Judge reverses course, recuses self from trial of Palestinian immigrant

Just two weeks after he angrily refused to recuse himself from the terrorism-related trial of a southwest suburban Palestinian immigrant, a federal judge with ties to Israel changed his mind Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman said he would hand the trial of Evergreen Park woman Rasmieh Odeh to another judge after discovering his family had an investment in a Jerusalem supermarket that Odeh was convicted by an Israeli court of bombing in 1969.

Supporters of the 66-year-old Odeh — due to stand trial next month on charges she lied about that terrorism conviction when she emigrated to the U.S. in 1995 — hailed Borman’s decision Tuesday as a major victory.

“This is a vindication for the defense,” said activist Hatem Abudayyeh. “Our opposition to Judge Borman hearing this case had nothing to do with his Jewish faith and everything to do with his decades of support for the state of Israel.”

Odeh’s attorneys had asked Borman to recuse himself because he had been honored with a civic award in part for his support of Israel and because his family had raised more than $3 million for a pro-Israeli charity.

After 50 of Odeh’s supporters travelled last month from Chicago to Borman’s Detroit courtroom, an indignant Borman issued a ruling accusing Odeh’s lawyers of “careless and rank speculation” for suggesting that he couldn’t be impartial in her case.

Odeh’s lawyers did not have “a shred of factual support” for their “startling” suggestion that his many trips to Israel mean he has information about torture in Israeli prisons — a key issue in Odeh’s defense — he said at the time.

But on Tuesday he revealed prosecutors had provided him on Monday with a translated copy of Israeli court documents, which name the supermarket Odeh was convicted of bombing as “SuperSol.”

Borman’s family, which owned the Detroit-area’s “Farmer Jack” supermarket chain, had a “passive investment” in SuperSol at the time of the bombing, which killed two people and injured many more, Borman wrote.

Though he insisted “I do not have a personal bias against Defendant Rasmieh Odeh” and stood by his earlier comments, the judge wrote that his family’s investment in “SuperSol at the time of the 1969 bombing could be perceived as establishing a reasonably objective inference of a lack of impartiality.”

The case has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain, who also sits in Detroit.

Odeh’s lawyer Michael Deutsch said Borman had done the right thing, adding that he was “not surprised” to learn that the judge had more links to Israel than previously disclosed.

Deutsch had previously argued that Odeh was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of torture at the hands of her Israeli captors when she failed to disclose the 10 years she spent in an Israeli prison to immigration officials.

This article is from the Chicago Sun-Times BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter August 12, 2014 2:50PM

Torture Survivor Alonzo Smith Wins An Evidentiary Hearing

Chicago Police Torture Survivor Alonzo Smith Wins a New Evidentiary Hearing!

Today, in an important ruling, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Erica L. Reddick granted Alonzo Smith a new hearing to present evidence that he was tortured by Chicago Police and forced to confess to a crime he did not commit. The night he was tortured, Mr. Smith was left bloodied on the floor, fearing for his life. He eventually relented to the abuse and falsely confessed to the murder and robbery of James Fullilove.

This tortured confession led to his wrongful conviction and incarceration for 20 years. Mr. Smith has steadfastly maintained his innocence and has persistently alleged that he was tortured by Sergeant John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan, members of the now convicted, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s notorious Midnight crew.

January 21, 1983: Tortured Into Confessing
Mr. Smith claimed that on January 21, 1983, he voluntarily traveled to Area 2 Police Headquarters to answer questions about a criminal investigation. Once he was there, he was interviewed by Burge, who threateningly warned him that he would talk “one way or the other” “before the night was over with,” and that they “had ways of making [him] talk.”
Later that evening, Dignan and Byrne took Mr. Smith down to the basement, where he was forced to sit on a swivel chair with his hands cuffed behind his back. Dignan then opened a grey plastic bag and brandished a rubber black night stick. Dignan hit Mr. Smith several times between the legs with the rubber nightstick and Byrne kicked him in the stomach. Both Dignan and Byrne hit Mr. Smith on the palms of his hands and the back of his legs with their nightsticks.

Dignan and Byrne then pulled a plastic bag over Mr. Smith’s head and tightened it with a large rubber band. While the bag was over Mr. Smith’s head, Byrne kicked him in the stomach, and Dignan hit him in the stomach with his nightstick. Dignan and Byrne told him that this was just “round one,” and when Mr. Smith again denied involvement in the crimes, Dignan and Byrne bagged and beat him again. This torture left Mr. Smith on the floor with his lip busted and blood on his clothes. Unable to take any more punishment, Mr. Smith agreed to falsely confess to a crime he did not commit, reciting a fabricated statement to a Cook County State’s Attorney fed to him by Byrne and Dignan.

