Justice Dep't Refuses to Investigate Mumia's Rights' Violations
INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE TO SAVE THE LIFE OF MUMIA ABU-JAMAL
Nine Days Before Leaving Office, the Clinton Administration Announces Its Refusal
to Conduct a Federal Civil Rights Investigation into the Violation of Mumia
Abu-Jamal's Civil and Constitutional Rights!
On December 11, 2000, an international delegation of trade union and political leaders met at
the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington with Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart
Ishimaru. The delegation was following up on a meeting held on January 12 with Mr. Ishimaru,
at which a demand was made that the Department of Justice open a federal investigation into 29
documented violations of the civil and constitutional rights of Mumua Abu-Jamal, a political
prisoner being held on death row in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Ishimaru told the international delegation on December 11 that the Department of Justice
had not yet made a decision regarding federal government intervention. But, under continued
pressure from the delegation, he made a specific commitment to issue of final report on the
Department of Justice's decision on this matter before the end of the Clinton Administration.
On January 10, 2001, Ishimaru announced the Department of Justice's decision in a letter faxed
to Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee
(FLOC/AFL-CIO) and chairperson of the international delegation. The long-awaited response
"We [the Department of Justice] have carefully reviewed the circumstances surrounding Mr.
Abu-Jamal's arrest, prosecution and conviction. As a result of this review, we have determined
that a federal investigation into allegations that Mr. Abu-Jamal's civil rights were violated as a criminal matter by the Philadelphia Police Department and other component agencies of the City
of Philadelphia is not warranted at this time."
We, the undersigned who participated in or otherwise supported these two international
delegations to the Department of Justice on behalf of Abu-Jamal, are outraged by this decision
and by the spurious reasons provided by the Department of Justice for refusing to conduct an
investigation. We cannot accept this decision.
To support its decision, the Department of Justice claims that "The statute of limitations on filing criminal civil rights charges has expired in this matter, and the evidence is insufficient to establish a continuing conspiracy that may overcome the strictures of that statute."
This claim cannot be sustained. Anticipating such an argument, the international delegation
submitted a memorandum to Mr. Ishimaru on January 12, 2000, demonstrating that there has
been on ongoing conspiracy against Abu-Jamal. The memo argued that during the last five years
Abu-Jamal's rights in jail have been violated. It also documented new threats against potential
Here is a partial list of these violations:
- In 1995, Abu-Jamal was punished by prison authorities and put in "the hole" for 90 days for
the simple act of writing political statements while in prison. He was accused on "conducting a
business" from his prison cell. Abu-Jamal appealed this violation of his constitutional rights in the celebrated "Write-Up For Writing" court case, which he eventually won.
- Abu-Jamal has been prevented repeatedly from receiving his mail. His complaints have been
filed routinely, to little or no avail.
- In an effort to silence Abu-Jamal, no press, cameras, or microphones are allowed in
Abu-Jamal's prison cell.
- The rights of Abu-Jamal's spiritual advisers have been curtailed drastically, in violation of his rights.
- Veronica Jones, who had testified in the initial trial against Abu-Jamal, reversed her story in
1996, stating that she was threatened with the loss of her children if she did not support the
police story. While on the stand testifying on behalf of Abu-Jamal, Jones was arrested for a
minor discrepancy in her testimony. This was a scandalous act of intimidation against a witness.
To this partial list, we must add the fact that on 23 separate occasions in 1996 the Department
of Justice itself brought charges against the Philadelphia Police Department for violating the civil rights of its citizens, particularly African Americans. This is the same police department that suppressed, manipulated, and manufactured evidence against Abu-Jamal.
No. The evidence of ongoing conspiracy is not only sufficient, it is over-abundant. Did the
Department of Justice actually examine these transgressions of Abu-Jamal's rights during its
The Department of Justice also claims that
"Moreover, we note that the credibility of a number of witnesses supporting Mr. Abu-Jamal's
allegations has been questioned by state courts reviewing the trial records. While we express no
opinion as to the reliability of any witness, such negative credibility determinations pose
significant challenges to the viability of a criminal civil rights prosecution."
