President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal

See also at: CounterPunch, Countercurrents, GlobalResearch, Eye Art Collective

free-peltier-and-mumia

Man, I dream of just being able to paint. Go to sleep when I want, get up when I want, eat when I want. Try to enjoy what’s left for me. Talk to the little children—be an elder for my people.—Leonard Peltier, United States Penitentiary, Coleman I in Florida, July 4, 2016.

This is not a good time to be black in America, and not just because of people walking while black, driving while black, running while black, breathing while black, but because of all the hells that people suffer all across America. The truth of the matter is, it ain’t gettin’ sweeter. It ain’t getting better.—Mumia Abu-Jamal, October 07, 2016, SCI Mahanoy state prison, Frackville, Pennsylvania.

Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal have been unjustly imprisoned for decades, and their last chances for freedom will come in the six weeks between the November 8 election and the inauguration of the next president on January 20. During that interval, President Barack Obama will himself be totally free. With no political pressures to worry about, he can do something that should have been done long ago: liberate these two men.

In June 1975, during a confrontation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Oglala, South Dakota that involved members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), two FBI agents were shot dead. In 1977, Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota American Indian, grandfather, painter, writer, and a member of the AIM was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for their murders. This, despite the fact that there was zero proof that he did it, and ample proof that the authorities manufactured evidence against him.

Radio journalist, writer, and former Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death in July 1982 for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The incident took place on December 9, 1981, and he has maintained his innocence since. He has spent most of the ensuing 34 years in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row. In 2001, a federal judge ordered that his death sentence be overturned, and after losing many appeals of that order, on December 7, 2011, Philadelphia District Attorney made the announcement that he was giving up on restoring Mumia’s death sentence. He is now commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

Both Peltier and Mumia have health problems. Among other ailments, Peltier suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, prostate issues and a heart condition. An affiliate of Physicians for Human Rights has said, “Peltier risks blindness, kidney failure, stroke and premature death, given his inadequate diet, living conditions and health care.” In late 2015, he was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm that requires surgery, which is being denied him. If the aneurysm decides to rupture, he will die within minutes.

In late August this year, a federal judge denied a request from Mumia for life-saving medication that could cure his hepatitis C. Mumia’s lawyers refiled a case against the Hepatitis C Care Committee and against the DOC officials. This denial remains in effect despite having been declared unconstitutional. Mumia has said that the protocol constitutes “deliberate indifference to the medical needs of at least 6,000 people in Pennsylvania prisons.”

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.—words of Christopher Columbus taken from Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States.

Since that fateful day in October, 1492, when the discovered glistening gold ornaments on the ears of the Arawak Indians lit up the colonist’s eyes, many, many people of color in these, the robbed-again United States of America, have been systematically annihilated, afflicted with diseased blankets, enslaved, lynched, whipped, raped, dispossessed, imprisoned, deported, shot by the police, dehumanized, you name it. All this to keep the white elite extractive mechanism going, and going, and going, until one day, no doubt, it will be all gone.

Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal are just the latest in a long line of victims of a cultural genocide and a black oppression agenda that goes back 500 years, with no signs of stopping.

All of the riches and finite resources in far off places like Iraq, and right here in this occupied land of gold, “bed, bath and beyond” have yet to be sucked dry. Meanwhile, today, the battle in Mosul rages on; in this country, one in three black men, and one in six Latino men can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime.

Having spent 41 years and 34 years behind bars simply for resisting empire, Peltier and Mumia are perhaps our last living link between the dark past and equally dark future. Their stories, their geography, their art, their words, their ailing bodies, their eyes, today, serve as an atlas of the genocidal and racist white settler history of this country.

How can America heal from this? By acknowledging the wrong that has been done to Peltier and Mumia and setting them free would be a start. Or is the government too afraid to disturb the sleeping giant of deception and atrocities on which this country was founded, fearing the long reparations list that might unfurl all the way to the moon? If that’s the case, then it’s business-as-usual, as always, before one day when it will all come tumbling down with its own weight.

Meanwhile, here’s a window into Peltier’s thoughts…..

Like so many Native children, I was ripped away from my family at the age of 9 or so and taken away to get the “Indian” out of me at a boarding school. At that time, Native Peoples were not able to speak our own languages for fear of being beaten or worse. Our men’s long hair, which is an important part of our spiritual life, was forcibly cut off in an effort to shame us. Our traditional names were replaced by new European-American names. These efforts to force our assimilation continue today. Not long ago, I remember, a Menominee girl was punished and banned from playing on the school’s basketball team because she taught a classmate how to say “hello” and “I love you” in her Native language. We hear stories all the time about athletes and graduates who face opposition to wearing their hair long or having a feather in their cap.

