
prisoners must endure, just because of
their politics. Regardless of what one be-
lieves about the sanctity of our laws, the
addition of a political criterion in the ap-.
plication of the law moves us away from
the rule of law toward a more arbitrary,
more vindictive, more unequal society.
Eric Jackson is a University alumnus
who currently works as an attorney in
Ypsilanti.

c tx. Ygtt t tt I

Despite South African violence:
Namibia enters new era

.0

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan-

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

by the United Coalition
Against Racism

%Vol. C, No. 45

r'
.9
'.

Unsigned editorials represent a majority of the Daily's Editorial Board. All other
cartoons, signed articles, and letters do not necessarily represent the opinion
of the Daily.

, 4 I

4'4ightmnare
THIRTEEN YEARS after U.N. Secu-
riy Council Resolution 385 called for
Namibia's independence-and seventy
ypars after South Africa initially im-
posed colonial rule there-the South
African government is going home.
Heginning today, people in the South
African colony of Namibia will go to
the polls to choose a constitutional
convention for their first government.
J is time-one would think-for cele-
tration. But this long-awaited day fol-
10ws six months during which the
Pretoria regime flagrantly violated ev-
ry process and rule which was to in-
sure that these elections were con-
Oiucted freely and openly.
,,On this past April 1, the military
Wing of the South West Africa Peo-
le's Organization (SWAPO)-the
tnain force fighting up until now
gainst South Africa and for Namibian
a dependence-was supposed to initi-
ate a pre-election cease fire by disarm-
ing and confining themselves to U.N.
Administered bases. But SWAPO ran
into the South African Defense Forces
(SADF)-South Africa's Namibian
army-instead. Two weeks later,
SWAPO had lost over three hundred of
its fighters and the SADF was terroriz-
ing the Namibian countryside.
South Africa claimed that the
WAPO fighters had illegally entered
Namibia, and that the SADF's job was
o maintain order. In what can now be
Seen as a carefully orchestrated attack
against SWAPO, the governments of
Bihtain, the United States, and South
Africa joined the international press in
condemning SWAPO for violating the
pease fire that was to begin that day.
Ponths later, when the dust had
Oleared, it became clear to the interna-
Ponal community that South Africa-
not SWAPO-had violated the cease
lire.
Since April, South Africa has contin-
i)ed its violent efforts to destabilize
Namibia's election process. SADF
«.,. 1 ..... . +- TT T . .,...

in Namibia
sponsible for keeping "law and order"
today.
South Africa has committed numer-
ous procedural violations as well.
Pretoria has been allowed to administer
the elections; this contradicts the spirit
of U.N. General Resolution 1514
(XV) on decolonization elections,
which calls for a colonial regime to
leave the territory in which indepen-
dence elections are taking place so that
the people might vote in a truly free and
fair atmosphere.
Consequently, Louis Pienaar, South
Africa's Namibian governor, has been
able to place Namibia's entire commu-
nications infrastructure at the service of
the pro-South Africa Democratic
Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), a coalition
of small political parties opposing
SWAPO in the elections. South Africa
has pumped millions of rand into the
DTA's campaign, which revolves
around the promotion of "group
rights," a euphemism for white privi-
lege.
DTA tactics have included violence
against SWAPO supporters, the for-
mation of its own "police force," and
handing out bribes at rallies (T-shirts
and food). Koevoet and the SADF
troops are parading in DTA T-shirts
and beating and shooting anyone who
refuses to return their DTA salute.
SADF personnel have also been spot-
ted in graveyards copying down the
names of the deceased, which will
easily be "added" to the voting register
because Pienaar refuses to print alpha-
betized-and hence easily checked-
voting registration lists, a basic re-
quirement for any serious election.
South Africa has already conceded
that SWAPO will win over 50% of the
vote. But given the very favorable
terms on which it is overseeing
Namibia's transition to independence,
that is not enough. It will take two-
thirds of the vote at Namibia's upcom-
ing constitutional convention to pass
nnv, arr-. nr. n;~pt ,,v. Pm-