What witnesses is the Department of Justice referring to here? Why is no one named? Who can
accept such a vague reference to "negative credibility."
The issue of witness credibility is entirely the opposite of what Mr. Ishimaru would have us
believe. As the documents provided by the international delegation make abundantly clear,
witnesses were harassed into giving false testimony. Veronica Jones was one of them.
Moreover, two prosecution witnesses - Cynthia White and Robert Chobert - were given
special favors by the police in exchange for their testimony, including exemption from criminal
Talk about "negative credibility": First, Cynthia White (the prostitute who received favorable
treatment from law enforcement) initially told police that the shooter who killed Philadelphia
police officer Daniel Faulkner was "short" (her estimate: shorter than 5'8"), while Abu-Jamal is
lean and tall (6'1"). Second, Robert Chobert (the cab driver on probation and driving without a
valid driver's license who solicited assistance from the trial prosecutor concerning his livelihood) described the shooter as "heavy" - indeed, about fifty ponds heavier than Abu-Jamal (his estimate: 225 pounds). Third, Michael Scanlan (the prosecution's most "reliable" fact witness) expressed certainty that the shooter had an "Afro" hair style, while Abu-Jamal's most distinctive physical attribute is that he wore dreadlocks.
No. We cannot accept such a blatant distortion of the facts.
The Department of Justice further claims that
"In addition, claimed improprieties regarding the conduct of the police, prosecutors and other
officials, and the handling and presentation of physical evidence, are not sufficiently supported
by the evidence to establish the requisite high level of criminal intent necessary for a criminal civil rights prosecution."
Not sufficiently supported by the evidence? The Justice Department was presented with
detailed information regarding violations of Abu-Jamal's civil and constitutional rights with
respect to the suppression and manufacturing of evidence; the inadequacy of counsel during the
guilt phase of the trial; the manner in which the trial and direct appeal were conducted; the
selection of the jury and improper jury procedures; the penalty phase of the trial; and the
conduct of the post-conviction proceedings.
Any one of these violations, alone, should have warranted a federal civil rights investigation, as per the statutory obligations of the Department of Justice. The evidence was compelling; it cried out for a federal investigation.
The Department of Justice concludes its letter with the claim that
"Finally, we have learned that Mr. Abu-Jamal has filed a petition for federal habeas corpus
relief. This, rather than a federal criminal prosecution, may be the appropriate forum to address
any alleged improprieties in Mr. Abu-Jamal's trial."
Mr. Ishimaru and the Department of Justice know full well that Abu-Jamal's attempts to secure
relief in the court system have been denied time and again. In fact, one of the main reasons a
federal investigation is warranted is the entire role of the Pennsylvania courts in railroading
Abu-Jamal's attorneys have filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in a federal district court. Federal District Judge William Yohn will soon decide whether Abu-Jamal will receive an
evidentiary hearing, a new trial, a summary judgment in his favor, or whether he will be denied
Thus far, Judge Yohn has refused to even examine the four sets of amicus briefs sent by 22
Members of British Parliament, among others, on Abu-Jamal's behalf. In response to this
unprecedented act, Abu-Jama's attorneys filed a Writ of Mandamus to demand that these
amicus briefs be admitted into evidence - a writ that was denied the very day the international
delegation was meeting at the Department of Justice.
This persistent refusal to allow into evidence all the new documentation of improprieties is
precisely why the international delegation explicitly admonished the Department of Justice to do
its job and not concern itself with what the courts would do or would not do in the case of
But now a decision has been made.
We, the undersigned, must state things clearly:
By refusing to open an investigation, the Clinton administration bears direct responsibility for
whatever might happen to Mumia under the next Bush administration. Clinton and Reno had the
power and ability to intervene. They could have opened a federal civil rights investigation and
established the basis for a new trial. But they refused to do so!
If Mumia is executed, the Clinton Administration will bear direct responsibility!
But we will not allow this to happen. By mobilizing in greater numbers the world over, we can -
and we will - stop this terrible injustice!
