The Reverse Nuremberg Defense, Or The Robot Defense

Sanyika Shakur


After the second imperialist war, in which the u.s., France and Britain smashed on Italy, Japan and Germany, the victors put on a show trial in Nuremberg, Germany, where a clutch of Nazi functionaries were tried for war crimes, convicted and subsequently hanged or shot. (To be fair, however, some were acquitted and others given lengthy prison sentences and spared the death penalty.)

The defense presented invariably by those soldiers and functionaries on trial, was “i was only following orders”. In essence, kicking the responsibility for their actions and obvious atrocities up the chain of command to their superiors. Arguing that had the orders not been given to do as they had, the atrocities would never have occurred. Further, they stressed, that their outfits were such that the complex bureaucracy prevented any actions that were not explicitly ordained from the top. This defense entered the public domain, or stream of human consciousness (the matrix), and has since become known as “The Nuremberg Defense”. E.g. i was only following orders.

Apparently the Nuremberg Defense has trickled down even into the often cutthroat and chaotic stocks of criminality. However, as is often the case in such things, the already weak and feeble defense has been perverted further – inverted actually and turned on its head and utilized as an excuse to not act in one’s own best interests. It’s a strange phenomenon to observe, as ones who professed to be “in resistance”, “conscious” or “about struggle”, do fantastic, mind boggling acts of knee-jerk gymnastics to justify why they in fact cannot support an action that would serve the interests of all involved – including themselves. But as the contradiction of Our oppression here in the SHU sharpens, those who are about absolutely nothing are being exposed as the reactionaries that they’ve always been. That in spite of all the hard words they use in their points, bylaws and whatever, they are about nothing. Well, that’s not altogether true. They are about something, but it’s just totally reactionary, anti-people and collaborationist.

Here’s the thing, We are collectively locked in the SHU – indefinitely. We have SHU terms without any rules violations. In fact, a prisoner can literally murder another prisoner in the general population and only be given a five year SHU term. Once his/her five years is up he/she will be let back out to the mainline. However, if the same prisoner is found with a birthday card signed by fellow prisoners, with say, an Indigenous number (two bars and three dots) then that is going to be used as a “point” towards giving that prisoner a life term in the SHU. Similarly, if the prisoner is found with study and struggle material from Comrade George Jackson, or some Kiswahili or Nahuatl – these are points to be lodged against the prisoner as the authoritarian gang investigators [sic] go about their so-called “investigation” to validate the prisoner in question.

Of course once one is validated, by having the so-called “three points” which somehow “prove” one’s membership in or association with a prison org, he/she can come up for an “inactive/active” review every six years. One year longer for a mere review than a prisoner who murdered another prisoner would do before getting out of the SHU.

So, for learning about one’s culture, its Indigenous language, its revolutionaries and national identity (i.e. politics), one is set upon by the political police of the Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) and whisked off to one of the three SHUs operating in the state or left for years on end in one of the Administrative Segregation Units (ASU’s) waiting to be sent to a SHU.

The height of repression, in its most crystallized form and nakedness, is the SHU here at Pelican Bay. And within its already repressive confines of listless solitary is the wicked doldrums of the short corridor. Four blocks, on the D-Facility side. For those there it’s a constant struggle to maintain a sense of self and collective awareness. For those not yet in those blocks it’s a slow-motion psychological torture session as one waits to be told to “Roll your property up you’re being moved”. It’s akin to cattle being slowly moved towards the electrified cattle prod and slaughter. They know that the cow that was near them is now gone – moved and never to be seen again. Two or three times a month prisoners are plucked from among Us to be “moved” – we all know where they are being sent and why. The short corridor for maximum repression.

So, the collective call has come out of this kamp that We have an obligation to Ourselves, Our nations, Our cultures, to resist this authoritarian reign of terror. That regardless of what your particular politics are the hammer is upon Us all as prisoners here in the SHU on indeterminate status. As one comrade said, “Today it’s Us, but tomorrow it will be you.” Well, a general call was issued and those connected made the effort to make those in the immediate vicinity aware of the issues. Words came through from other countries – this is how tight the security under here is – words on the general effort were transmitted via other countries to Us before words made it across the kamp grapevine. Nevertheless, the words and issues were received, given to those in the same condition as everyone else – some words were even particularly spelled out – and yet as if in a bad comedy some prisoners said “We haven’t gotten any word on it”(!?)

The Nuremberg Defense was inverted from “I was following orders” to “I was given no orders.” One has been reduced to a mere robot in essence. Capable of working in one’s defense only when someone is programming it or stroking its keys. Here’s the analogy We’re working with: someone is drowning, flailing his/her arms wildly, when all of a sudden it dawns on him/her that, “Hey, no one told me to try to save myself! i didn’t get the word to resist an obvious death, to get to a dry spot and save myself and perhaps save someone else who, in the future, may end up almost drowning.” Sounds crazy doesn’t it?

But of course it’s deeper than that. If it were only that simple We might be able to get past this with some degree of overstanding. However, things have a materialist basis in reality and as much as We’d like to sometimes think otherwise, things don’t mysteriously fall from the sky. How is it that We’ve been so biased against Our own survival? Let’s look at this for a minute because it may prove fruitful in Our future endeavors as the contradictions sharpen and the struggles intensify.