Today, November 7, pre-independence
elections are being held in Namibia. A
great deal of publicity has been given to
the tripartite agreement of South Africa,
Angola and Cuba to withdraw Cuban
troops from Angola and to begin the pro-
cess for an independent Namibia, the last
remaining colony in the world.
Despite the fact that the South West
African People's Organization (SWAPO),
was excluded from the negotiations, the
transition to independence has been repre-
sented as a major victory for the Namibian
people. While in many ways a victory has
been achieved, the transition to indepen-
dence has been less than ideal, marred with
violence and injustice.
South Africa has been ruling Namibia
since the end of World War I. Though ini-
tially South Africa's "administration" was
to be temporary until Namibia gained in-
dependence, the South African government
discovered a wealth of resources - both
human and material - which they could
control and exploit. Thus, even though the
United Nations General Assembly in 1966
declared South Africa's mandate over
Namibia "terminated", the South African
government ignored the declaration and re-
fused to give up control of Namibia. In-
stead, they set up another racist apartheid
system, patterned after the one in South
Africa, with tiers of hierarchy in the labor,
economic, political and social sectors. The
labor that South Africa could not use lo-
cally was used to supplement the Black
South African labor force.
South Africa's decision to sit down at
the negotiating table last year to discuss
Namibia's independence was not because
the South African government no longer
needed these resources, nor was it because
South Africans had suddenly opened their
eyes to the racist atrocities and human in-
justices that they had developed and main-
tained in Namibia. South Africa sat down
at the negotiating table because it was
forced to.
Forced to do so because international
pressure on South Africa's illegal adminis-
tration of Namibia was increasing. Be-
cause solidarity movements with Namibia
were developing and pronouncements con-
demning the South African colonial gov-
ernment became common.
In addition, the South African economy
was steadily weakening. Inflation was
running at 16% and the South African

largely to international sanctions and dis-
investment in the South African economy.
These economic problems, in conjunc-
tion with the burgeoning independence
movements within Namibia, made contin-
ued control over Namibia next to impos-
sible. The year before the talks began,
Namibians were organizing; school chil-
dren boycotted classes, teachers and work-
ers struck and thousands upon thousands
rallied and marched to protest South
African control. This movement was met
with increased repression by the South
African forces, which could no longer
match the popular Namibian movement.
The final, and most significant reason
for South African willingness to negoti-
ate, was the flat out military defeat of the
South African army as they fought
SWAPO soldiers in southern Angola.
South African troops were crushed, de-
feated and demoralized as they left the bat-
tleground in May,1988 after their final
large-scale offensive. In addition, the de-
pletion of hired Black South African
troops led to the use of young white con-
scriptees on the frontline. White South
African resistance to conscription made the
war more costly. The military defeat of
South Africa left little option for the gov-
ernment but to make concessions. Thus,
the negotiations around Namibia exposed

cratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA).
In fact, the chief electoral officer has
been accused of working to undermine
SWAPO by denying them the 2/3 major-
ity necessary to dominate the parliament,
which they would likely achieve if there
really were free and fair elections. The
agents of the colonial government have
willingly agreed to "help" mark the ballots
of the 40% of Namibians who cannot read
or write. Election fraud has also been doc-
umented as waves of white South Africans
and UNITA supporters (South African
backed guerrillas) in Angola have been
streaming into Namibia to register to
vote. ;
But the most shocking aspect of the in-;
dependence process, which leads one to.
question how any kind of "free and faiir
elections" can take place, is the outright;
violence and intimidation by the South;
African army and security forces. South,
African forces have murdered nearly 40Q
Namibians, including SWAPO members}
and many civilians, since the transition to'
independence began. Nearly all have been
executed with a shot in the back of thd
head, and then been bitriedin mass graves.:;
Also, the South African do2th squad,
Koevoet, though officially demobilized
continues to operate, harassing and intimi:

'The most shocking aspect of the independence process, which
leads one to question how any kind of "free and fair elections"
can take place, is the outright violence and intimidation by the
South African army and security forces.'

the weaknesses of the racist South African
government and the strengths of the libera-
tion movement in Namibia.
But a closer examination of the last year
reveals an alternative picture than one of
simply celebrations and congratulations.
The independence process as a whole, and
the electoral process specifically, has been
fraught with violence, intimidation and
unfair practices and restrictions on the part
of the South African representatives. The
electoral process is technically overseen by
the United Nations Transitional Assistance
Group (UNTAG). Despite the fact that the
UN has pumped $400 million into the
Namibian team, the UN has very little
control of the Namibian process and no
enforcement powers. The elections are ac-
tually regulated by the South African
colonial government, which has a moti-
vating interest in maintaining control

dating Namibians.'They have entered vil
lages, demolished homes, destroyed crops,
raped women, beaten and murdered mend
targeting those that are wearing SWAPQ
colors or who refuse to vocalize support
for the DTA. The Legal Assistance Center
in Windhoek, Namibia has gotten over
100 complaints and the UN has gotten
over 120 complaints about abuses by
South African forces. 0
The independence process in Namibia
marks a turning point for the liberation of
the Namibian people. It is a step that is
moving in a direction"of self-determina-
tion. But this process has also been char:
acterized by the brutality, violence and in:
timidation of the South African forces and
administration. Thus, the Namibian libera-
tion struggle is not culminating, but it is
entering a new phase, where the Namibian,
people must once and for all rid their

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