That is why we, supporters of the International Committee to Save the Life of Mumia
Abu-Jamal, will not relent in this fundamental struggle for democratic rights.
We call for the broadest possible unity in action. We call upon the millions of working people
and youth the world over for whom Democracy and Justice are not just empty words. We call
upon workers' organizations and democratic organizations - and particularly upon the trade
unions, many of which have already heeded the call of the Labor For Mumia campaign in the
United States - to step up the fight.
We call upon you to organize delegations and demonstrations at U.S. embassies and consulates
the world over. We call upon you to demand that all heads of state and government immediately
address the incoming Bush administration in the United States with the following demands:
- Open a Federal Investigation into the Violations of Mumia Abu-Jamal's Constitutional Rights!
- New Trial For Mumia Abu-Jamal!
Initial Statement Endorsers in the United States:
- Baldemar Velasquez, President, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (AFL-CIO), with the
mandate of the national leadership of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
- Pam Africa, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and MOVE
organization (Philadelphia, PA)
- Nancy Wohlforth, Vice President, California Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO); national
co-chair, Pride at Work; president, OPEIU Local 3
- Dennis O'Neil, Legislative Director, New York Area Metro Postal Union
- Bill Bachmann, Member, New York Area Metro Postal Union
- Alan Benjamin, Continuations Committee, Open World Conference; OPEIU Local 3
- Jerry Gordon, Coordinator, Jan. 12 Delegation to U.S. Department of Justice on Behalf of
- Randy Christensen, Communication Workers (CWA) #9415
- Ed Rosario, Executive Board, San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO) and Continuations
Committee, Open World Conference
- Saladin Muhammad, Chairperson, Black Workers For Justice (BWFJ)
- Jim Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles
- Suzanne Ross, Ph.D., Organizer, New York Coalition to Free Mumia
- Ruth Atkin, Councilmember, City of Emeryville, CA
- Tamera CJ Baggett, Grassroots Alliance to End Poverty (Philadelphia)
- Millie Phillips, Editorial Board, The Organizer newspaper
- Theresa El-Amin, Coordinator, Southern Anti-Racism Network (Durham, NC)
- Tom Lacey, North State Chair, California Peace and Freedom Party (for id. only)
- Michael Eisenscher, Director of Organizational Development, University Council of
American Federation of Teachers (for id. only)
- Dorothy Gilles, St. Louis Area Organizer, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO
- Mike Ferner (Toledo, OH)
- Timothy L. Stinson, The Organizer Newspaper
- Fred Hirsch, Vice President, Plumbers & Fitters Local 393 (San Jose, CA)
- Hal Sutton, Trustee, UAW Local 1268 (for id. only)
- Raymond Giraud, Emeritus Professor of French, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA (for id.
- Asher Harer, Retiree, ILWU (San Francisco, CA)
- Ruth Harer, Retiree, OPEIU Local 3 (San Francisco, CA)
- Christopher L. Frye, Member, Graphic Communications Internation Union, Local 4N,
Santa Cruz, CA (for id. only)
- Dan Kaplan, Executive Secretary, AFT Local 1493, San Mateo Federation of Teachers (for
- Richard Lochner, Steward, American Postal Workers Union (for id. only)
- Jennifer Sullivan, Lancaster Diocesan Faith and Justice Commission
- Larry Duncan, Co-producer, Labor Beat cable-tv show (Chicago, IL)
- Roberto Simeon, Democratic Social Revolutionary Party of Cuba (Miami, FL)
- Lee Harrison Chauser, Teacher (LAUSD)
- Steve Ongerth, IWW (Oakland, Calif.)
- Nicholas Sammond (San Diego, CA)
- Chris Felley, Student (New York, NY)
- Michael O. Nimkoff, (Palm Springs, CA)
- Alexei Folger (San Francisco, CA)
- Rosalyn Fay (Berkeley, Calif.)
- Julia Steinberger, Researcher, MIT (Cambridge, MA)
- Desmond Bailey, Jr. (Boston, MA)
- Duncan McFarland (Somerville, MA)
- Aimee V. Wrin (Boston, MA)
- Amanda Mehlenbacher (Boston, MA).