Challenging the Torture-Induced Confession and the Way Forward
Back in 2000, Mr. Smith filed a successive post-conviction petition, which was amended in 2013, setting forth a wealth of newly discovered evidence to corroborate his torture allegations. This evidence consists of reports, testimony and court decisions which unequivocally establishes that Burge and the men under his command systematically tortured and abused suspects and witnesses at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 through 1991. The new evidence also demonstrates that Dignan and Byrne have been accused of torturing scores of African American suspects, just as they did Mr. Smith, in a strikingly similar manner with precisely the same or similar objects. Many of these individuals have since been exonerated or have had their convictions overturned because their confessions were physically coerced.

Today, announcing her decision from the bench, Judge Reddick ruled that Mr. Smith was entitled to have an evidentiary hearing regarding his allegations that his confession was the product of physical coercion, finding that the that the newly discovered evidence presented in his petition was “monumental” and “significant.” She further found that Mr. Smith was entitled to proceed with his Brady claim in which he claims that evidence demonstrating the pattern and practice of torture at Area 2 Police Headquarters was withheld from him throughout his legal proceedings.

If Mr. Smith prevails at that hearing and the Court finds that his confession was physically coerced, his conviction will be vacated and he will be entitled to a new trial.

In response to learning of the decision, Mr. Smith said “I am overwhelmed with happiness. It is the first step towards freedom. God is good.”

Public Statement from Brian Church of NATO 3

The following is a public statement from Brian “Jacob” Church of the NATO 3.  Jacob is serving his sentence at Pinckneyville Correctional Center.


You can write to Jacob at:
Brian Church
P.O. Box 999
Pinckneyville, IL 62274


To my dearest friends and comrades,

I want to thank you all for your never ending love and support for the three of us as we continue to resist this system of state oppression.  The last two years have been a long, hard fought struggle, but finally, with trial done and sentences handed out, we’re on the home stretch.

I’m pretty sure I can say for all three of us that had it not been for the international showing of solidarity for our struggle, we would have been in a different, and much worse, situation.  For me, this support has helped me both physically and mentally.  You all have been most inspiring and uplifting, with constant reminders to stay strong and keep my head up.  It has helped me stay focused and to remember why I resist in the first place.  Please know that even if I may not have written back, that every letter and book I have received has been read and appreciated.

I also wanted to give special thanks to our really great team of attorneys and paralegals working around the clock, through thick and thin, even through the pains of childbirth, just to make sure we were able to have a fair and proper defense.  Your counsel and advice, your opinions (professional and otherwise) and the ability to fight like lions in the courtroom, matched with your dedication to seeing Justice served, has been priceless.  This is probably a good thing because we probably couldn’t have paid anything anyhow, as Tom likes to point out.

Lastly, I want to thank the NATO 3/NATO 5 support committee.  Your weekly visits, media outreach and fundraising has been so important to our defense and spirits.  You have worked for over two years to support us, putting your personal lives on hold and you never had to do any of it.

Every single one of you have my absolute respect for what you’ve done and that’s what helps to make this struggle so worth so much to me.

As it stands right now, I should be released in November 2014.  I cannot wait to see how much things have changed.  Two and a half years may not seem like a lot out there, but we feel every day of it in here.

Much love,
Brian Church



$40 Million Settlement in Wrongful Conviction Case

On Wednesday June 25, 2014, an historic $40 million settlement was reached between the Illinois State Police and the Dixmoor 5.  The settlement has been called the largest wrongful conviction settlement in state history and was announced less than a week after the news of a similar settlement for the Central Park 5 in New York City.

wrongfullyconvicted Dixmoor 5 with their civil rights attorneys (photo by Chicago Tribune)

The Dixmoor 5 were young African American men who were falsely convicted of raping and murdering their 14-year-old classmate in 1991. Despite a complete lack of any physical evidence connecting the young men to the rape and murder, police fabricated confessions by three young men who implicated themselves and two others. Even though the confessions did not match each other or the facts of the crime, all five were wrongfully convicted and sent to prison.

People’s Law Office represent Jonathan Barr, along with the noted civil rights firm of Neufeld, Scheck, and Brustin from New York.  A civil rights lawsuit alleging wrongful conviction was filed on Jonathan’s behalf in 2012.

Jonathan, who was 14 years old at the time of the crime, was convicted in 1997 and given an 85 year sentence.  Jonathan never gave up protesting his innocence and was eventually able to establish that DNA evidence recovered from the victim showed that the sex assault and murder had been committed by a known sex offender, Willie Randoph. Jonathan was imprisoned until 2011 when he was released based on the DNA findings, after spending 18 years in prison.  In 2012 he was awarded a Certificate of Innocence.

While this settlement vindicates Jonathan and the other four men and compensates them for the injustice they suffered, this can never give them back the years they spent behind bars for a crime they did not commit.  Civil rights cases like these are part of the struggle to hold police and prosecutors accountable for the systemic injustices inherent in the criminal legal system.

