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Book Review: The Greatest Threat, by Marshall Edward Conway

July 23, 2010


Marshall Edward Conway has done an excellent job of making the case for Political Prisoners (PP) and Prisoners of War (POW) in the U.S. Although the American government does not recognize PP/POWs, Eddie Conway, formerly a key member of the Baltimore Black Panther Party (BPP), is widely recognized as a PP by Left political movements both national and international. In 1969, the FBI labeled the BPP “the greatest threat” to the internal security of the U.S. In 1970, Eddie was arrested and subsequently convicted for the shooting death of a city policeman. He remains in prison to date.

Eddie maintains that a small ragtag BPP of 5000 to 8000 members with a few raggedy shot guns was never a serious threat to a combined U.S. military/police force of millions but it was the POLITICS of the BPP which was the “greatest threat”; thus in the eyes of the FBI it had to be destroyed.

The government used an illegal COunter INTELligence PROgram, COINTELPRO, as its main weapon to destroy a legitimate political organization, the BPP, by killing, exiling or imprisoning many of its members and leaders, scores of whom remain imprisoned today, 40 years later.

In addition to COINTELPRO, the CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Army Intelligence (AI), and other government agencies also engaged in illegal and unconstitutional actions against Black and other political organs of the era: the American Indian Movement, Weather Underground Organization, Puerto Rican Independentistas, Brown Berets, I WOR QUEN, MOVE, United Freedom Front, etc., in order to silence political dissent.

The class of prisoners which Eddie Conway identifies as PP/POWs is largely made up of victims of COINTELPRO and combatants resisting the repression resulting from COINTELPRO. The Senate Committee tasked with CORRECTING GOVERNMENT ABUSES under COINTELPRO only issued statements and made suggestions. It wrote: “The American people need to be assured that NEVER AGAIN will …the government…conduct a secret war against those citizens it considers a threat to established order,” but the question of the status of the victims of that secret war was left untouched by the Committee.

Other nations who addressed dirty wars on populations during that same period have released their PPs: United Kingdom vs Irish Republican Army (IRA), South Afrika vs Afrikan National Congress (ANC), Germany vs Red Army Faction (RAF), as well as dissident movements in Burma, Iran, Cuba, China and other countries. Yet the U.S. continues to hold in prison its BPP/BLA and other class war prisoners of the era.

Andrew Young, President Carter’s Ambassador to the U.N., lost his job for speaking the truth that there were over 100 PPs in U.S. prisons. The December 12th Movement, New Afrikan Peoples Organization (NAPO) and other Left organizations submitted petitions to the U.N. Human Rights Committee calling for the U.S. to release its PPs. Mainstream organizations as the NAACP, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and others have added their names to the call. American dock workers and their unions have held work stoppages in support of the release of MOVE/BPP PP Mumia Abu-Jamal. Amnesty International has long called for the release of AIM PP Leonard Peltier. Noted political analyst Dr. Ronald Walters and U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush call for the U.S. to free its PPs, and in particular its long held BPP PP/POWs.

Eddie charges that the U.S. should no longer deny that ex-BPP members and similarly situated prisoners were 1) victims of a secret and illegal war, 2) are in fact PPs and 3) their actions were based on political beliefs and not criminal behavior.

Despite the U.S.’s continued denial of the existence of its PP/POWs, in ‘79 President Jimmy Carter granted unconditional clemency to 5 Puerto Rican Nationalist who had shot up Congress and tried to assassinate President Truman in the ‘50s. In ‘99 President Clinton granted amnesty to 11 Puerto Rican Independentistas convicted of bombing conspiracy and 2 white anti-imperialists convicted of bombing government and corporate buildings.

No Black identified as a PP/POW has ever been granted amnesty, pardon or similar release and no law enforcement person has ever gone to prison for assassination of BPP/BLA members.

There are 2.3 million prisoners is the U.S. Over 1 million of them are Black. There are 8 million prisoners in the world. Black prisoners in the U.S. are 1 of every 8 prisoners worldwide. Blacks were and are still at the bottom in every poverty category in the U.S., so the real question is: Was there just cause for those ex-BPP/BLA members presently in prison, and similarly situated PP/POWs, to agitate for change or to resist the conditions some of them lived under? If the answer is yes, then Eddie Conway calls for the release of the Panthers and other long held PP/POWs still in prison. He also calls for a PP/POW class action law suit against COINTELPRO perpetrators and other collective PP approaches to freedom that merit serious consideration. In my opinion there are few faults with his book.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Hinda Gibbs permalink
    December 28, 2010 3:08 am

    I get emails and letters from Amnesty Inational about prisoners in countries other than the United States of America. Why is it I never hear about black political prisoners in the USA? I have written them for their response.

    Perhaps as a people we should get involved asking for the release of black political prisoners here in the USA. Can you suggest a way to go about doing this? I could start by writing to the current US Attorney general.

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