I’m 71 years old and still in a maximum security penitentiary. At my age, I’m not sure I have much time left….when I was indicted the average time served on a life sentence before being given parole was 7 years. So that means I’ve served nearly 6 life sentences and I should have been released on parole a very long time ago. Then there’s mandatory release after serving 30 years. I’m 10 years past that. The government isn’t supposed to change the laws to keep you in prison — EXCEPT if you’re Leonard Peltier, it seems. Now, I’m told I’ll be kept at USP Coleman I until 2017 when they’ll decide if I can go to a medium security facility — or NOT.

As the last remaining months of President Obama’s term pass by, my anxiety increases. I believe that this president is my last hope for freedom, and I will surely die here if I am not released by January 20, 2017.

….and into Mumia’s thoughts:

It is a tragedy that we’re now counting down the days of the first African American—accent on African—president in the history of the United States. And when he leaves you will still have the greatest incarcerator [the United States] on earth at work, and growing and continuing to divest and destroy and diminish the lives of millions of people. The fact that you could have a black president and not put a dent in that hellhole is startling.

[Obama] went into a prison that was empty. Because all of the prisoners were emptied from the cells. So, he walked into a prison block. Yes, that’s true, and it’s historic [Obama is the first sitting president to walk into a prison block]. But it’s also true that he walked in an empty prison block. If you have the greatest incarceration on earth in this nation, then, you know, why don’t you make history by creating empty cells? By freeing people.

It’s been fifty unbelievable years, since Huey and Bobby typed out the ten-point program and platform of the Black Panther Party for self defense. How many times in the last fifty years have you reread the ten-point program and marveled at how grim the conditions still facing millions of black people remain. Half a century, and black life still don’t matter.

You have to admit against your better judgement, perhaps. But it’s damn good entertainment [on the current electoral debacle], and it’s unbelievable. I mean this is the ultimate reality show. It’s so real, it’s unreal. I think it reflects clearer than anything we could have imagined—the fall of empire. This is how democracies fall. History repeats itself. First time it’s tragedy. Second time it’s farce. So, it’s interesting. It’s entertaining. It’s unbelievable. Yet, here we are.”

Yes. Here we are. Everything has been white-washed, including America’s first black president. Behold the irony, for he holds the pen that the white man has thrust in his hand after deeming him worthy of the White House. The question is, does Obama have the courage to finally grant Peltier and Mumia clemency, not only because he can but because it’s right?

(I understand that it’s not in president Obama’s hands to pardon Mumia Abu-Jamal since he is a state prisoner. But, it is incumbent upon president Obama to at least try and urge Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania to pardon him.)

Yes You Can, President Obama, Yes You Can!

Please visit WhoIsLeonardPeltier.Info to learn more about Leonard Peltier, and here to look at his art. Please visit FreeMumia.com to learn more about Mumia Abu-Jamal, and to PRISON RADIO to listen to Mumia’s broadcast from prison.

Advertisements

Unfinished Portrait: Tracking the Footsteps of a Post-9/11 World

See Also at: CountercurrentsEYEZINEMuslimpress, ANTIWAR, Michigan Standard

image-8

If Carter and Reagan hadn’t funded the Mujahideen, there would have been no Taliban. And if there had been no oil in Kuwait, there would have been no 1991 US-Iraq Gulf War. If there had been no first US-Iraq war, American troops would not have been stationed in Saudi Arabia. If no American troops had been sent to Saudi Arabia, then Osama Bin Laden would have remained just another rich guy. If there had been no Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and if Bin Laden had been just another rich guy, there would have been no 9/11. If there had been no 9/11 sentiment to exploit and if Iraq had no oil, America would not have invaded Iraq in 2003 and there would be no ISIS. If there were no ISIS….well, you know the rest.

Unfinished Portrait is a project in perpetuity, tracking the footsteps of our post- 9/11, post-Iraq War world.

I began work on the project in 2005. And, today, eleven years later, the content and execution of this work has evolved, much like the illegal wars of Iraq and Afghanistan have themselves evolved, you might say.