News Coverage of the Settlement:
$40 Million Wrongful Conviction Settlement Chicago Tribune
$40 Million Settlement Between Dixmoor 5 and Illinois State Police Chicago Sun-Times
Dixmoor 5 Win $40 Million WGN-TV
Dixmoor 5 Men Will Receive Settlement from ISP  WLS

For more information on the case:
Read the Complaint in the civil rights lawsuit
People’s Law Office post when lawsuit was filedPeople’s Law Office commentary on the 60 Minutes piece covering Dixmoor 5 and other false confession cases in Cook County

To learn more about our work on this issue, visit the Wrongful Convictions page and the Victories page to see past successful settlements and jury verdicts we’ve obtained for our falsely convicted clients.

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Case of Torture Survivor

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Torture Survivor’s Case

BY G. Flint Taylor 
Published June 26, 2014 in recognition of International Day of Support for Victims of Torture
This article originally appeared at In These Times

‘[G]iven all the things you know now and all the corruption that came to light … don’t you think that it’s a thin reed on which you’re attempting to hang your resolution to say, given all of that, $3,000 is a fair settlement?’

As declared by the United Nations in 1997, June 26 is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals may have set an alarming precedent for torture survivors around the country with its decision in victim Darrell Cannon’s case late last month.

On May 27, the court shocked Cannon and his supporters by opting to deny him full compensation for the brutal treatment he incurred at the hands of the Chicago Police Department starting in 1983. Led by the notorious Commander Jon Burge, who was fired from his position in 1993 and convicted of perjury in 2010, the Chicago Police victimized at least 120 African-American suspects over the course of two decades, including Cannon, who was tortured before being imprisoned unjustly for 24 years. Despite a number of other survivors receiving millions of dollars from the city of Chicago, Cannon was left with almost nothing—suggesting that the U.S. legal system is all too willing to abandon survivors behind a smokescreen of denial and victim-blaming.

Cannon’s lawyers argued his case in front of the three-judge federal appeals court in January of 2013. (Full disclosure: the author represented Cannon in the U.S. Court of Appeals.) After sympathizing with Cannon’s situation at oral arguments, the court withheld its decision for 16 months. Then, in a stunning reversal of form, it rejected his appeal in a lengthy opinion written by the very judge who had most strongly backed Cannon’s position during the arguments.

Cannon’s criminal case

Darrell Cannon’s 31-year quest for justice began in November 1983, when he was arrested for the murder of a drug dealer by a contingent of midnight-shift detectives who worked for Jon Burge. They allegedly dragged him to a police car, where Cannon says Detective Peter Dignan told him that they had a “scientific way of questioning n*ggers. When Cannon refused to talk, he says Sergeant John Byrne, who was Burge’s self-admitted “right hand man,” and Dignan took him to a remote site on the far southeast side of Chicago, where they enacted a mock execution. After pretending to put a shell in his shotgun, Cannon recounts that Dignan forced the barrel of the gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Dignan allegedly repeated this action two more times. On the third, Cannon says he believed that the back of his head had been blown off.

When Cannon still refused to confess to the murder, he says, Byrne and Dignan threw him into the backseat of their car, pulled down his pants, and repeatedly shocked him on the genitals with a cattle prod. Racked with pain, Cannon agreed to cooperate; after the torture stopped, he withdrew his agreement. Cannon alleges that Byrne and Dignan then administered another round of electric shocks, this time shoving the cattle prod into his mouth. Cannon then relented and gave a false confession that implicated himself in the murder.

During his trial in 1984, Cannon moved to suppress his confession because it was given under torture, but the motion was denied by Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Maloney. (Maloney would later go to federal prison for taking bribes.) Later that year, Cannon was convicted, but his conviction was reversed on appeal, due to racial discrimination during jury selection. Cannon was then held in prison for a decade on murder charges; finally, in 1994, he was re-tried, only to be re-convicted after Maloney’s successor, John Morrissey, denied him the right to introduce newly uncovered evidence that included 28 cases of Chicago Police torture, including 16 in which Byrne and Dignan were accused of abusing other African-American suspects. On appeal in 1997, the Illinois Appellate Court ordered the trial court to conduct a new hearing on Cannon’s motion to suppress his confession, at which time he could introduce the newly uncovered torture evidence. In doing so, the Court strongly condemned the prosecutors’ arguments, saying, “In a civilized society, torture by police officers is an unacceptable means of obtaining confessions from suspects.”

Back in Cook County Criminal Court, Cannon’s lawyers presented evidence of other acts of torture by Byrne and Dignan. They also produced a 1990 Chicago Police Department Report that officially found that there was “systematic” torture and abuse under Burge. The same report noted that Byrne and Dignan were “players” in Burge’s pattern and practice of barbaric cruelty. Cannon’s lawyers also offered a previously suppressed 1994 CPD report that specifically found Cannon had been tortured by Byrne and Dignan, as well as expert psychological evidence that further corroborated Cannon’s claims of torture.

In 2004, the prosecution dismissed Cannon’s case altogether, likely on the unstated grounds that Cannon’s confession had indeed been made under torture. However, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board refused to release him because of a parole hold from a prior conviction. Finally, in 2007, after two parole hearings and an order from a Cook County Judge, Cannon was released from prison after serving 24 years—nine of which he served in Tamms supermax prison.

