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Syria — ISIS: some anti-imperialist observations and analysis

December 20, 2015
With the mid-November ISIS claimed terrorist attacks in Paris, and even more since the California shootings, there has been a constant stream of reports, official government statements and politicians remarks, about ISIS and the civil war in Syria.  There have also been reports of French, U.S., Russian and Syrian government air bombing raids on ISIS targets in Syria.  In the U.S. corporate news media, many of these reports and most of the analysis have been driven and limited by ideology and are often incorrect.  This weak and misinformation is created to fit the U.S. government line on what is going on in Syria and with ISIS.  The fact is ISIS, Al Qaeda and other jihadist forces have mostly maintained, and in some areas even strengthened, their presence in parts of Iraq and Syria.

Why is the U.S. government and its major allies, seemingly unable to contain and limit these jihadist groups and their increasing attacks on people outside the Middle East?  From where, and how did these jihadist groups first spring up?  It is important to trace some of this history, in order to more clearly see what might be more effective in stopping these jihadist attacks and terrorism.  And to be clear, by terrorism, I am using the actual definition of the term, that is, the indiscriminate use of violence against civilians in order to pressure the government and ruling powers.

Allow me to go back and lets begin with Al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden pulled Al Qaeda together in the 1980’s in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the then Soviet Union supported secular and progressive government of President Najibulah in Afghanistan.  At that time, the USA government, completely caught up in cold war anti-Soviet Union ideology, created the most expensive CIA operation in history.  The U.S. government supplied huge amounts of weapons and money to Al Qaeda and other jihadi and warlord groups fighting the progressive Afghan government.  Readers might remember or could easily find, rather famous photos of Ronald Reagan meeting with some of bin Laden’s top lieutenants at the White House.  At that time President Reagan called these jihadists “freedom fighters”, not terrorists, even though they were killing people in Afghanistan in the same manner as people were killed in Paris and San Bernadino recently.

Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Al Qaeda turned its sights on the United States.  A year after the 9/11 attacks, then President George Bush, pushed and dragged the U.S. into invading and occupying Iraq.

The lies and fabrications Bush and his government used to justify the war against Iraq are now well known.  There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  There also, was no Al Qaeda in Iraq, under the secular and nationalist Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein.  There were no bombs going off in Iraq, nobody was getting their head cut off, there was no warfare between various Iraqi communities and cities.  In fact Iraq had a middle class level of lifestyle.  Women went to school and work, were doctors, professionals and served in government positions.  Iraq had a lot of oil and sold it on the world market.  President Saddam Hussein’s government was sometimes labeled authoritarian and maybe rightly so.  But there were no active or known terrorist groups in Iraq until the United States invaded that country, overthrew its legitimate government and imposed a 10 plus year occupation.

During the years long U.S. military occupation of Iraq, Al Qaeda in Iraq came into existence, expanded and later part of it morphed into ISIS.  During this same period, other Sunni jihadi groups sprang up, along  with some large and well armed Shiite militias.  When the U.S. finally withdrew its army from Iraq, these armed jihadi groups, territorial and religiously based militias and terrorist organizations took increasing control of parts of Iraq.

In 2011, the U.S.,NATO, Qatar and other oil kingdoms launched an air war against Libya and its long standing official government led by Muammar Qaddafi.  Under the pretext of protecting Libyan people, these countries bombed and attacked the secular nationalist state of Libya.  The country of Libya, like Iraq, was also rich in oil and gas.  Libya readily sold its oil and gas, at market prices, to all buyers.  Qaddafi made sure the Libyan people shared in the countries wealth.  Libya had the highest Human Development Index ranking in all of Africa.  Libya was also a firm and long time supporter of national liberation and freedom struggles, from Ireland to Palestine, South Africa and more.  Like Saddam Hussein and Iraq, Qaddafi and Libya were long on the enemies list of U.S. imperialism.

Since the death of Qaddafi and the overthrow of his government, Libya has not had a functioning national government.  There is ongoing war and conflict and jihadist forces, including Al Qaeda and ISIS have established themselves in parts of Libya.  They have carried out terrorist attacks against Egyptians working in Libya, as well as against many Libyans.  Four years after the U.S. led war overthrew the Qaddafi government, Libya is basically a failed state.  There is no central government, competing forces control sections of Libya and ISIS and Al Qaeda are openly active.

