Editor’s Note: Karin Friedemann is a TMO columnist. The views expressed here are her own.
A courtroom sketch shows Nazih al-Ragye known by the alias Abu Anas al-Liby as he appears in Manhattan Federal Court for an arraignment in New York, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg/Files
Two mysterious deaths of political activists occurred inside U.S. prisons this month. One of the deceased was Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai’i, popularly known as Abu Anas al-Libi, a Libyan who fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. He later joined an Islamic fighting group seeking to depose Qaddafi, but he never took up arms against America. He and his family lived in England without event for many years before returning to Libya in 2011 because of a general amnesty offer by Qaddafi’s son.
Al-Libi was kidnapped on October 5, 2013 in front of his home in Tripoli by a team of US military, CIA and FBI agents, who then rendered him to a Navy ship for torture. Intelligence officials interrogated him for a week aboard the USS San Antonio, all the while floating in the Mediterranean to avoid having to follow U.S. laws. Al-Libi was then officially indicted for involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and transferred to a prison in New York City.
He pled not guilty to these charges on October 15, 2014. He was supposed to go to court on January 12, 2015 to defend himself against the government’s accusations. Instead, he died in prison on January 2, 2015. He was buried January 10 in Libya at a well-attended funeral. What was that all about?
The other prisoner who ‘suddenly died’ was Phil Africa, imprisoned for life as a member of the American Black revolutionary group, MOVE, which had connections to the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army of the 70’s and 80’s. On August 8, 1978, Philadelphia police brutally raided their communal home and arrested nine people including Phil Africa. The MOVE house was later aerial bombed in Philadelphia by the U.S. government on May 13, 1985. Two of his children died in the fire.
On Sunday, January 4th, 2015, Phil Africa was secretly transported from his Dallas, Pennsylvania prison to Wilkes Barre General Hospital at the same time as MOVE members were attempting to visit him. At the hospital, he was held in isolation for five days and not even allowed to call his wife of 44 years, Janine Africa.
The hospital and prison received hundreds of phone calls in support of Phil, and on January 8, he was finally allowed to call his wife. She reported on the website of the MOVE organization, that he was heavily drugged, incoherent and couldn’t even hold the phone to talk to her.
On January 9, Phil was sent back to the prison infirmary. The next day, Ramona and Carlos Africa were granted permission to visit Phil in the prison infirmary. When they reached him, he was incoherent and couldn’t talk or move his head to look at them. An hour after they left, they got a call that Phil passed away.
“Inmates in the infirmary and others in the prison were shocked when they heard the news. They had witnessed his vigorous health for decades in the prisons, had just seen him stretching and doing jumping jacks six days earlier,” wrote Ramona Africa.
“The fact that Phil was isolated for the six days before he passed, that the prison even refused to acknowledge that he was in the hospital is beyond suspicious.”
“When Merle Africa died in prison on March 13th, 1998 the conditions were very similar. She had been one way in the prison, but within hours of being forced to go to an outside hospital she was dead,” Ramona Africa further stated.
What these terrible cases have in common is that both al-Libi and Africa, whose adopted names demonstrate idealistic dedication to their land of origin, were members of now-defunct revolutionary groups. Al-Libi’s wife, Umm Abdul Rahman told the Daily Beast, “My husband was affiliated with al-Qaeda a long time ago. But he was never a senior leader in al-Qaeda.”
Al-Qaeda at the height of its glory had not more than a few hundred soldiers, while the same is true of the Black Panther Party. These relatively obscure revolutionaries are now old men. They are considered social justice activists by those who support them, and retired terrorists by those who don’t. The U.S. government’s policy to emotionally destroy political prisoners by deliberately separating them from their loved ones at the time of death seems vindictive.
“It’s this system’s intention for MOVE people to die in prison,” stated Ramona Africa.
“The MOVE 9 never should have been imprisoned at all, and according to their sentence they should have been paroled over six years ago,” she insisted. “The death of Merle and Phil Africa rests directly at the feet of this government!”
Likewise, al-Libi’s son Ahmed Nazeeh al Ruqai’i railed against the U.S. government.
“We will not forget. Neither will we get over what happened at the hands of the Americans, who prevented us from visiting our father and deprived us from seeing him” he said in a statement.
A quiet death in prison, reported to be of natural causes, means that the only people who understand what happened are the person’s closest supporters – not the general public.
These deaths clearly demonstrate that torture rendition against Muslims and against African American civil rights activists is alive and well under the Obama administration.