Cannon’s civil case

After his criminal case was dismissed in 2004, Cannon filed a torture and wrongful conviction lawsuit in federal court. But he faced a significant hurdle. In 1986, while in a rural southern Illinois prison, Cannon had filed a handwritten damages complaint alleging that he was tortured by Byrne and Dignan. In response two years later, the city of Chicago offered him a nuisance value settlement amounting to $3,000. Cannon’s court-appointed attorney—a general practice lawyer who had never worked on a civil rights case, let alone one about torture—advised him to take the deal. Cannon received $1,247 of his settlement; his lawyer took the rest. And as part of the deal, he signed a broadly worded release that included all claims related to his torture that might arise in the future.

When Cannon filed his second damages suit after being released from prison, the city and police defendants attempted to dismiss it. They argued that Cannon’s paltry 1988 settlement agreement prevented him from seeking more compensation against city officials on all of his claims. Meanwhile, starting in 1989, evidence began to surface that the city of Chicago had engaged in a widespread campaign throughout the last decade to conceal Burge’s sadistic practices. In 2006, Judge Amy St. Eve held that this cover-up constituted a fraud by the police defendants and the city—thereby nullifying Cannon’s 1988 settlement. In other words, had Chicago not engaged in concealing the reign of torture by Burge and his cronies, Cannon might have found it much easier to argue that he, too, had been included in the string of victims, and to demand more compensation as a result.

In July 2007, the Chicago City Council held hearings on the Burge torture scandal. There, several Council members, along with U.S. Member of Congress Danny Davis, publicly urged Mayor Richard M. Daley to settle all of the outstanding torture cases, including Cannon’s. Within months, the city had settled four of the five cases for a total of $19.8 million—and offered Cannon nothing. Instead of settling, the city poured extensive legal fees into further contesting Cannon’s case.

Then, in 2011, Judge St. Eve reversed her prior ruling. This time, she sided with the city, deeming the cover-up irrelevant to the issue of fraud. Cannon knew he had been tortured, she said; therefore, he had not been deceived and was not entitled to anything more than his scant original $1,247.

Cannon appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and in January 2013, a three-judge panel of that court heard oral arguments in the case. Led by Judge Ilana Rovner, the court repeatedly upbraided the city’s attorney. Rovner herself passionately rebutted the lawyer’s assertion that the police defendants simply denied that they tortured Cannon, stating that “they didn’t just ‘deny’—they lied, they cheated, they committed fraud, they committed cover-ups.”

“Here are the facts,” she continued. “These officers take a man with a prior murder conviction. Then they lie, then they torture him into making a statement that leads to a second murder conviction, then they lie about it, then they destroy evidence, then they engage in this incredibly lengthy cover-up with other city officials. You’ve got to help me. [On] [w]hat planet does he have a [fair hearing] in the courts under those circumstances?”

As the beleaguered city lawyer concluded his argument, Judge Sarah Barker, a former U.S. attorney from Indiana, focused on the insufficient settlement given to Cannon in 1988:  “[G]iven all the things you know now and all the corruption that came to light … don’t you think that it’s a thin reed on which you’re attempting to hang your resolution to say, given all of that, $3,000 is a fair settlement?”

The Federal Court of Appeals decision

On May 27, 2014, the Appeals Court, in a lengthy opinion authored by the same Judge Rovner, upheld the District Judge’s decision. In its opening paragraph, the court set the tone for its decision:

This appeal casts a harsh light on some of the darkest corners of life in Chicago. The plaintiff, at the time of the events giving rise to this suit, was a general in the El Rukn street gang, out on parole for a murder conviction, when he became embroiled in a second murder. Among the defendants are several disgraced police officers, including the infamous Jon Burge, a man whose name evokes shame and disgust in the city of Chicago.

After reciting a version of the facts that highlighted the details of Cannon’s criminal case while forgoing any recitation of the voluminous record of cover-up that supported his claim, the court proceeded to reject, one by one, all of the arguments that Judge Rovner and her fellow panel members had previously embraced.

The court held that Cannon was bound by the provisions of his 1988 release, and he had thereby forfeited his wrongful conviction claim. Moreover, it refused to acknowledge that this settlement was the product of fraud. In doing so, the panel ruled that although Cannon “knew that Byrne and Dignan were lying” when he signed the release, and that these officers “surely would have lied about torturing others,” Cannon and his court-appointed lawyer purportedly could have “pursued other avenues” to obtain evidence that there was a pattern and practice of torture by the officers who tortured him. Obviously, Cannon and his lawyer would have been working against a wide-ranging campaign to cover up Byrne and Dignan’s torture—but the court, after emphasizing this fact during oral arguments, refused to acknowledge its determinative significance in its written decision.

Furthermore, the panel went so far as to erroneously assert, in the face of a strong evidentiary record to the contrary, that all of the city’s efforts to cover up the evidence of torture came after Cannon settled his case. In doing so, it also minimized the breadth and depth of the cover-up and the role of high-ranking officials in it, essentially reducing the decades of perjury by Cannon’s torturers in numerous cases to a “he said, they said” controversy.

