Some death penalty leaders in the US secretly tried to exclude prominent death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and his attorney from last Spring's World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva. Now their machinations are being made public, and are causing an uproar.
By Dave Lindorff
"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
On the evening of March 4, participants at the Fourth UN World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland had assembled from all over the globe for a dramatic Voices of Victims evening. It got more dramatic than they had anticipated though, when suddenly a cell phone rang and Robert R. Bryan, lead defense attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal, jumped up on the stage to announce that his client had called him from death row in Pennsylvania.
The audience sat in rapt silence as the emcee held the phone up to the microphone. Abu-Jamal, on death row for 28 years after a widely disputed conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, greeted the delegates and then, as he has done on many occasions before, described to them the horrors of life in prison for the 20,000 people around the world who are awaiting execution.
A small group of American death penalty abolitionist leaders, led by Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, stalked out of the hall. Two members of MVFHR, however, remained in the hall: Bill Babbitt, whose brother Manny, a Vietnam vet suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder, was executed in California; and Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered by a girl whom he later befriended and helped to spare from execution. Babbitt even joined Bryan onstage during Abu-Jamal's brief address.
What neither Babbitt nor Pelke, nor Abu-Jamal and his attorney, Bryan, knew at the time was that way back in December, leaders and individual board members of several of the organizations in the US abolitionist movement had signed--without their full boards' or their memberships' knowledge--a "confidential" memorandum, which they then sent to the French organizers of the World Congress, stating bluntly that, "As international representatives of the US abolition movement, we cannot agree to the involvement of Abu-Jamal or his lawyers in the World Congress beyond attendance."
Purporting to be from "the US members of the Steering Committee" of the World Congress (though hardly an inclusive list of that committee's membership) and titled, "Involvement of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the US coalition for abolition of the death penalty," the memo claimed that the French organizers of the World Congress, Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM), had arranged to have Abu-Jamal speak "over objection." The memo further further asserted that the abolitionist movement in the US is trying to "cultivate" the support of the ultra-conservative and staunchly pro-death penalty Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), an organization representing some 35,000 police officers in the US that advocates the execution of Abu-Jamal and all other prisoners convicted of killing of police officers. The FOP, said the memo, has "announced a boycott of organizations and individuals who support Abu-Jamal," and therefore anything done by the Congress to aid his cause would be "dangerously counter-productive to the abolition movement in the US."
ThisCantBeHappening! this past week obtained a copy of that secret memorandum.
When we showed it to some other members of the boards of the organizations whose officers or individual board members had signed their names to it, responses ranged from consternation to outrage. Babbitt's brother Manny was killed as a direct result of a corrupt law enforcement system in California that for purely political gain pressed for execution, even though it was clear from medical testimony that the elderly grandmother he allegedly killed actually died of shock when she discovered him breaking and entering her apartment. Left in the dark about the memo despite his being on the MVFHR board, Babbitt said, "My brother Manny's last words to me were to always take the high road, and to me that means telling the truth and being open and transparent." He adds, regarding the content of the memo, "I think throwing Mumia under the bus is not the way to go in the abolitionist movement. You don't make bargains with a wolf whose motive is to devour." ...
For the rest of this article by DAVE LINDORFF, please go to: ThisCantBeHappening!
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy" and "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal"). His latest book, coauthored with Barbara Olshanshky, is "The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin's Press, May 2006).