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Mr. Castro, Senator Obama and the Case of Don Siegelman

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Mr. Castro, Senator Obama, and the Case of Don Siegelman

Fidel Castro has now officially stepped down in Cuba, and the candidates seeking their party’s presidential nomination have weighed in on this event.

For those of us who follow events in Cuba, it’s surprising to hear Senator Obama echoing George Bush, and sort of ham-fistedly calling for the release of political prisoners in Cuba. That the United States leads the world in caging its citizens doesn’t seem to have made an impression on the Senator. Senator, we hold the most political prisoners of any nation in the world. Imagine that. Better yet, change that.

What is this American impulse to dictate policy to Latin American countries while turning a blind eye to the same (or worse) situation here at home?

Mr. Bush has already shown himself to be impervious to human rights or to social justice, building as fast as he can his legacy as our Torture President. His delusional call for democracy in Cuba is just par for the course. Senator Obama, on the other hand, may simply not know that there are more abuses in Chicago than there are in Havana. Chicago, where black male drivers are stopped by the police more often by a factor of eight than white males. Where the mentally ill sit on forgotten floors in Cook County jails without advocates, let alone justice. Obama may just need a better domestic policy advisor. If that’s the case, he needs one now, before he is again guided to overlook the beam in our eye for the mote in Cuba’s. What competent advisor would have him calling for the release of political prisoners in Cuba when the world has witnessed the human rights abuses at Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan? When the world has heard whispers of CIA black ops sites and has watched as this Republican administration used our Department of Justice against their political opponents?

Senator Obama, let me introduce you to Don Siegelman.

Under the Bush Administration, Democrats were targeted by the Department of Justice. We all know that -- despite disgraced Attorney General Alberto “Torquemada” Gonzalez’s inability to recall even his shoe size while testifying before Congress. Of those political prosecutions, the one against Don Siegelman has been the more egregious. Not only is it likely that Don Siegelman’s re-election was tanked by election fraud enabled by the Alabama State Attorney General, but there is a long trail of evidence that the Bush DOJ decided to take him out. Because they could and because their mission is to destroy as many of their political opponents as they can while they can.

The stalking of Don Siegelman began in Jack Abramoff’s heyday. He and Scanlon spent a lot of money to defeat him. Since the voters of Alabama decided to elect him, the Republican machine had to resort to election theft. Then, the first Republican case against him was tossed for lack of evidence. But the right hanging judge was found. And the result is a marred process that wound up with Governor Siegelmen being led out of court in leg irons, an unprecedented and flagrant act of abuse.

Siegelman’s supporters have been very unlucky. Their houses tend to burn down and somehow their cars are run off the road. His detractors, on the other hand, tend to be promoted up the state Republican Party ladder and wind up with good jobs like Federal judicial appointments. Under the Bush administration, the Justice Department has become a sewer whose stench is no longer possible to ignore. We cannot allow Don Siegelman to be falsely imprisoned in that sewer if we are to retain our self respect.

During this campaign season, our Democratic front runners are asked to be all things to all people. However, it would be a relief for once to see the front runner reflect on the state of justice in America before reflexively assuming that we occupy some moral high ground from which heights we may judge Cuba when it comes to political detentions. We don’t.

There can be no credible call for the release of political prisoners abroad until the obscenity that is Gitmo has been rectified. Until we’ve honestly dealt with the abuses of the Bush Department of Justice. Until Don Siegelman is free.

The American electorate can handle its candidates’ learning curve as long as it’s clear they are on one. Repeating the same old stale, inaccurate chants about Mr. Castro and Cuba will yield nothing for the repeater but to be filtered out as noise. Castro is mentor to the wave of democracy that is washing over Latin America. When you call upon Cuba to release political prisoners and ignore those the United States is holding, you not only damage yourselves with the electorate. You signal to the international community that they should expect more of the same self serving American myopia. And there is also a signal sent to the struggling democracies in Latin America under Mr. Castro’s wing: the Americans are at it again.

That is not change.

There is no need to go as far as Cuba to find political abuses to decry. Look into the Siegelman case and get this innocent man out of prison. Look into Rove’s involvement, look into the dirty prosecutors, look into the crooked judge. A good start might be taking in the 60 Minutes segment set to air this evening. The millions spent on this year’s campaigns amount to nothing but self indulgent theater if the same old hypocrisy is the result. We want justice for a change. And there could be no better start on that project than to get Don Siegelman’s case back in line with the mainstream of the American judicial process we once could take pride in.

Who will stand up for Don Siegelman? Because that would be real change.


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Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.
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