The court then highlighted Cannon’s criminal history, noting that he was a gang leader and a “convicted murderer out on parole” at the time of his arrest.

“It is difficult to conceive of a just outcome given the appalling actions by almost everyone associated with these events,” wrote the panel.

In conclusion, the court rightly asserted that the case “casts a pall of shame over the city of Chicago,” singling out “the police officers who abused the position of power entrusted to them” and the “city officials who turned a blind eye to (and in some instances actively concealed) the claims of scores of African-American men that they were being bizarrely and horrifically abused.” Even so, however, it refused to find that Cannon’s $1,267 net settlement was unfair.

“What the officers did to Cannon was unconscionable,” the court now argued. “The settlement was not.”

The pall of shame darkens

Even as the court acknowledged the systematic torture of African-American Chicagoans, however, its emphasis on Cannon’s criminal history implied that his gang membership and prior murder conviction somehow negated his treatment at the hands of city police. In doing so, it effectively blamed Cannon for his own ordeal. Considering that Cannon has now devoted his life to quelling gang violence as a CEASEfire supervisor—and that Byrne and Dignan narrowly escaped perjury conviction alongside Burge—such justification seems particularly ill-founded. On June 9, Cannon’s lawyers asked the full court to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision, a request that is very seldom granted.

The U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision, though gut-wrenching, is unfortunately not unheard of, particularly with regard to Chicago’s torture history. Over the past 40 years, state and federal courts as well as prosecutors have very seldom been open to providing fair justice to the African-American survivors of Burge-related police torture.  More than 100 were sent to prison—a dozen to death row—on confessions tortured from them. At least 20 remain there, some 25 to 30 years later. While relatively few have been fairly compensated for their torture and wrongful convictions, many more, like Darrell Cannon, have received either nothing or a mere pittance.

In Cannon’s case, had the highest federal court in the Midwest ruled in his favor, it would have been unequivocally declaring that the Chicago police torture cover-up reached up to the highest levels of the local power structure and had lasted for more than three decades. And just as importantly, it would have likely aided others who were put behind bars by Burge, Byrne and Dignan and sent a message to the city that it should fairly compensate all Burge torture victims. But in an all-too-familiar display of failing judicial courage, Judge Rovner and her colleagues chose to retreat instead. Their failure to do the right thing leaves us, once again, to contemplate the words of comedian and people’s philosopher Lenny Bruce, who once famously said, “In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.”



Convictions Tossed for Two Clients of People’s Law Office

Lewis Gardener and Paul Phillips were wrongfully convicted of acting as lookouts for a 1992 murder and spent nearly 15 years in prison.  In January of this year, lawyers from People’s Law Office filed a petition seeking to overturn their convictions.  Yesterday, June 24, 2014, the State’s Attorney agreed and asked the judge to vacate the convictions.

Gardner and Phillips at People's Law Office (photo by Chicago Tribune)Phillips and Gardener were 15 and 17 at the time of the crime and were coerced into giving false confessions.  In total, police obtained false confessions from seven people in the case, establishing the false police theory that three participated in the shooting and four others (including Phillips and Gardener) acted as lookouts.

One of these co-defendants, Daniel Taylor, was convicted and ultimately exonerated, after it was exposed that police and prosecutors withheld crucial evidence.  One of those pieces of evidence was that Taylor was in police lockup at the time of the murder.

The next step for Phillips and Gardener is to obtain Certificates of Innocence so they can receive compensation for the years they spent in prison for a crime they did not commit.

For more coverage of this recent development, read the Chicago Tribune story by Steve Mills: Judge Tosses Convictions of 2 Who Spent 15 Years in Prison

This case is part of our ongoing commitment to helping fight wrongful convictions and cases of false imprisonment.  The injustices of the criminal legal system in this country run deep and wide and these examples of wrongful conviction expose the problems in the system.  For more information on our work on the issue, visit the Wrongful Convictions page on this site.

If you or a loved one were wrongfully convicted and you are interested in filing a civil rights lawsuit, contact our lawyers at (773)235-0070.

Traiciona la democracia la prisión de Oscar López


1 junio 2014


Con 71 años de edad y 33 años de cárcel cumplidos en prisiones remotas, muy distantes de su país, acusado de conspiración sediciosa, pero sin que se le haya probado delito de sangre alguno, Oscar López Rivera es símbolo de una flagrante deshonra para sus carceleros y una afrenta a la democracia que falla en respetar los derechos humanos.

Porque Oscar López Rivera, al margen de su ideología y de sus aspiraciones, es un ciudadano que dedicó dos años de su vida al servicio militar activo, en la guerra de Vietnam, y que se sacrificó duramente por el mismo Estados Unidos que ahora se empeña en mantenerlo aislado, tratando de acallar los reclamos para que lo excarcelen e intentando mantenerlo fuera del foco de la atención mundial.

