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Nelson Mandela in COINTELPRO’s Crosshairs

The mainstream media and our political leaders have been singing Nelson Mandela’s praises now that he is safely dead. Listening to them got me thinking about what would have been Nelson Mandela’s fate had he been a leader of the struggle for African-American rights in the United States.

During the late 1950’s and early 1970’s the FBI mounted a covert counter-intelligence program to combat the anti-war and civil rights movements entitled COINTELPRO. In the name of protecting our national security, COINTELPRO included psychological smear campaigns against leaders like Martin Luther King, and the targeted assassination of members of the Black Panther Party. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s politically powerful director, is reported to have said that a primary purpose of COINTELPRO was to ensure that no “black messiah” would be able to galvanize the “Negroes.” The FBI took this directive very seriously, among other things conspiring with the Chicago Police to murder Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. The role they played in the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X is less clear. How would they have responded to Nelson Mandela?

Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary at the head of an armed resistance movement. He was charged with sabotage aimed at overthrowing the existing order, a charge he did not deny. Rather than execute him, the South African Court sentenced him to life imprisonment. Perhaps those in charge of the apartheid regime felt it wiser to break Mandela in prison and use him to their advantage rather than risk martyring him. He was released after serving 27 years, 18 of them in the notorious Robben Island Prison. I doubt our court system would have spared his life. I am equally convinced that if, by some quirk, our courts had dealt Mandela a life sentence, he would never have been released. Leonard Peltier, Mumia abu Jamal and Oscar Lopez Rivera have all been imprisoned for much longer than Nelson Mandela. Our government shows no sign it will ever set them free.

However, if Nelson Mandela had been a domestic radical in the United States, I doubt that he would have gone on trial. The FBI would simply have had him assassinated.

And despite our leaders’ praise for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process, our government has never revealed the complete truth of COINTELPRO or punished its perpetrators. Our government has never attempted reconciliation for carpet bombing and poisoning the Vietnamese people and their land. Today our government finds it more convenient to praise Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission than to empanel one here to deal with the war crimes and human rights abuses carried out by our leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo.

Perhaps this is why our leaders’ lionizing of Nelson Mandela has made me so nauseous.
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