The challenge for me, as an artist, has been how best to communicate the tragedy on all sides of these wars, and for audiences to get a sense of how many innocent people we’ve killed; to fill the artificial void between “us” and “them”; to create a space in which people can see the human toll and connect with both the invader victims and the invaded victims; to swallow the reality that there are no heroes here, only victims; and most importantly, to walk away with a question: can we honestly have the audacity to “feel safer” after all this?

Unfinished Portrait: Iraq

In February 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, I installed Unfinished Portrait in a 35-by-45-foot room of a former paper company’s warehouse in Salina, Kansas, where I live. The walls, columns and ceiling of that room were painted black. Hanging on one of the black walls were twenty-five, one-by-one-foot wood panels painted in acrylic gouache with passport-size portraits of the first 3000 American troops who had died in Iraq. Some of those panels also included passport-size camouflage squares scattered here and there, representing troops and veterans who had committed suicide. The black area symbolized the Iraqi dead, who, because of their vast numbers and the lack of photographs, could not be memorialized individually. Had it been possible to cover the black walls, columns and ceiling with passport-sized painted faces of Iraqis, it would have portrayed approximately 375,000 of the people who had died as a result of the war; the number of dead was actually much larger. A plaque on the wall explained these numbers.

image-1Unfinished Portrait: Iraq, 2008. The 35-by-45-foot room with painted portraits of fallen soldiers hanging on one of the black walls.

The floor was covered with a thick layer of sand, which by the end of the four-week exhibit was covered with viewers’ footprints. A looping piece of music, Mecca by artist Sheila Chandra, played in the background. The Urdu chorus translates as: At this moment we are in a sea of sentiment, and there is no shore in site.

I would say that maybe 10 percent of the people who viewed that 2008 exhibit reacted to the black walls that symbolized the Iraqis. Visible proof of that lay in the footprints, almost all of which went directly to the painted portraits of fallen soldiers, not to the vast black wallspace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn example of one of the 12-by-12-inch panels painted in four desert camouflage colors. Each panel has 120 faces of U.S. soldiers killed in action.

One could ask, “Well, why would anyone bother walking to a wall that was simply painted black?” Maybe some viewers felt that just being surrounded by the blackness was enough to get a sense of the disproportionate contrast between the American losses and the Iraqi losses. But in the many interactions I had with people who were there, almost everybody commented only on the painted portraits. And almost no one said anything about what that war has done to the country of Iraq and to her people. The work was largely treated as nothing more than a tribute to the U.S. troops, and, by implication, to their mission and actions. But that’s not how I had meant it.

I do recall one comment from an Iraq veteran to the effect that by juxtaposing the 5-by-5-foot area occupied by US portraits with the vast wall and ceiling space that represented the Iraqis, I was belittling the Americans’ sacrifice.  And I said to myself, at least someone gets it! Not that he was right about my intentions toward the troops, but he at least acknowledged that he was disturbed by the contrast between the magnitudes of their losses and ours.

When that first show ended in March, 2008, I tucked the painted portraits away in a corner of my basement for four years—frustrated that I had gotten through to so few people.

Unfinished Portrait: Iraq and Afghanistan

Early in 2012, I decided to re-create and expand the project, adding the victims of the Afghanistan war. I replaced Mecca with a 45-minute spoken-word performance, and I had scattered among the American faces an increasing number of camouflage squares representing the tragic new face of these wars: rapidly increasing suicides among combatants and veterans. Since 2001, the suicide rate among veterans has increased by nearly a third, with an average of 20 veteran suicides occurring per day in 2014.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACamouflage squares representing veteran suicides.

I moved this new exhibit to an outdoor setting, with the spoken-word performances occurring after sunset, with the paintings and the readers facing the audience to the west. As darkness fell, the portraits faded from view, and four performers read from a script based on reports of the wars’ horrors, the blackness rising in the eastern sky served as a backdrop representing the hundreds of thousands of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who have died.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfinished Portrait: Iraq and Afghanistan, 2012….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA….with the performance occurring after sunset.

This more conceptual approach—using the sky to commemorate the Iraqi and Afghan deaths—elicited almost no response from the audience. Another failure, to say the least.

Meanwhile, the “war on terror” has spilled further, across the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan. The Obama administration is coming up with new techniques on recruiting many more enemies for America through the unmanned drone program and obsessive spying, and I’m back to the gestural drawing board.

Unfinished Portrait: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan

In 2013, I decided to illustrate the Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani deaths not with vast stretches of blackness but by doing almost the reverse: squeezing the victims’ images into a physical space the same size as that used to portray the American losses. Doing so meant reaching back a century and a half to incorporate a second painting style into the work.