Pese las peticiones unánimes del pueblo y desde todos los sectores, e importantes voces desde la comunidad internacional, Oscar López sigue recluido en la prisión de Terre Haute, Indiana, y el gobierno de Estados Unidos persiste en ignorar el reclamo para que el anciano activista político y líder comunitario salga a hacer compañía a sus familiares, principalmente a su única hija y a su nieta.

Habría que preguntarse cuál es el empecinamiento de un gobierno, el de Estados Unidos, que presume de sus acciones en favor de los presos politicos del mundo entero -en Ucrania, con Yulia Timoshenko; en China, con el artista Ai Weiwei; en Venezuela, con el opositor Leopoldo López; en Cuba, con el exprisionero Guillermo Fariñas, y hasta en Rusia con el grupo feminista punk “Pussy Riot”, – pero que en su propia casa mantiene sepultado a un puertorriqueño que, de 1986 a 1998, sufrió uno de los regímenes carcelarios más crueles que existen, el de confinamiento en solitaria en la prisión de Marion, Illinois. En Marion, cárcel de extrema seguridad construida en 1963 para sustituir la de Alcatraz que acababa de cerrar, Oscar López superó más de una década sin contacto alguno con familiares o amigos.

El hecho mismo de que, en contradicción con las políticas carcelarias de casi todos los países del mundo, a Oscar se le mantenga en una prisión tan alejada de Puerto Rico, lo que obstaculiza las visitas regulares de sus familiares, es una forma de tortura incomprensible por parte de una nación que proclama su vocación humanitaria. El presidente Obama, que alegó sentirse conmovido al visitar la histórica celda de Nelson Mandela en Robben Island, Sudáfrica, debe saber que en la cárcel de Terre Haute, en Indiana, hay un hombre acusado por los mismos “delitos” que Mandela -la misma figura legal: conspiración sediciosa-, que, a diferencia del líder sudafricano, ha cumplido seis años más de cárcel: de 27 que padeció Mandela, a 33 que acaba de cumplir Oscar López.

Obama tiene la potestad de indultarlo hoy mismo, y debe hacerlo. No se le pide clemencia, sino que cumpla un mandato moral de respeto a la condición humana y, por lo demás, un acto de dignidad, valentía y autovaloración hacia un hombre de principios contra el que se ceban la venganza de estado, el discrimen ideológico, la prostitución de la justicia, la presión de agencias federales de seguridad y la crueldad.

La excarcelación de Oscar López no debe seguir posponiéndose, y el reclamo para su liberación tendrá que seguir siendo unánime y no caer en las trampas del pesimismo o las cábalas políticas electoreras. Los asuntos internos de Estados Unidos, incluso sus procesos eleccionarios, no tienen que importarle a nadie a la hora de exigir la inmediata devolución de ese ser humano a la tierra a la que pertenece, la que lo vio nacer. Es un hombre mayor que ha demostrado una conducta ejemplar y que no merece enfermarse o incapacitarse en prisión, algo que causaría gran dolor e impotencia a todo su pueblo.

El gobierno de Estados Unidos está moralmente impedido de interceder por ningún preso político, en ningún lugar del mundo, mientras continúe el presidente burlándose de la memoria de Mandela y violando los derechos civiles, políticos y el derecho a la libertad de Oscar.


The ongoing imprisonment of Oscar López is a betrayal of democracy


June 1, 2014


At 71 years of age and having served 33 years in remote prisons, far away from his country, accused of seditious conspiracy, but never having been found guilty of shedding any blood, Oscar López Rivera is the symbol of a flagrant dishonor for his jailers and an affront to democracy that fails to respect human rights.

Because Oscar López Rivera, beyond his ideology and his aspirations, is a citizen who dedicated two years of his life to active military service, in the Vietnam War, and who rigorously sacrificed himself for the very United States that is now engaged in keeping him isolated, trying to silence the calls for his release and intending to keep him out of the spotlight of worldwide attention.

In spite of the unanimous demands of the people and from every sector, and important voices in the international community, Oscar López is still held in the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the United States government persists in ignoring the call for the release of this elderly political activist and community leader, so that he can be with his family, mainly his only daughter and his granddaughter.

One must ask why the government of the United States would be so stubborn, a government that boasts of its actions for the rights of political prisoners in the whole world – in Ukraine, with Yulia Timoshenko; in China, with artist Ai Weiwei; in Venezuela, with the opposition leader Leopoldo López; in Cuba, with ex-prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, and even in Russia with the feminist punk group “Pussy Riot” – but in its own country keeps buried alive a Puerto Rican who, from 1986 to 1998, suffered one of the most cruel prison punishments that exists, that of solitary confinement in the prison of Marion, Illinois. In Marion, a super-maximum security prison built in 1963 to replace Alcatraz, which had just closed, Oscar López managed to survive more than a decade with absolutely no contact with his family or friends.