After the U.S. led effort that overthrew the government of Libya, the U.S. turned its sights on SyriaSyria, like pre-invasion Iraq and Libya, is an independent secular nationalist state.  Syria had long had a well functioning government and civil society.  Syria is composed of many religious and ethnic communities.  The largest group is Sunni Muslims.  There are also large minorities of Alewite (Shiite related) Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and Armenians.  Syria, for years, has also been the home of a large number of displaced Palestinians who have had to flee Israeli wars and occupations.  While Syria has been close to various upheavals, like the U.S. invasion of Iraq, several Israeli wars, civil war in Lebanon, etc. through out this time it has remained a functioning state, with law, commerce and relative stability.

Many decades ago, the previous president, Hafez al- Assad, was faced with a jihadist type Sunni uprising in the city of Hama.  The Syrian army and security agencies forcefully put down this rebellion.  For the past 40 years Syria has been a country where people of all religions and ethnic groups co-existed.  Nobody was getting their heads cut off, no churches or mosques were being bombed.  Damascus and other cities were thriving centers of business.  Women were not restricted in education, business or employment.  As already mentioned, Syria hosted large communities of Palestinian refugees.  Elections are routinely held and Bashir al-Assad, an Alewite Muslim, is the elected president.

The Syrian government has always been very strict about not allowing sectarian or religious violence.  The U.S. has often labeled the Assad government as authoritarian.  There also are some exile  Syrian groups who are critical of the Assad government.  But up until about 4 years ago, Syria was a functioning successful multi-religious and multi-ethnic country.

As an anti-imperialist and a life long revolutionary activist, I totally recognize the right of all oppressed and exploited people to speak out and struggle for justice.  This includes the right, and when necessary the need to demand and fight of change against the government and system.  Ultimately all people have the right to change and overthrow a system that oppresses and exploits them.

There is a big difference between a people’s  right to a freedom struggle against what they see as their oppressive government, and foreign powers and imperialist states interfering in the internal affairs and struggles within a sovereign country.  The U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc., have no legal or moral right to demand the overthrow and removal of President Assad and the Syrian government.  Nor do they have any moral or legal right to arm, train, pay for and advocate the overthrow of the legally constituted government of Syria.  This is just naked aggression and imperialist domination of a small independent nation by the major imperialist power in the world — USA imperialism.

During the past 5 decades, the secular nationalist government of Syria, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, has been viewed as an obstacle and enemy, by the U.S. government, for its policies in the Middle East.  Syria has been a steadfast opponent of Israeli expansionism and a firm supporter of the Palestinian people.  It has refused to sell out the Palestinian people and their struggle for nationhood, or to accept dictates from  the U.S. government.  Syria has long had friendly relations with Russia and previously with the Soviet union.  All this has permanently placed the Syrian government in the crosshairs of the U.S. government.

In 2011 street protests flared up in the Middle East.  Within weeks, two U.S. allied governments, Mubarak in Egypt and the government in Tunisia, were overthrown by huge rallies of people.  Some months later there were demonstrations in Syria too.  They weren’t huge or nationwide, but many people did protest.  Some of these demonstrations were met with police repression.  Very soon after the police crackdown, well armed attacks sprang up in some Sunni areas.  It has been documented that millions in money, arms and even training, was going to these rebel forces in Syria.  Most of this aid, especially from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, went to extremist jihadi forces, especially Al Nusra and ISIS.  Turkey kept an open border for foreign fighters to travel into Syria.  This is how the Syrian civil war developed and even today continues to exist.

There was no ISIS in Syria until U.S. and western European imperialism, Saudi and other Persian Gulf oil kingdoms and Turkey began supporting and supplying these jihadi forces that have now seized territory in Syria.  In the past year the U.S. and some other countries have begun bombing ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.  Damage has certainly been done, but ISIS and Al Nusra remain in place.  Kurdish forces and in some sectors Syrian government forces have successfully pushed ISIS out of a few areas and contained them in other locations.

Some months ago Russia joined this fight against ISIS and other jihadists in Syria.  Russia announced and advanced its plan to support and join with the Syrian government and its armed forces, against the jihadist and anti-government rebels.  By all accounts, the major rebel forces are all jihadist — ISIS and Al Nusra being the largest organizations.  The Russian strategy understands that aerial bombing alone, will not defeat the anti-government forces.  There have to be land forces to fight, take ground and hold areas.

