25 August 2017
Stop Prison Torture of Tom Manning and Jaan Laaman!
Over the past several months, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been intensifying its decades-long vendetta against class-war prisoners Tom Manning and Jaan Laaman. As punishment for their unwavering support for the struggles of the poor and oppressed and their opposition to U.S. imperialism, Laaman and Manning, the last two members of the Ohio 7 still in prison, were deprived of necessary medical attention, isolated in solitary and threatened with transfer to draconian “supermax control” units. For the racist capitalist rulers, this is an attempt to silence forever these courageous individuals who continue their political activism from behind the walls of America’s dungeons.
Prison officials marked Laaman’s birthday on March 21 by throwing him into the Secure Housing Unit of USP Tucson—i.e., solitary, where he still remains locked up in a six-by-nine-foot box 23 hours a day. Laaman’s “offense” was to issue two statements: his eulogy for radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who died on March 7 (which was broadcast on Prison Radio as “Farewell Thoughts to My Friend, Lynne Stewart”), and a statement of support for the March 8 International Women’s Day protests, “Day Without a Woman Strike” (which was printed in NYC Anarchist Black Cross).
The Partisan Defense Committee—a legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—recently learned that a letter Laaman wrote in May to notify the PDC of the repression he was facing never made it through the prison censors. That month, prison officials cited him for “misuse of phone” and rescinded his phone “privileges” for six months. They are now pushing for his transfer to a Communications Management Unit—lockdown units that severely restrict all communication with those outside. As Laaman noted in a recent letter to the PDC, “As you are aware, I have been observing and speaking on world and national events for decades—so this is a new and unprecedented attack on me and my First Amendment rights.”
In June, Tom Manning wrote a letter notifying the PDC that he had suffered a grand mal seizure in March. The first prison “medical” personnel on the scene declared it a drug overdose. The seizure left Manning unconscious for four days. When he was able to request that prison officials perform a forensic trail test to prove it was not an OD, and, more significantly, to find out and treat what caused the seizure, they scoffed, “Do you know how expensive that would be?” Manning was finally given an MRI, which shocked him with the news that he had a second brain tumor. Prison officials never told him that a 2012 MRI had revealed an earlier tumor. Manning also learned that he had two vertebrae compressing his spinal cord.
The prison officials’ response to his dire medical condition was to throw him into solitary. The specious reason was that he received a political journal, Flood Gate, calling for prisoners to revolt. As Manning told the PDC, such unsolicited journals are sent to him all the time. On May 24, he was transferred from Butner Medical Center to solitary at Butner Correctional Center. In recent interviews, former Ohio 7 prisoner Ray Levasseur, who was released on parole in 2004, pointed out that Manning is wheelchair-bound and in need of physical therapy, which he is unlikely to get in solitary. Levasseur emphasized the horrific condition facing his comrades: “Solitary is hell in a very small place.” Last week, Manning was finally released from solitary and transferred to a federal prison in Hazelton, West Virginia.
The PDC has written protest letters denouncing the cruel and vindictive treatment of Laaman and Manning. The Ohio 7 are committed radicals with a long history of opposition to racism and imperialism. They were involved in civil rights work in the South, defense of prisoners’ rights and solidarity actions against the South African apartheid government. In the early 1970s, they joined neighborhood defense efforts in Boston against rampaging anti-busing racists. They became members of the United Freedom Front, a radical group that in the late 1970s and ’80s took credit for bombings targeting symbols of U.S. imperialism, including military and corporate offices (see “Ohio 7: Fighters Against Imperialism, Racism,” WV No. 741, 8 September 2000).
The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of young New Left radicals. Despairing of organizing the proletariat in struggle, these radicals decided that the road to fighting this racist, exploitative system was “clandestine armed resistance” by a handful of dedicated leftists. Like the Weathermen a decade before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the “respectable” left. As Levasseur bitterly observed in a 1992 statement, “Much of the North American Left suffers from myopia on this issue of political prisoners. It affects their value judgments. They place our value at nil.”
In contrast to the New Leftists, we recognize it is the multiracial proletariat, organized behind a Leninist vanguard party, that has the interest and social power to sweep away the bloodthirsty imperialist rulers. Despite our political differences with them, the SL and PDC have long defended the Ohio 7, including during a 1989 trial on trumped-up “seditious conspiracy” charges. In successfully beating back that thought-crime prosecution, the Ohio 7 won a significant victory against government efforts to criminalize leftist politics. One of their defense lawyers was Lynne Stewart. No doubt throwing Laaman into solitary for his tribute to Stewart was payback on the part of his jailers.
We have always insisted that from a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not crimes. These courageous fighters should not have served a day in prison and should be freed immediately.
Laaman and Manning must not be forgotten. We urge WV readers to send letters of solidarity to the following addresses:
Jaan Laaman #10372-016
Thomas Manning #10373-016
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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1116, 25 August 2017)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.