The very fact that, contrary to the criminal justice policies of almost every country in the world, Oscar is held in a prison so distant from Puerto Rico, hindering regular family visits, is a form of incomprehensible torture by a nation which purports to have a humanitarian calling. President Obama, who claimed to feel moved when he visited the historic cell of Nelson Mandela in Robben Island, South Africa, should know that in the prison at Terre Haute, in Indiana, there is a man accused of the same “crimes” as Mandela – the same legal charge: seditious conspiracy – for which, different from the South African leader, he has served six years longer in prison: Mandela endured 27 years in prison; Oscar López has just marked 33 years in prison.

Obama has the power to release him today, and he should do so. He’s not being asked to pardon, but rather to fulfill a moral mandate of respect for the human condition and, apart from that, an act of dignity, valor, and self-worth for a man of priniciples against whom state vengeance, ideological discrimination, the prostitution of justice, pressure by federal security agencies, and cruelty are imposed without mercy.

The release of Oscar López cannot keep being postponed, and the call for his freedom must continue to be unanimous and not fall into the trap of pessimism or electoral political cabals. Internal affairs of the United States, including its electoral processes, need not matter to anyone when it comes to returning this human being to the land he belongs to, that saw him come to life. He is an older man who has conducted himself in exemplary fashion and who does not deserve to get sick or incapacitated in prison, something that would cause great pain and impotence to his entire people.

The government of the United States is morally impeded from intervening on behalf of any political prisoner, in any place in the world, while the president continues to mock the memory of Mandela, violate civil and political rights and Oscar’s right to freedom.

33 Day Walk for Oscar López Successful

By: Alberto Rodríguez


Photo Credit: Lin Benitez

May 2014 was an exciting and historic month in the three decade long campaign to free Puerto Rican Political Prisoner, Oscar López Rivera. Oscar is the longest held Puerto Rican Political Prisoner convicted in  U.S. federal court for seditious conspiracy for his commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico. Commemorating the anniversary of his 33 years in captivity, the campaign for his release organized “la Caminata Nacional 33 en 33 por Oscar.” (33 in 33 Walk for Oscar). This walk began April 27 in the small central
town of Gurabo and toured 33  towns in 33 days to raise awareness about the case of López Rivera and to gather support for the  call for his release.

Each day one town was connected with another in a  333 mile walk through winding mountainous roads. While a small, hearty core group of activists and supporters participated in consecutive daily walks, each town added its own flavor, sometimes its own mayor, and often hundreds of walkers —  an eclectic group of young people, seniors, athletes, elementary, high school and college students, unions, musicians, civic and religious groups, elected officials, those in wheel chairs  and the able bodied, pro-independence activists,  supporters of the present political status with the U.S., as well as supporters of statehood.


Photo Credit: Alina Luciano

People in small rural villages and barrios stood and waited at their front gates for the “Caminata”. Passing cars blasted their horns and shouted their support. Children came out of their classrooms to shout approval and display signs they made themselves, of love and support for Oscar. Some schools even allowed their students to leave the classroom to join the walk.

When the walk reached each town’s plaza, a beautiful cultural event took place with music and poetry. Under a blazing afternoon sun, children sang while others read their writings dedicated to Oscar.

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Photo Credit: Lin Benitez

As the walk in the mountains was underway, another event took place in San Juan called “Al Mar X Oscar” (To the sea for Oscar), inspired by a letter from prison to his granddaughter Karina, in which he wrote, “… after the family, what I miss the most is the sea. It’s been 35 years since the last time I saw it.” On a beautiful Sunday afternoon on May 25, hundreds marched along the waterfront of Old San Juan while row boats, paddle boats, rafts, kayaks, fishing boats, long Asian inspired dragon boats, jet skis, practically anything that could float accompanied them. At the foot of the century old walls of the Spanish fort, El Morro, the water crafts landed with a “cabezudo” papier-mache puppet head representing Oscar wading on shore symbolically representing his arrival to Puerto Rico by sea. Oscar’s daughter Clarisa López and granddaughter Karina Valentín emotionally greeted the symbolic Oscar. At a cultural and political rally held in front of El Morro, Clarisa stated, “We are going to achieve what seems the impossible … returning my father to the motherland …” The multitude present shouted their approval.

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Photo Credit: Cultura Profética

On May 29 the Caminata arrived in front of the Federal Building in San Juan after successfully visiting 33 towns in 33 days. In solidarity with the Caminata, Oscar walked 333 miles in those 33 days, in the prison yard. The women who meet the last Sunday of  every month on the Dos Hermanos Bridge demanding Oscar’s release marched from the bridge in Old San Juan to the Federal Building in the financial district of San Juan.Headed by Oscar’s daughter Clarisa and the President of the Bar Association, Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, dressed in pink t- shirts, with flags and posters with messages of support. Then the Caminata arrived, headed by a giant key held by some of the former Puerto Rican Political Prisoners released in 1999 by presidential commutation of their excessive sentences. Behind them were delegations from each of the towns that the Caminata had marched through, along with artists, athletes and members of different political parties as well as civic and religious organizations. The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, and former political prisoner Rafael Cancel Miranda were present. A rally of celebration and joy followed the end of the Caminata. Oscar’s attorney Jan Susler, a partner in the People’s Law Office, stated that the work in Puerto Rico around Oscar’s release was having positive results in the U.S. She mentioned that this year’s Puerto Rican Parade in New York was paying tribute to Oscar and calling for  his release. She said, “I ask you to continue with that consistency, that emotion that inspires us to continue working for Oscar’s release.”