From an anti-imperialist perspective, we can see that Russia’s direct support of the Syrian government, is not only international solidarity, but Russia is acting in its own material interests.  The fall of the Syrian government would mean the loss of Russia’s main long time Arab ally.  Further, the spread of ISIS activities would put Russia’s internal security at greater risk.  The Russian strategy to support and add to the military strength of the Syrian government and its armed forces, is a realistic strategy that can defeat ISIS and the other jihadi groups.

Even now, as ISIS expands terrorist attacks beyond Syria and Iraq, the U.S. government is still calling for the removal of the Syrian president and his government.  Imagine how many more people would be dead if the Syrian government had fallen four years ago, when the U.S. first began demanding and working for the overthrow of President Assad?  Imagine what all of Syria would look like today if there was no Syrian government?  Syria would look like Libya, but even worse because there would be a lot more dead Kurds, Christians, Alewites, Armenians, Palestinians, Yazidis.

The United States has no legal or moral right to demand the overthrow of the Syrian government or president.  The U.S. has even less right to fund, arm and train Syrian or mercenary forces to try to overthrow the legitimate Syrian government.  The U.S. has no right to invade or occupy Syria and we, the American people, have to be extremely clear that we do not want the U.S. government to invade Syria, to send any U.S. troops into Syria.  Actually even the U.S. aerial bombing of ISIS targets in Syria is illegal by international law.  The U.S. should work with, coordinate with, the Syrian government if they are interested in having U.S. aid, in any bombing raids it conducts within that country.

Syria is a sovereign nation.  Whether the U.S. government likes its president or not, violating the sovereignty of a country, whether sending warplanes on bombing raids or landing an invading army, is a violation of international law, is an act of war.

The government of the United States has consciously and/or unwittingly helped create the conditions for the rise of organizations that today are called armed jihadi terrorists.  Specifically the U.S. government and its wars and invasions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now in Syria, have led to Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Superpowers and empires, throughout history, believe they can manipulate and control events and even countries.  Sometimes they create or facilitate the rise of forces that they lose control over or that turn against them.  In recent history, in the 21st century, a clear case can be made that the political managers of the U.S. state/empire (elected and appointed government leaders) have made many mistakes and created wars and other situations that they lost control of, or that led to results that have been harmful to U.S. government and corporate interests, let alone to the American people.  And of course, it is always the U.S. public who pays for the wars, in money and blood, even though the people have very little input and control over what the government does in our name.  It is important that we the American people, become more familiar with the real facts and realities in Syria and the Middle East.

(Readers interested in a more detailed elaboration on the declining ability of U.S. imperialism, should check out my essay “Decline of Empire?“, in issue 23).

Introduction to Issue 25

October 16, 2015

Hello interested readers, activists, fellow revolutionaries, friends and comrades, to issue 25.  Yes, it has been over a year since our last issue, 4sm 24, came out in Spring of 2014.  We have had several obstacles and problems to deal with.  Our printers, good movement activists and great professional printers, have had their own struggles with the state, but are now back in operation.  Most hard copy subscribers are receiving both issues 24 and 25 in this mailing.


You will see from our revised “Welcome to 4strugglemag” on the inside cover, that we have had to change our printing schedule.  4sm is now producing 2 hardcopy issues a year.  One in July/August and the second issue in December.  We will now be publishing on this new schedule.  Your material/monetary support is always needed.


This issue has many important and informative selections.  You’ll certainly want to check out Jalil’s “Future Focus” analysis and call for action.  We also have a great interview with Lynne Stewart and her husband Ralph.  There are lots of updates and information about political prisoners.  With the continuing police killings of so many men, women and even children of color, you should check out “Thoughts on Killer Cops – MOVE/May 13”.  This issue is full of useful information.  As always, we welcome your feedback and original writings, letters and poems.  We’ll see you in issue 26, out in December.  And for all you online readers, online now posts new material and information early each month.


Freedom Is A Constant Struggle!    

Jaan Laaman, editor


Jaan Laaman


USP Tucson

P.O. Box 24550

Tucson, AZ 85734

Issue 25: Letters

October 16, 2015

Comrade Jaan,


I am sending a poem that I hope can become your “theme poem.” I based it on your editorial column… I had a discussion with a few brothers that I felt did not understand fully what oppression was, but being a humble man, I realize it’s possible I myself have a limited view, I wondered how many others understand it. If so, can you oppress the oppressor?


