COINTELPRO’s long shadow

In February, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Bennett decided in favour of the United States government’s extradition request against John Graham. Far from accepting the dictates of the American government, Graham’s Defense Committee continues to ask for solidarity as they prepare appeals in this case.

Broad opposition to the extradition has already come in, from Noam Chomsky to B.C.’s Hospital Employees Union. But much more is required. A generation after the Leonard Peltier case and the FBI’s COINTELPRO disruption of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and other social movements, the John Graham case is too important to be ignored.

John Graham, a Canadian citizen and former AIM activist, has been charged in a U.S. court with the 1975 murder of Anna Mae Aquash, a member of the Mi’kmaq First Nation who was a prominent young leader of AIM.

An editorial piece such as this can’t do justice to the complexities of this case, nor to the sordid history of U.S. government sabotage of the American Indian Movement. Rex Wyler, a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist, has written extensively on the Graham case, and his in-depth article – published in the CanWest Global Vancouver Sun of all places – provides a fairly definitive summary. (See ‘Who Killed Anna Mae?’ January 4, 2004).

Suffice to say, though, that the evidence against Graham is highly dubious, and must be viewed in light of the 1976 Peltier extradition, where it is now acknowledged that the FBI falsified evidence. Further, the entire context of the case is the U.S. government’s efforts to exterminate oppositional Native movements, as a culmination of a centuries-long genocide and colonisation.

The COINTELPRO infiltration by government agents — also now well documented — was designed to create and fuel violent internecine conflicts within AIM as well as other organized threats to ‘Homeland Security’ such as the Black Panther Party, the Socialist Workers Party and a myriad of other groups organizing for social change.

A number of journalists, commentators, and Native activists have articulated a principled position on the case: No matter who pulled the trigger, the FBI is responsible for the murder of Anna Mae.

Statements available at the Defense Committee’s website reveal the breadth of opposition to the extradition (www.grahamdefense.org). Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4163 recently passed a resolution highlighting some of the critical political issues at stake. In addition to calling on Justice Minister Irwin Cotler not to allow the extradition, it resolves to:

*Remind the Minister of the false FBI evidence provided to Canada in the 1976 extradition of Anishinabe-metis leader Leonard Peltier, who remains in Leavenworth prison 28 years later.

*Remind the Minister of the FBI’s use of COINTELPRO and other provocateur and disinformation tactics, against Chilean refugees, black civil rights leaders, the peace movement, and AIM in the years 1970-75, which included false accusations, planted evidence, and (tolerated) assassination.

*Ask that the Canadian government not hide from its responsibility behind an intergovernmental procedure, but respect the spirit of the rule of law. If Graham must stand trial, as a Canadian citizen he should have a fair trial — in Canada.

In the wake of the Maher Arar case, in which the U.S. government deported a Canadian citizen to Syria, this last point seems particularly salient. The ongoing attack on indigenous rights and sovereignty is a central part of the ‘war at home’.

Vancouver city councilor Tim Louis, in a letter dated April 13 2004, noted the impossibility of a fair trial south of the border:

*Given the extent of irregularities and misinformation involved in the recent convictions of co-accused Arlo Looking Cloud, and in Leonard Peltier’s trial and extradition from Canada on the basis of false affidavits submitted by the F.B.I., I am convinced that a fair trial for Mr. Graham is not possible in the U.S.

Finally, the Secwepemc Native Youth Movement’s official statement on the John Graham case emphasizes the imperative issue of indigenous sovereignty at the heart of this case:

*Secwepemc NYM believes that no Indian should be forced into the white man’s courts or prisons. The white man has come here to our Land and invaded every aspect of our lives. They have waged war on us and that has forced us to fight back and resist their invasion and forced assimilation. When we fight for the freedom of our People we have always been criminalized and thrown in their prisons.

The Secwepemc people know first hand the price paid by those who stand up for their right to self-determination and dignity. For years, they have engaged in protest and direct action against the expansion of the Sun Peaks resort outside of Kamloops, B.C. Their persistent efforts have won them solidarity from social justice and environmental activists in Canada and internationally, and their statement against the John Graham extradition deserves to find an echo amongst progressives and all those who support Native rights and civil liberties.

The Defense Committee is asking for letters to the editor, statements of support, and appeals to Minister Cotler. COINTELPRO and similar government efforts at disrupting social movements continue to cast a long shadow; we can take one step out of that darkness by taking a stand in opposition to John Graham’s extradition to the United States.

Derrick O’Keefe is an activist and founding editor of the progressive on-line journal Seven Oaks (www.SevenOaksMag.com).

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