Some troubling connections contradict Amnesty’s image as a benevolent defender of human rights and reveal key figures at the organization during its early years to be less concerned with human dignity and more concerned with the dignity of the US and UK’s image in the world.
by Alexander Rubinstein
Part 5 - Amnesty’s role in the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton
But two years later, senior Amnesty officials engaged in far more troubling coordination with Western intelligence agencies.
FBI documents, released by the Bureau in the spring of 2018 as a part of a series of disclosures of documents pertaining to the assassination of President John Kennedy, detail Amnesty International’s role in the killing of Black Panther Party (BPP) Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old up-and-coming black liberation icon — a killing that was widely believed to be an assassination but was ruled officially as a justifiable homicide.
Amnesty International co-founder Luis Kutner attended a November 23, 1969 speech of Hampton’s delivered at the University of Illinois.
During the speech, Hampton described the BPP “as a revolutionary party” and “indicated that the party has guns to be used for peace and self-defense, and these guns are at the Hampton residence as well as BPP headquarters,” according to the FBI document.
“Kutner has reached the point where he would like to take legal action to silence the BPP,” the FBI wrote. “Kutner concluded by stating that he believed speakers like Hampton were psychotic, and it is only when they are faced with a court action that they stop their “rantings and ravings.”
The FBI internal report on Kutner’s testimony cited above was issued on December 1, 1969. Two days later, the FBI, alongside the Chicago Police Department, conducted a firearms raid on Hampton’s residence. When Hampton came home for the day, FBI informant William O’Neal slipped a barbiturate sleeping pill into his drink before leaving.
At 4:00 a.m. on December 4, police and FBI stormed into the apartment, instantly shooting a BPP guard. Due to reflexive convulsions related to death, the guard convulsed and pulled the trigger on a shotgun he was carrying – the only time a Black Panther member fired a gun during the raid. Authorities then opened fire on Hampton, who was in bed sleeping with his nine-month pregnant fiancee. Hampton is believed to have survived until two shots were fired at point-blank range towards his head.
Kutner would go on to form the “Friends of the FBI” group, an organization “formed to combat criticism of the Federal Bureau of Investigations,” according to the New York Times, after its covert campaign to disrupt leftists movements — COINTELPRO — was revealed. He also went on to operate in a number of theaters that saw heavy involvement from the CIA — including work Kutner did to undermine Congolese Prime Minister and staunch anti-imperialist Patrice Lumumba — and represented the Dalai Lama, who was provided $1.7 million a year by the CIA in the 1960s.
While Amnesty International’s shady operations in the 1960s might seem like ancient history at this point, they serve as an important reminder of the role that non-governmental organizations often play in furthering the objectives of governments of the nations where they are based.