Also, I would like to learn exactly what a political prisoner is. There are so many terms: PPOC, POC, PP, etc. that I feel it should be explained. From my knowledge George Jackson was considered a political prisoner, but it was something he became while incarcerated as opposed to being locked up for political reasons. If you can orchestrate a dialogue on that, I’d appreciate it.


Comrade Wazo


Jamey Wilkins


1300 Western Blvd.

Raleigh NC, 27606 USA


Note: See 4sm issues 12 and 13 for an earlier version of our “Glossary,” a collaborative and evolving list of definitions. In future issues, we will continue to explore and work together to define terms that are useful to our analysis – so feel free to suggest others.






   I am against suffering

I am against buckling

I am against any and everything other than

What I am 4… struggling

   Consistent resistance

Of oppressive conditions

Orchestrated by the select

For protecting their interests

   Their possessions are senseless

Too excessive, expensive

While the rest of us skimping

So, yes, I am against them

   But the masses I am with them

When attacking the system

Because I am against

Capitalistic imperialism

   I am 4 the just

The equal, the free

I am 4 war

In order to achieve peace

   I am against facism

I am against racism

I am against agent provocateurs

And their fakism

   Of political prisoners

I am 4 the release

I am against the strong

Who are exploiting the weak

   In solidarity I speak

With the tongue of the streets

With the heart of the revolutionary

In the belly of the beast

   If you are 4 socialism

Are 4 no more trouble

If you are 4 a change

They you must be 4struggle


[Below we share a letter from Tonio X, a long-time reader and supporter of 4sm. This reached us quite a while after it was sent, but we still wanted to share his words.]




I have for years, received and read all of your pamphlets and enjoyed reading every bit of them. Your pamphlets have kept me moving in these death camps, ‘cause they kept me focused on my real enemy in this struggle.


Your pamphlets made me adjust lots of my views – and views of those who I have always shared your pamphlets with.


Before I get too ahead of myself, I want to greet all my comrades with a revolutionary clenched fist. Without us there would be no revolution, the world needs people like us so they can point and say, there goes the people who are agitating the status quo.


I consider all of you my comrades ‘cause even though we are not side by side fighting those forces (enemies) who are trying to keep us silent, we are in spirit. Even though I’m behind these prison gates, and you all are on the other side, our fights are the same, ‘cause we are all the same people.


I love learning from your pamphlets, so I hope you keep sending them to me. It has been a while since I received one. The last Issue I recall receiving was with the picture of a good friend of mine – Geronimo Ji-Jage. He taught me a lot within the struggle, he taught me not to give up, ‘cause once you do then they will come pouncing.


So I say, keep those pamphlets coming. It’s not August, a month which we refer to as Black August, a month of remembrance. We remember all of those who came before us, and among us, it’s also a time when we gather together to remember how the past fallen brothers and sisters have given their lives in the struggle for the people, including not forgotten brothers and sisters who are engaged for speaking up and for challenging this rotten system.


We must remember in 1831 a Black man rose in the midst of slavery and proclaimed to the world that no man, woman and child was meant to be property of another person. This man stood strong, a man we all of an Afrikan descent recognize as Nat Turner. He is a symbol for all of us in the struggle. I always remember him because his spirit lives in me.


I also remember others who made way for us to follow; I remember David Walker (Walker’s Appeal), Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, George Jackson, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth.


In the trenches,

Tonio X






Formidable are the locks

Which stand sentry to your thoughts

Resistance courses your heart

As the Black Panther walks —

At your side, oh Mu’Mia!

Our Black Shining Prince;

And that’s ever since…

Brother Malcolm’s demise.

From the Phoenixes’ charred ashes

Like smoke you will rise!!!

Paragon of the struggle,

For we see you and love you…

Standing ready to rumble,

Should your captors prove careless.

As cold as they are,

Yet your spirit remains fearless!

In solidarity with the Star —

That you are–

Comrade Pather Jamal!!!

Exceedingly clever and extremely calm,

Yet as torrid as Napalm —

Your words and verbs,

Are like the Mother Of All Bombs!

Brandishing such nerve.

Making “All Things Considered,”

As you’ve blazingly shown,

That Fire can’t be censored,

When it’s “Live From Death Row!”

Cynthia White wasn’t right;

Daniel died by his own.

Fixed was the fight,

At Lady Injustice’s Throne…

Yet for 29 years,

Borne by Blood,

Sweat and Tears,

Her scales wavered in the balance.