We’re not talking about going out into, say, a working-class area and trying to convince the proletariat about the evils of capitalism. About the inherent oppression in colonialism. Where people have hotdogs, baseball, Apple pie and chevrolet to distract them from their awful lot. No, nothing that complex. We’re talking about prisoners who are in the SHU without having ever violated a rule, forever (indeterminate) and subjected to the most inhumane conditions imaginable – who languish at the absolute bottom of a totally antagonistic and hostile society. We’re talking about prisoners who are in the hole for exerting their culture and national identity. But … We are talking about humans. The material beings that exist inside of nature. Who, in spite of being at the very last and lowest rung of a class-based society, have their own set of internal contradictions and dynamics that create motion, that ultimately drive interests. We are talking about criminals (parasites) who have colonial (petty-bourgeois) mentalities. Which is to say, a non-revolutionary class that depends largely upon the working class for its sustenance. And by colonial mentality what is meant is that one recognizes the legitimacy of the settler government and its rules. And regardless of if one breaks the rules – one still ultimately and objectively believes in the inherent right of the bourgeois State to govern them and oppress their nation. To not struggle to end oppression is to legitimize it through inactivity.

With the hunger strike that’s looming, some prisoners – mainly those who are the most reactionary, i.e. those who are stuck watching go-nowhere programs on TV all day; those who read nothing more serious than a novel and those who can’t string together an intelligent or thought-provoking sentence either verbally or in writing – conversely, these are the someones who’ll dominate the tier for hours with a litany of absurd jokes and mindless intrigues about things that have absolutely no bearing on real life – it’s these loud, often braggadocious reactionaries who have led the charge in inverting the Nuremberg Defense. Those who in spite of their tough demeanor in the safe confines of their cells obviously don’t really want to go to the mainline. Don’t want the protest against the indeterminate status, that may get Us all back out into general population. And here we come across a glaring contradiction that needs to be expounded upon.

There are some, if not most, who only know prison as the SHU. Some prisoners were validated in reception, before even getting to any mainline. Their whole prison experience has been nothing but single cell living in eight cell pods, on walk-alone yards. Human contact consisting of momentary finger bumps** through the heavy industrial metal slab covering the cells. These prisoners know only handcuffed escorts and ten-minute showers three times a week. Visits through the thick plexiglass windows under the never-blinking eye of a camera. To them this all seems “normal”, “regular”, “just the way it is” -and, to be frank, it offers a perverted sense of “i’m tough” to the young prisoner. Creating the illusion for him that all this is to contain him and that this somehow proves his toughness.

On the flipside, of course, there’s the convicts who overstand that all this is nothing. These are the men who’ve been in Old Folsom, San Quentin, Soledad, Tracy and New Folsom; those who’ve seen and felt the actual power of prisoners. Who, for whatever reason, have been with the herd and know that this here … all this single-cell, walk-alone, eight-cell-pod-living, and escorts is not a consequence of anyone’s toughness or one’s badness. On the contrary, it’s a sign of our collective weakness. Dialectically, our weakness means the pigs’ strength. That’s how that works. Convicts used to run prisons. Not anymore. Yes, those who are in prison have been “convicted” – but to be a convict is another animal altogether with. Don’t want to waste too much time on this.

Prisoners have grown complacent in the maintenance of their social structure. This kamp, Pelican Bay, has without question taken its toll upon Us. However, We are still committed – or at least should be – to the breathing. Some, however, have allowed the appearance of being tough to impede their recognition of struggling against the conditions that are grinding us into dust and simultaneously struggling for the very things that ultimately allow us to hold our heads up, chests out, backs straight. Those who have pulled out and then inverted the Nuremberg Defense are out of pocket. They are comfortable under here where they are safe, individualistic and have no responsibility other than a morning and evening roll-call or gossiping through a steel door to the next pod.

The real convicts, those who know and have experienced collective struggle, die lonely deaths of the spirit daily under all this isolation. Knowing in their heart of hearts that this is no big display of our toughness. Fortitude yes, in withstanding the years of this desolate living, but that one’s criterion for toughness is to mingle and move with the herd. To affect change in a collective setting where conflicts can be challenged and resolved in appropriate settings. That’s what the righteous do.

So, in closing, i am just trying to make the courageous aware that those who ain’t really about nothing will ultimately do nothing. And have furthermore rejected the idea under the upside-down Nuremberg Defense. The path of least resistance has always been chosen by the faint of heart. The State has taken the initiative in this struggle to destroy Us all. It is up to us to wrest that initiative back from them and save Ourselves. By doing so We save others from similar fate.

Sanyika Shakur
August Third Collective


* Written three days before Our first hungerstrike (7-1-11) after trying to move various criminal elements into active resistance against the general indeterminate status. Surprisingly, most in the vicinity complied. Enough to make the hungerstrike in the long corridor successful.

** Sanyika explains, “Finger bumping” is what we do under here for human contact. See, the cells are industrial steel plates across the front with 2,800 fingertip-size holes drilled into them. So, in lieu of a handshake or a hug, We touch fingertips – finger bump. Yeah, it leaves a lot to the imagination, but it’s all We got. It’s a desperate move to at least have some form of human contact.”


Sanyika ShakurSanyika ShakurSanyika Shakur

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