28 August 2009

COINTELPRO Charges Dropped Against Four SF8 Defendants

Drop the Charges Against Francisco Torres! Free Them All!

Early this summer, the frame-up prosecutions of the San Francisco 8 (SF8) utterly unraveled. Rounded up in January 2007 by cops in California, New York and Florida, these eight former members of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and Black Liberation Army (BLA) faced bogus charges of killing a San Francisco police officer in 1971. On July 6, the state abandoned its prosecution of Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Hank Jones and Harold Taylor, confessing it had “insufficient,” i.e., no evidence to proceed. The case against Richard O’Neal was dropped last year. Despite lack of evidence, the state vendetta against Francisco Torres persists; the next pre-trial hearing is set for October 9.

The victory for five of the SF8 is a genuine blow against the rulers and their state. It strikes back against murderous state attacks on fighters for black rights and opponents of U.S. imperialism and the government’s attempts to smear opponents with the “domestic terrorist” label, to legitimize torture as a legally sanctioned “investigative tool.” For close to 40 years, police tried to pin the killing of police officer John Young on these eight men. Torture, concealment, destruction of evidence and coerced testimony were at the core of the government’s case, a vendetta concocted as part of the FBI’s deadly Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of disruption, frame-up, terror and outright murder of Black Panthers and other leftists.

This included a 1973 interrogation by two San Francisco police inspectors of three Panther members, including one of the SF8, Harold Taylor. The other two were John Bowman, who died two years ago, and Ruben Scott. The three men were tortured for several days: they were stripped naked, blindfolded, beaten, covered with blankets soaked in boiling water, shocked with electric cattle prods on their genitals and anuses. In 1975, the charges against them were thrown out of court on the basis that their supposed “confessions” had been coerced through torture.

Thirty years later, the cops and government prosecutors tried again; again they were unsuccessful in obtaining indictments against any of these men, despite convening California state and federal grand juries, first in 2003-04 and then in 2005. Still, the frame-up was revived in 2007 when the SF8 were arrested on orders from the California State Attorney General. More than two years of court hearings produced no evidence tying these men to Young’s killing. The “discovered” shotgun alleged to be the “missing murder weapon” was found not to match any weapons evidence. Similarly, DNA swabs taken from the defendants in June 2006 did not match any evidence from the scene of Young’s killing. The prosecution refused to release fingerprint evidence that exonerated them. The judge ruled against releasing FBI wiretap surveillance of Black Panther phone lines based on an FBI “taint team” affidavit ludicrously asserting there had been no such surveillance of the SF8. Still, the state could not make its case.

The SF8’s 9 August statement read in part: “We and our support committee are claiming victory in this latest battle. As we go forward and prepare for the next one we ask that you lend your strength, your ideas and your spirit to win the dismissal of the charges against Francisco Torres. We also ask that you give your full support to the effort to gain release on parole by Jalil and Herman.” Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom) pled no contest to charges of conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter. Herman Bell pled guilty to lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter. Under the terms of these plea deals, Bell and Muntaqim were given no additional jail time, would not testify against any other of the SF8 and their pleas could not be used as evidence against the others. This would return them to prisons in New York where they are serving 25-to-life sentences on separate charges of killing two NYPD cops in 1971. The two men, together with Albert “Nuh” Washington, who has died, were known as the “New York 3.”

Central to the New York 3’s 1975 frame-up conviction was the coerced testimony of torture victim Ruben Scott, who subsequently recanted. Long-suppressed documents showed that two women witnesses were jailed for 13 months and threatened with the loss of custody of their children in order to coerce their testimony. That testimony was rewarded by not only allowing them custody of their children, but also with a rent-free apartment and a $150 a week stipend for several years. During the 1980s, it was revealed that the FBI had concealed significant exculpatory evidence, including a ballistics report that proved the key piece of “physical evidence” at trial—a .45 calibre pistol in Bell’s possession at the time of his arrest—was not the weapon used to kill the cops (see The COINTELPRO Papers, Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall [1990]).

Referring to the 1973 arrests and torture of the three Panthers used to go after the SF8, former Black Panther and death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal stated (www.prisonradio.org, 23 May 2006): “Long before the words Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib entered common American usage as reference points for government torture, there were several young black men who knew something about the subject.” He added, “The roots of Guantánamo, of Abu Ghraib, of Bagram Air Force Base, of U.S. secret torture chambers operating all around the world, are deep in American life, and its long war against Black life and liberation.”

Indeed, the relentless persecution of these men is among the many atrocities committed under the government’s decades-long COINTELPRO operations. In 1968, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover vowed, “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” In order to persecute or outright kill Black Panthers, the FBI revived COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program originally implemented in 1956 against the Communist Party. The government then unleashed the most savage and systematic campaign of domestic racist state terror in modern American history: some 233 of 295 COINTELPRO actions against black organizations took place against the Panthers. Thirty-eight Panthers were killed and hundreds more railroaded into prison hellholes for scores of years. Among those still in America’s dungeons are Mumia Abu-Jamal, Ed Poindexter, Mondo we Langa, Sundiata Acoli. Assata Shakur, who fled the country in 1979, is living in exile in Cuba. Many others died behind prison walls. Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) spent 27 years behind bars for a murder the FBI and California state officials knew he did not commit. In that case, foreshadowing the frame-up of the SF8, the FBI claimed to have “lost” wiretaps proving that Geronimo was at an Oakland Panther meeting, 400 miles away from L.A. where and when the murder was committed. Geronimo was finally released in 1997 when an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled that he had been denied a fair trial due to the prosecution’s withholding of vital evidence from the defense.

As we wrote over 30 years ago: “Unlike various New-Left-liberal guilt-tripping groups like the International Socialists and the Revolutionary Union [forerunner of the Revolutionary Communist Party], the Spartacist League never hid criticisms of the Panthers’ nationalist ideology and adventurist tactics. We attempted to win these potentially valuable cadre through political struggle to a working-class orientation as the only road to black liberation. At the same time we have always stood in the forefront of those forces fighting for the freedom of Black Panther Party political prisoners victimized by the racist capitalist state” (WV No. 88, 5 December 1975). We continue to do so today—from our 22-year fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom to our active participation in the struggle to free the SF8. We know well that the bourgeoisie does not grant general amnesties in the class war; freedom for all class-war prisoners can be won only as part of the struggle for workers revolution to overthrow this brutal racist capitalist system. Drop the charges against Francisco Torres now! Free Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell!

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 941, 28 August 2009)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.