The Puerto Rican people have sent a powerful message to the White House that we want Oscar López Rivera released from U.S. custody now. In the midst of the worst economic crisis the island has experienced in decades, high energy and food costs, mass exodus to the U.S., primarily of the young and the educated, a crumbling education and health system, a rise in crime and the insecurity and anxiety it creates; Oscar López has not been forgotten, and the call for his release is front and center. In a recent editorial of El Nuevo Día, the most widely read newspaper in Puerto Rico with a clear pro-American editorial position stated the following:

At 71 years of age and having served 33 years in remote prisons, far away from his country, accused of seditious conspiracy, but never having been found guilty of shedding any blood, Oscar López Rivera is the symbol of a flagrant dishonor for his jailers and an affront to democracy that fails to respect human rights. In spite of the unanimous demands of the people and from every sector, and important voices in the international community, Oscar López is still held in a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. The United States government persists in ignoring the call for his release. The government of the United States is morally impeded from intervening on behalf of any political prisoner, in any place in the world, while the president continues to mock the memory of Mandela, violate civil and political rights and Oscar’s right to freedom.

Photo Credit: Alina Luciano

From his jail cell, Oscar López says, “I can’t afford to think about freedom. The future is very unpredictable and I have no clear idea of when I will leave prison. I don’t like illusory optimism.”  As a former Puerto Rican political prisoner myself, I can fully understand the need to guard oneself from such thoughts and dreams. Here in Puerto Rico, there is a mass sense of optimism and faith that President Obama will do the right and just thing and release Oscar. This optimism is not idealistic or unfounded but very much rooted in a proud history of witnessing our political prisoners walking out of the gates of U.S. prisons. Here, there is faith in the power of a united Puerto Rican people demanding in one loud, clear and unwavering voice “Free Oscar López Now!”

Brian Jacob Church Defense Team Statement

We are disappointed that Judge Wilson sentenced the NATO 3 to additional time in prison, albeit far less that the State’s request for 14 years. Our client Brian Jacob Church should be released at the outside in 6 months.

It is quite disturbing that even after the jury resoundingly rejected all the terrorism charges the States Attorney in comparing the case to the Boston bombing continued to demonize the defendants and seek harsh sentences as if this were a terrorism case.

We continue to strongly believe that the entire “terrorism” prosecution was politically motivated by the States Attorney, Chicago Police and Mayor Emmanuel, in an effort to justify the obscene amount of resources and propaganda, including spying and infiltration, devoted to creating climate of fear leading up to the large non-violent protest against NATO. The terrorism arrests days before the large Sunday demonstration was an effort to intimidate the potential peaceful protesters and encourage the police to use unnecessary force against the people who demonstrated.

We think the opinion piece by Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun Times captures the sentiment of many people who followed the legal proceedings “But I will always believe the NATO 3 never posed as great a threat to the freedom of the people of Chicago as those who assigned police officers to infiltrate dissident political groups in search of potential “criminals”— and by those who chose to define those criminals as terrorists.

Oral Argument Set for Occupy Chicago Appeal

Today, we received word that the oral argument has been set for the Occupy Chicago Appeal.  The oral argument will be May 13, 2014 at 10:30 a.m. in the Appellate Courtroom, First District of Illinois, at 160 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL.  The argument will be open to the public, although people need to show a state-issued ID in order to enter the building.

The case, City of Chicago v. Alexander, Tieg, etc. 1-12-2858 is in appellate court after a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled in favor of Occupy Chicago.  The case dates back to October of 2011, when approximately 300 activists associated with Occupy Chicago were arrested on two consecutive Saturdays for violating a City Municipal Ordinance mandating a curfew in all City parks.

Attorneys from People’s Law Office (PLO), along with other attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) represented those arrested.  Nearly 100 of the arrestees opted to challenge their arrests and the PLO and NLG attorneys drafted and filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges based on the First Amendment.  We argued that the Municipal Ordinance violated the Free Speech of those arrested.  We were ultimately successful and a judge found that the ordinance was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the activists who were defendants.

For more about the case, read these two articles on this site:
Free Speech and the Criminalization of Occupy
Occupy Chicago Appeal will Review City Ordinance’s Limits on Free Speech

In addition, below are briefs from both the City of Chicago and the NLG attorneys representing Occupy Chicago defendants.

Documents from Occupy Chicago Appeal

City of Chicago’s Appeal Brief – May 8, 2013

Occupy Chicago Response Brief – September 30, 2013

City of Chicago’s Reply Brief - December 12, 2013


Documents from Trial Level Court

Decision Ruling in Favor of Occupy Chicago - September 27, 2012

Occupy Chicago Reply to City – February 10, 2012

Original Occupy Chicago Motion to Dismiss - November 4, 2011