For Justice NEVER cared about —

Me nor You, oh Abu of The Truth…

Still the morrow awaits,

For it breathes for you!

Which means to turn back now provides no solution;

We have come too far —

Long live The Revolution!!!

An ode to Mu’Mia Abu Jamal.


Submitted by reader Calvin Davis

Issue 25 updates: 2015 Releases

October 16, 2015

December 2014: Cuban 5 Released


From the speech of Gerardo Hernandez to the international solidarity movement for the Cuban 5 at the Palace of the Conventions, Havana, May 2, 2015:


“We still face the battle to free Oscar López too, so that he can enjoy freedom as we do today. We still have Mumia Abu-Jamal. We still have Leonard Peltier. We still have other compañeros who are political prisoners. The committees in solidarity with the Five that supported us so much must see what we can do to end these injustices, too.


We want Oscar and the other compañeros to know that the Five, now that we are free, will continue remembering you and supporting you.


See: “The organizers who never gave up on the Cuban Five” on page __.


2015 Releases:


1/8: After serving nearly 10 years in prison, the judgment and sentencing against green anarchist Eric McDavid was vacated when it became known that the FBI had failed to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence to the


1/15: Norberto Gonzalez Claudio was released from prison, and began his journey back home to Puerto Rico. When he arrived he was welcomed by a crowd of supporters.


1/16: After spending nearly two decades in federal prison, Tsutomu Shirosaki was released to an immigration facility, and later deported to Japan.


1/27: Marissa Alexander, a survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, FL, spent 3 years behind bars for defending her life from an abusive husband. She is now sentenced to two years of house detention while being forced to wear and pay for a surveillance ankle monitor.


3/13: Anarchist prisoners Carlos López, Amélie Pelletier and Fallon Poisson were released from Mexico City (Amélie and Fallon deported back to Canada)


4/16: Brent Betterly was the second of NATO 3 to be released. Prior to the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, three Occupy activists were arrested and eventually charged with 11 felony counts. See update on Maya Chase below.


5/16: Plowshares prisoners Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed were released. Eighty-five year-old activist nun Rice told Mother Jones that it felt “Not that much different, because none of us is free… and it looks like we are going to go on being un-free for as long as there is a nuclear weapon waiting.”


6/1: Kevin Chianella (from Queens, NY) was released after a 2 year prison sentence for his participation in the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010.


Please remember that prisoner support doesn’t end when a comrade is released. Through halfway houses, supervised release, parole, or probation, there is usually state supervision beyond the initial sentence. Also, prison is traumatic. And of course there is the stigma of being a former prisoner that affects nearly every aspect of one’s life. All of this adds up to the less obvious, but equally necessary, support needed when our loved ones come home.

Issue 25 updates: New and ongoing cases

October 16, 2015

09/2015: Eric King, a 28-year-old vegan anarchist, was arrested and charged with an attempted firebombing of a government official’s office in Kansas City, MO. The criminal complaint states that both alleged incendiary devices failed to ignite. Scheduled to go to trial in July 2015, he is facing up to 30 years in federal prison.


Since his arrest last September, he has been extremely isolated from his loved ones and has been targeted by the guards, who have repeatedly put his safety in jeopardy. Eric is being held in the segregation unit and has been assured that during his time at CCA Leavenworth he will remain in segregation. Despite these struggles, he continues to maintain his good spirits and his resolve to see his legal situation through to the end. He is also maintaining his dedication to struggling for a world free of domination and oppression.


1/21: U.S. journalist Barrett Brown was sentenced to 5 years 3 months, for charges related to the 2011 Stratfor hack.


1/21: Anti-mining activist Katie “Krow” Kloth was sentenced to 9 months in county jail. This Eco-Warrior has been in custody in the Iron County, WI jail since early February 2015 for standing up to Goegebic Taconite which was trying to level the ancient Penokee hills to create the world’s largest taconite mine.


1/22: Jason Hammond was sentenced to 41 months in prison after accepting a non-cooperating guilty plea for his role in a militant direct action directed at white supremacists in the suburb of Tinley Park.


3/12: Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh sentenced to 18 months for allegedly giving false answers on her immigration applications. Rasmea is a 67 year old Palestinian American community leader who was tortured by the Israeli government in 1969. Her case is part of a larger campaign against Palestinian leaders, institutions, and community members; as well as an example of government repression waged against oppressed nationalities, anti-war, social justice, and international solidarity activists.


