The US-Justice System is Seeking Revenge George Pumphrey on the arrest of the Afro-American George Wright

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The US-Justice System is Seeking Revenge George Pumphrey on the arrest of the Afro-American George Wright

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Translation of the Interview in the German daily Neues Deutschland 01.10.2011

The US-Justice System is Seeking Revenge
George Pumphrey on the arrest of the Afro-American George Wright

This week, on the basis of press agency information, ND (“Neues Deutschland”) reported that a “wanted criminal” – wanted since breaking out of a US prison – had been apprehended in Portugal. George Pumphrey, a US-American with French citizenship, living in Berlin, knows the “criminal” George Wright. Roland Etzel interviewed Pumphrey.
● Where did you first encounter George Wright?
It was in Paris. I had fled to Paris because of political and racist persecution in my country. George Wright, along with four other Afro-Americans had hijacked a jetliner from the USA to Algeria and later came to Paris. A French underground organization, that aided national liberation movements in the “Third World”, had supported us, which is how we met.
● What were your activities together?
We were keeping abreast, with George Wright and the four others, of political developments, discussing endlessly and evolving from left extremism toward Marxism. We made contact with other national liberation movements from Africa and Latin America.
● The news agencies report that Wright is “one of the most wanted criminals” in the USA. One imagines a monster.
Nearly 50 years ago, he took part in a hold-up, where someone was killed – but not by him. But under US law, in such a case, each participant can be found guilty of murder. George was sentenced to 15 – 30 years in prison.
● But he did not serve that time, which, according to the FBI, he is supposed to do now.
The US authorities are not after him for what happened 50 years ago. Their extradition demand is politically motivated. George, like many other prisoners in the 60s and 70s, became politicized while in prison. This was a period of major struggles: the civil rights movement, the Black Panther Party, the antiwar movement. He wanted to get involved. He broke out of prison with three other prisoners. With one of the three, George Brown, he went underground in Detroit, where he met Melvin and Jean McNair and Joyce Tillerson. Melvin had gone AWOL because he refused to fight against Vietnam.
● How were they engaged [in the movement]?
They quickly realized that, being on the run from the authorities, they were only a liability to the movement. They decided to hijack a plane to join the international section of the Black Panther Party in Algeria. The $1 million ransom was for the Panthers. Back then, hijackings were frequent and usually without problems. When George and his friends took over that plane, July 31, 1972, it was the 44th hijacking in the USA that year.
● Back to Paris. What happened then?
They were living underground, working undeclared odd jobs, when, in May 1976, they were arrested on a US government extradition demand. That is, all but George Wright, whom we helped to flee France to go to Portugal. My wife Doris and I initiated a defense committee, which soon attracted numerous French personalities. It became a major political campaign and the court refused extradition. The US authorities were fuming.
● What grounds did the court give for its decision?
The court recognized their political motivation in the struggle against racism. According to international law, in the case of a refusal of extradition, France was obliged to try the hijacking under French law. The trial took place in 1978. By that time the solidarity campaign had been joined by many organizations, trade unions, politicians – from the Gaullists to the Communists, – a Nobel Prize Laureate, representatives of the Protestant and Catholic Churches, prominent Resistance fighters, various artists and actors, including James Baldwin, or the world famous film stars Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. Nearly all of the bourgeois media was reporting with sympathy for their case. The defense and the defendants pleaded to view the crime in light of the backdrop of racism in the USA. It turned out that it was US racism that was on trial. The jury ruled accordingly. The sentences were mild.
● George Wright, had already gone underground, do you know where?
I do not know if he had been in Portugal the whole time. But he has evidently been living a quiet life with his family for quite a few years in Sintra, a city of 30,000, 25 km west of Lisbon. According to the press, he is well known and liked.
● Why is so much noise being made around his arrest?
The belligerent reporting has little to do with the historical reality of his case. If rehabilitation would play a role in a justice system, then George Wright would be a good example. I believe that the US Justice Ministry is primarily interested in revenge. They have not gotten over the political defeat they suffered back then in Paris.
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