Political prisoners in Grenada: Free the Grenada 17!

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Last week, a court in Grenada refused to release 17 men and women who have been held in prison on the island since 1983. These are the victims of a more-or-less forgotten US atrocity, the invasion of then socialist Grenada 22 years ago by armed forces of its enormous neighbour. This unprovoked attack brought to an end the rule of the People's Revolutionary Government and an exciting attempt of a tiny nation to free itself from the bonds of colonialism and the legacy of slavery and exploitation.

The Committee for Human Rights in Grenada (UK) has now produced a pamphlet explaining what happened on the island in the tragic days running up to the US invasion.

The view of the case which led to the arrest and long-term detention of Grenada's deputy prime minister and many others is that they had plotted to overthrow the government's popular leader Maurice Bishop and subsequently ordered his execution. We are asked to believe that the US, in one of its celebrated “humanitarian missions”, invaded Grenada to protect its own citizens and restore “democracy”. The Grenada 17 were, the story goes, given a fair trial, and their sentences confirmed after a long appeal hearing at which they were represented by numerous counsel.

The purpose of the recent publication is to show that the accepted view is in fact a tissue of lies created by the US administration, which had been actively seeking to overthrow the Bishop-led government ever since its inception.

Chapter 1 is a summary of the document Whose Struggle for Power? written by members of the New Jewel Movement (NJM), the party which led the revolution, in 1985, two years after the invasion. It is based on minutes of the NJM Central Committee and party meetings, and shows that the US propaganda about the supposed power struggle within the NJM was untrue. The second chapter outlines what happened in Grenada in the short period of time between the death of Maurice Bishop and the US invasion of the island, and is based on notes written as events unfolded.

Chapter 3 is based on affidavits written in support of a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The fourth and fifth chapters are based on evidence given at the trial and the arguments prepared for the appeal, and include details of the allegations of torture made by some of the defendants.

Chapter 6 is a detailed rebuttal of the case against the ten central Committee members, and is written by Ewart Layne, one of the prisoners. The final chapter is a summary of the documents obtained by Dr Rich Gibson following his action in the US against the security services.

The fact is that the Grenada 17 have been incarcerated for 21 years after a trial which did not come anywhere near meeting international standards of jurisprudence. As leaders of the revolution which the US had invaded the island to bring to an end, the defendants – who included government ministers and officials, trade union leaders and senior military personnel - were seen as a threat by the occupying force. The invasion itself was wholly illegal and, given the island's status as a Commonwealth member with a British Governor General whose powers remained much more than ceremonial, even Margaret Thatcher's government, US President Ronald Reagan's closest foreign allies, felt moved to criticise it.

Amnesty International, in a report of October 2003 entitled The Grenada 17: Last of the Cold War Prisoners? condemned the judicial process to which the prisoners had been subjected as having been 'manifestly unjust'. The majority of the 17 were abused and tortured in order to force them to sign false confessions to murder; and the Deputy Prime Minister, two other cabinet ministers, several junior ministers and the General Secretary of Grenada's Trade Union Council were convicted on the patently unsound evidence of a single witness, while the documents which could have proved this evidence false were withheld from the defendants by the United States authorities, who had seized them following the invasion. All this and more was done in order to consolidate the United States' control over Grenada.

Amnesty's call for an independent and impartial inquiry into the convictions or, failing that, the release of the Grenada 17 political prisoners has been ignored by the Grenadian government.

The refusal of the latest appeal demands a political response, for it is a political judgement. To find out moreregarding the campaign, contact the Committee for Human Rights in Grenada on chrguk@whsmithnet.co.uk. Read the full text of the Amnesty report. or a summary of the report and background to it by Rich Gibson, or read the pamphlet by the Committee for Human Rights in Grenada in full.