I adopted a variant of pointillism—a technique pioneered by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in the nineteenth century—to portray the deaths of the invaded. With the American portraits now covering thirty-nine panels, each one-by-one-foot, painted with 120 faces, I produced additional thirty-eight panels to represent Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani deaths. On each panel I painted precisely 8,836 tiny dots, using the same set of four desert-camouflage colors I’d used for the other portraits. One panel in the center of the work showed all – portraits of fallen soldiers, suicides, Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani deaths, merging as one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfinished Portrait: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, 2013. One of the thirty-eight panels painted with dots representing faces of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani children (the tiniest dots you see), women, and men who have died in these wars. Together, these panels represent 335,768 faces

The work now had seventy-eight panels representing the first 344,926 people who died in these wars. According to the ‘Costs of War’ project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, more than 6,800 American service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at least 370,000 people have been killed by violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Many more people have also died indirectly from the wars as a result of crumbling infrastructure, destruction of hospitals and environmental contamination.

In the work as it now stands, it is easy to spot the faces widely lauded as heroes; those portrayed in pure camouflage who, having taken their own lives, are regarded by the world’s largest military as an embarrassment; and those existing as tiny points of paint, whose faces are known only to family and friends—the invaded who died fighting the invaders, or as police, or journalists, or humanitarian workers, or an Iraqi child, or an Afghan woman out fetching water who was killed by a “precision” strike, or a U.S. contractor earning a paycheck, or Bibi Mamana, the grandmother of eight-year-old Nabeela, who on October 24, 2012 was picking okra and gathering wood for Eid Al Adha before she was “literally hit flush and blown to smithereens” in a drone strike in Waziristan, Pakistan.

Viewed from a distance, everything blends together – all victims, all far away, faceless, uncountable, beyond our imagination, like Seurat’s points of paint. The piece is intended, you might say, as pointillism with a point.

One of the spaces I installed this version of Unfinished Portrait was at the 555 Gallery in Detroit, Michigan. At that time, the gallery was located in the Detroit Police Department’s former Third Precinct station. The work was installed in four jail cells, and the performance took place in front of the cells.

It was pure chance that the available space for the exhibit was in jail cells, but it turned out to be symbolic. The faces of the innocent people of all colors killed or imprisoned during our 21st-century wars are mirrored in the faces of the countless Americans needlessly imprisoned, whether in the local county jail or on death row.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfinished Portrait: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, 2013, 555 gallery jail cells, Detroit, Michigan.

Unfinished Portrait: Made in the U.S.A

Most people in the United States think of our troops who are “fighting terrorism” as heroes. There is a great line in a song Hoobaale by the Somali-Canadian poet, singer, songwriter K’naan….How can they go to war with terror when it’s war that’s terrorizin’. Terror is terror, whether the objective is Al Qaeda-sponsored, for example, or sponsored by a rich, powerful state; either way, the victims on both sides are mostly innocent civilians.

According to the Costs of War project, “the US invasion of Iraq has turned the country into a laboratory in which militant groups such as Islamic State have been able to hone their techniques of recruitment and violence. The formation of jihadi groups now spreading throughout the region counts among the many human costs of that war.”

People living in war zones have been killed violently by the United States, its allies, insurgents and sectarians alike. Through the years, Unfinished Portrait has stayed consistent in attempting to document the human costs of these wars, irrespective of who does the killing, and how they die.

The next phase of this project will be updated to include victims of drone strikes and other covert operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, as well as victims of international airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and the victims of ISIS and other groups. I’m calling it Made in the U.S.A because while we exploit labour in places like China and Bangladesh to produce all the hundreds and thousands of junk products we consume, the one thing that is made here in the “great again U.S. of A.” is indiscriminate killings in the hundreds of thousands.

Now, thanks to dedicated people documenting more names, faces, and other details of Pakistani, Afghan and other non-U.S. citizen victims, I am able to include at least some of them in the work. So I hope that by October 7, 2017, the 16th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, I will have an updated version of Unfinished Portrait in which people will be able to read the names and look into the faces of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Syrians and others. How people will react to this new work? We will have to wait and see.

In these eleven years since I first began work on this project, only Sheila Chandra’s words have stayed consistent: Is waqt hum jazbaat ke sagar mein hain aur sahilon ka kahin patta nahin. Is waqt hum….