6/12: After over 43 years of solitary confinement and wrongful conviction, on June 8, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial. The Court has extended a stay of release at least until the time that it issues its ruling later in the fall. See “Will Albert Woodbox be freed?” on page __.


7/2015: Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang pleaded to a single count of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. They each face up to 5 years at their upcoming sentencing hearings.


Please help to make sure that Kevin and Tyler feel a lot of love and support during this time while they are in prison and awaiting sentencing. Send them a letter, donate to their commissary, and continue to work to help animals.

Rest in power: Peter Collins

October 16, 2015

Long-time 4strugglemag supporter and artist Peter Collins passed away August 13, 2015 at 2 a.m. He will always be remembered for his endless fight for justice, his sense of humour, his kind heart and his unwavering integrity. His contributions to changing the world we live in will continue to live on through his art, cartoons, audio recordings, short films and his writing. His spirit will live on through our hearts and minds as he deeply touched so many of us.

Over the coming months there will be memorial services held in Ottawa, Kingston, Montreal and Toronto.
There is so much to say about the lack of proper care that he received but we will write more about that later.

Mumia Abu-Jamal Has Hepatitis C: Demand Treatment Now!

October 16, 2015


Mumia Abu-Jamal remains weak, ill, and in the prison infirmary.


Five months after being admitted to the hospital with lethal blood sugar levels and in renal failure, he continues to have debilitating skin rashes, open wounds and swelling across his lower extremities. Because of our relentless demands for medical testing and treatment, we finally know the likely cause of his severe ailments: Hepatitis C.


But what is news to us is not news to his jailers. Prison officials have known that Mumia was Hep. C positive since 2012 – and have done nothing.


Even now that prison doctors know that Mumia’s Hep. C is active – from testing they performed solely because we demanded it – they are refusing to provide treatment.

Today, we are going back to court to demand justice for our brother.


Mumia’s legal team (Bret Grote of Abolitionist Law Center and Robert Boyle of New York) is filing an amended lawsuit today, ‘Abu-Jamal v. Kerestes’, to include medical neglect and demand immediate treatment.


Meanwhile, Prison Radio is working tirelessly to make sure Mumia’s legal and medical team have the necessary resources to get Mumia the critical care he needs.

And we can’t do it without you.


We need your help today to ensure that the prison treats Mumia’s Hepatitis C now!


Mumia’s Skin Disease and Mass Incarceration as Lethal Threat



Mumia Abu-Jamal’s fight today for his physical health exposes the pervasive inhumanity of US mass incarceration’s very nature. It is a lethal system.


Abu-Jamal is currently incarcerated in a Frackville, Pennsylvania state prison, serving a Life Without Possibility of Parole sentence (LWOPP). That began after nearly 30 years on death row for a death sentence that courts ruled unconstitutional in 2011.


But Abu-Jamal’s imprisoned body is now confined in another way. He is encased from head-to-toe by a skin disease that has remained undiagnosed since January. Dr. Johanna Fernandez, Fulbright Scholar and historian at Baruch College/CUNY, who has visited Abu-Jamal regularly for over a decade saw him this past Saturday, June 13, and her report includes these descriptive phrases:


*A leather patch now covers Abu-Jamal’s whole body


* He is told his hemoglobin levels have been going down


* His skin . . . is “really, really dark and leathery” from head to toe


* His face seemed a bit swollen and darker that I’ve ever seen it


* Two finger tips have visibly cracked lesions that look painful


* He still has open lesions on his legs


* His feet and toes were very swollen


* Prison infirmary doctors tell Abu-Jamal, “when the body is healing itself it releases fluid”


* Nurses and specialists at the nearby Geisinger Medical Center, where Abu-Jamal received professional and humane treatment for a brief time in May, report they “have never seen a case like this before”


Abu-Jamal’s tightening and painful leather encasement of his body is a kind of prison within the prison for him. Indeed, for nearly all the confined, especially for the sick and elderly, the chronic systems of medical mistreatment in US prisons forge another imprisoning sphere, one of sickness, desperation and dying.


