Claude Marks is the director of The Freedom Archives, a San Francisco-based organization. Through the website and email list-serves, it provides a valuable resource documenting both revolutionary struggle and police state repression. Freedom Archives also creates high quality audio and video documentaries, including the recent video about the San Francisco Eight, titled Legacy of Torture.
Legacy of Torture can be viewed online, as well as the previous films Voices of Three Political Prisoners (featuring Nuh Washington, Jalil Muntaqim and David Gilbert), Charisse Shumate: Fighting for Our Lives, and Self Respect, Self Defense & Self Determination (featuring Mabel Williams and Kathleen Cleaver, introduced by Angela Davis).
Hans Bennett: You are a former political prisoner. Please tell us about your case.
Claude Marks: My co-defendant, Donna Willmott and I were indicted in an escape conspiracy involving Puerto Rican Independentista, Oscar Lopez, who was serving time in USP Leavenworth on charges of seditious conspiracy. The case was part of an ongoing set-up by the FBI, involved a snitch inside the prison, and clearly targeted the Puerto Rican Independence movement and its supporters. We and a collective of folks were underground until our negotiated surrender in 1994, and the two of us served prison sentences.
HB: Why did you start the Freedom Archives?
CM: I have done radio and radical media since 1968 and been part of creating radical news and political radio for many years. Myself and many collaborators secured and maintained our programs which spanned over 30 years. When I was in prison, I re-connected with many of these people and we started discussing how valuable it would be to preserve and re-purpose this radical political history and culture as well as how to make it accessible. We founded the Freedom Archives when I got out and have been building its reach and impact. We try to produce a couple of documentary audio CDs and/or video documentaries every year. We provide materials to others who are interested in this history and culture. We also focus our efforts on working with younger people in order to pass on this legacy. We say: “preserve the past, illuminate the present, shape the future!”
HB: Your recent film Legacy of Torture documents the case of the San Francisco 8.
CM: The prosecution of the SF 8 is about criminalizing the history of the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Panther Party, and delegitimizing resistance to racism and oppression. The government, both state and federal, is keen on legitimizing torture and warning activists today and into the future that the stakes are high if you are committed to fighting for a more just and humane world. The case itself rests on alleged confessions obtained under acknowledged torture and has been thrown out previously on that basis.
The structures of capitalism and imperialism rest on hundreds of years of land theft and genocide and sexual oppression. They will use any and all means to maintain their hegemony. So this prosecution is designed to discourage active dissent. Stemming from the old COINTELPRO (Counter-intelligence program), this case signals a new form of COINTELPRO.
COINTELPRO was exposed and condemned by congressional investigators in the 1970s and was officially disbanded — but no agent or agency was ever held accountable for the assassinations, false charges and imprisonment of leaders, or the disorganization and neutralization of movements and organizations that they unleashed. This prosecution is part of today’s COINTELPRO along with the stepped up “Green Scare” prosecutions, the ongoing political use of grand juries (like the current one targeting the Puerto Rican Independence movement), the condoning of torture and indeterminate imprisonment in Guantanamo, the extraordinary rendition programs and secret prisons, the mass imprisonment of largely Black and Brown people, the ongoing repressive presence of police in communities, and the denial of the release of many political prisoners who have served decades inside cages.
It is our job to re-build a movement that will confront them and make them look bad. They act with perceived impunity when they defy human rights laws, scoff at the Geneva conventions, wage wars throughout the world justified by their own lies, and belittle the violence and human suffering that they are responsible for. The international communities perceive this, but we have a special role to play within these borders – to be part of holding the misrulers and torturers responsible! Their arrogance and criminality and our organizing will bring them down one day!
HB: What film are you working on now?
CM: A film called COINTELPRO 101 that introduces people to the history of government counter-intelligence while tying it to today’s reality — the world of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. The film will be an organizing tool, an opening of the door to those that have no knowledge of this history.
We hope that people can use this video as a basis for re-opening hearings on COINTELPRO and for holding people and agencies accountable for state violence directed at people’s movements. We hope that we can build a stronger movement to win the release of long-held political prisoners, those targeted by COINTELPRO who remain captives of the government. We also want to give people hope that we can work to transform the world and build a more humane society.
HB: Any film-makers you’d recommend?
CM: Costa Gavras and Ousmane Sembene.
HB: Any particular books?
CM: History, History, History! Not the BS in textbooks (see what AK Press is putting out)!
HB: Anything else to add?
CM: I am optimistic. People, especially younger generations, know that this monster is wrong. Our ability to work across generations is important, but especially for us older folks, we need to give up the reins and support those striving to live and create significant challenges to the monster. We need to connect fighting against racial and sexual oppression to saving the planet and fighting against US hegemony. A brighter future is possible if we are willing to make sacrifices. As Che always used to say: hasta la victoria siempre!