Moreover, stunningly, no diagnosis for this condition has been given to Abu-Jamal, his family or attorneys. For 6 long months, the prison has proven incapable of diagnosing this serious attack on Abu-Jamal’s health. Along with the skin disease, he developed diabetes triggered by prison doctors’ experimental application of steroidal cream. Despite documented, elevated levels of blood sugar in the prison infirmary, doctors there did nothing to address the fatally high blood sugar spikes until he collapsed and went into diabetic shock. His blood sugar registered at 779, accompanied also by a catastrophically high sodium level.”


Not surprisingly, though, the prison has been quite capable – indeed relentless – in keeping Abu-Jamal’s weakened body in custody. Only national and international advocacy successfully forced his transport from his guarded prison infirmary to outside medical centers. Even then, he was kept hidden from family, friends and lawyers. He was monitored 24/7 by a full six prison guards while at the hospital, where he also was kept shackled to his bed, even during medical testing.


In short, prisons prioritize security procedures over medical care. They know no other way.


This is mass incarceration’s war on life and health. University of California law professor Jonathan Simon writes in his 2014 book, Mass Incarceration on Trial,


. . . the very things that define mass incarceration as a distinctive mode of punishment – its scale, its categorical nature, and its prioritization of custody over reform or rehabilitation – all predict that intensified health crises will be an inherent problem (88).


Simon’s words are about California, a state where even the courts now have found persistently incompetent medical care to be a form of torture and a violation of the Eighth Amendment against “cruel and unusual punishment” (89). Simon emphasizes that in California “litigation had begun for the first time to define mass incarceration as the source of unconstitutional conditions” (108, emphasis added).


Any who may have desired Abu-Jamal silenced and dead – and Pennsylvania officials have made no secret about the strength of this desire – have only to wait upon the prison system to do its work. Mass incarceration kills. This is not death by old age. Mass incarceration makes one “elderly,” unduly vulnerable to disease and debilitation. It is the manufacture of premature, high-risk aging. Analysts argue that by age 55 one should be categorized as “elderly” in prison – many lower that age to 50 for all who are incarcerated more than 10 years. The ACLU’s in-depth analysis “The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly” calculates that by 2030 the number of those 55 and over in US prisons will skyrocket to over 400,000, this being a 4,400% increase in elderly prisoners since 1981 when mass incarceration rates began to rise exponentially.


This chronically lethal system, though, also includes prison guards who assume their own right to torture and kill prisoners. They have been known to intentionally handle patients roughly. Bureau of Justice statistics report that prison guards and staff are responsible for as much as half of sexual assaults in prison. Court-mandated studies document “systematic hostility of correctional officers to medical treatment for prisoners and to those who provide it” (Simon, 101). Prisons themselves are lethal cultures, simmering with a tension that Columbia University Law Professor Robert Ferguson describes in his book, Inferno, as always prone to violence, a violence that guards come to desire (95-137). Prison personnel can kill for various reasons, as in Florida in 2014 when 346 prisoners were murdered by law enforcement and prison guard personnel.


The New York Times ended a 2014 editorial, “The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.”


But no one has written about precisely these matters for so long and as directly, eloquently and for so diverse a set of audiences as has Abu-Jamal himself. Across eight books – a new one being published just this year – and thousands of essays in venues as diverse as Street News, Forbes, and the Yale Law Journal, Abu-Jamal has opened the public’s eyes to the multiple ways of the US killing state.


It is Abu-Jamal’s powers of pen and voice for exposing the state’s ways of death and torture, and for a mass readership among the poor and voiceless, that has driven US officials to seek his death for decades – first by execution, and then now, failing that, by the prison system’s own chronic modes of lethal assault. Abu-Jamal is an effective catalyst for change because he is marked as a “public enemy no. 1″ figure by the U.S. killing state while remaining a catalyst for a wide-array of social movements against the state’s structural violence.


The people for whom Abu-Jamal writes have kept him alive. Winning his release now would be a public event of value to any justice-loving people. Abu-Jamal will need well deserved rest and restoration. But with his release must come also a coalition of social movement work – to end mass incarceration. This means ending its torture of hundreds of thousands of elderly in its clutches. It means ending the warehousing of the mentally ill, more of whom are in jails and prisons than reside in state psychiatric care facilities. It requires terminating the brutal culture of death that mass incarceration institutionalizes. In short, it is time to dismantle the US killing state that uses its prison system to control and terrorize anyone whose revolutionary work means building truly alternative institutions that can safeguard a comprehensive freedom – especially for the long colonized, exploited black and brown communities and for the growing numbers of the poor today.
This all can begin with the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal today.


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