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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

THE TORTURE OF CHIEF IRON THUNDERHORSE

THE TORTURE OF CHIEF IRON THUNDERHORSE
by Tom Big Warrior

On June 7th, 2005, ranking officers of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, attacked an elderly and legally blind inmate, Iron Thunderhorse, while he was attempting to go to the chowhall. They knocked the glasses and UV shields from his face and sprayed chemical pepper spray directly in his eyes. They proceeded to spray him all over with the chemical irritant, kicking him and wrenching his crippled arm behind his back.

For weeks, Iron had been denied entry into the chowhall, or any food at all, as the TDCJ was attempting to starve him into complying with an order to submit to a haircut, despite the fact that a federal court had recently upheald that his civil rights were being violated. This was the latest outrage in a struggle that has been going on for almost thirty years.

After being railroaded by the FBI's COINTELPRO program, along with many other dissidents and activists around the country, in the early 70s, Iron went to court to assert his rights as a Native American spiritual practicioner. He got off the bus from jail to prison armed with a court order requiring the TDCJ to respect these rights, including his right to wear long hair. He was met by the warden and a "goon squad" of inmate "building tenders" armed with baseball bats and axe handles. The warden tore up Iron's court order and had his "goons" beat Iron unconscious and then forcibly cut his hair.

Year after year, Iron has suffered repeated beatings and torture, including years in solitary confinement in the sweltering Texas heat. His blindness stems from repeated gassings and being sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray. His body is covered with scars, only a few of which he received as a soldier in Vietnam.

Iron is the hereditary chief of the Quinnipiac Renapi, a branch of the greater Lenape Nation, whose homeland runs along the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut. His people have the dubious distinction of being the first North American tribe to be placed on a reservation by the English settlers at New Haven, in the early 1600s.

Iron's long ordeal began when he stopped at a diner for a cup of coffee on his way home from work, more than thirty years ago. Some of the local Connecticut white boys, who saw him pull up on his classic Indian motorcycle, thought it might be fun to give this long-haired Indian a hair cut.

After years in the rough and tumble Indian boarding schools, his muscles now hardened by long hours of construction work, Iron defended himself well. It was a clear case of self-defense, but the white boys were sons of the local establisment, and so the cops arrested Iron. But this was the least of his problems, as the white boys, enraged by their deserved ass-whipping, began to stalk Iron waiting for a chance to get revenge. It happened one winter night when two of them spotted his car and gave chase. They ran the car off the road, but Iron wasn't in it.

After the highway patrol informed him that his young wife and child had been killed in the resulting "accident," Iron begain drinking heavily. Then he donned his war-paint, got on his motorcycle, and went looking for revenge. He found the boys before the police did, and when they arrived, they arrested Iron for aggravated assault. It was then that the Army stepped in, and Iron was released into the custody of a coloniel recruiting for special service in Vietnam.

Having frequently run away from boarding school, Iron fine-tuned the woodlands skills he had been taught as a child by living off the land in wilderness areas. These skills, coupled with the rage he was going through, made him an ideal candidate for the covert operations he was groomed for at Fort Bragg and other army training schools. Placed under the direction of the CIA, Iron was sent to Vietnam, where he took part in secret operations, as well as elsewhere in S.E. Asia. But eventually, he and his team refused to obey an illegal order, and they were sent back to California and discharged.

Iron gravitated to the American Indian Movement (AIM) and to others standing up to the system, and he became a target of COINTELPRO, the FBIs illegal campaign to infiltrate, entrap, frame-up, assassinate and otherwize suppress activists in the anti-war and other movements for social justice that had emerged in the 60s. Their intent was to lock him up and throw away the key.

Iron went into prison in top physical condition and highly trained in martial arts. Over the years, he fended off several attempts to assassinate him, but now his health is precarious and he is virtually blind. "I suffer from corneal dystrophy and have cataracts and open angle glaucoma, my corneas no longer produce tears," Iron wrote in a complaint over the June 7th attack, explaining the excruciating pain he was in when he was at last taken to the medical unit. "Lt. Lawrence and Sgt. Sheffield refused to allow the duty nurse to conduct a proper PHD exam....Officers refused her admonishment to un-handcuff me due to excruciating pain in [my] shoulder." Iron had a pass, repeatedly renewed by doctors since 1992, prohibiting his being cuffed behind his back due to his crippled arm. This was confiscated after the attack.

"Officers refused to allow the nurse to flush my eyes with water or otherwise decontaminate my person from the pepper spray. The OC pepper spray saturated both eyes, face, head, ear canals, neck, torso, arms, palms, buttocks and thighs. Officers kept saying, 'LET HIM BURN!'"

Iron also suffers from rhinitis and sebhorric dermatitis, both of which are specifically mentioned on the precautions list for use of OC pepper spray. This was known by the officers prior to this premeditated attack, and Iron had reported that he had been repeatedly threatened with this type of assault. It was obvious that an allergic reaction was taking place to the pepper spray, yet Iron was prevented from showering until more than 12 hours later.

This torture is compounded by medical neglect. Iron suffers from high blood preasure, heart arrhythmia, sleep apnea, recurrent shingles and only has one functioning lung. All of these conditions were aggravated by the assault, yet his requests to see a doctor were not only denied, so were his regular prescribed medications for these conditions.

According to his wife, Ruth Thunderhorse: "The warden tells me that Iron's glasses were lost in the property confiscation after the 'assault,' but if they cannot find them, they will get new ones. Anything to keep Iron from his legal work, I assume. Since the warden hemmed and hawed when I asked if Iron had his fan, that probably is not in his possession, either. He also ignored my question as to whether Iron has his magnifier." Meanwhile, Iron's glasses, UV shields and his navigational cane, which were confiscated, have not been replaced, and his typewritter has been confiscated. Basically, the TDCJ is doing all it can to frustrate Iron's efforts to defend his civil rights, including deliberately endangering his health.

President Bush, who was formerly the Governor of Texas, can claim all he wants that, "We do not condone torture," but the facts show otherwise. The torture of Iron Thunderhorse continued throughout his term as governor and it continues today. The federal court had more than enough justification to put Iron in federal protective custody while he is litigating against the TDCJ. The very essence of this case is the suppression of religious freedom for Native Americans here in the USA, the history of which spans the whole history of the US.

Ruth asks for letters of support addressed to Iron.
His adddress is:

Iron Thunderhorse, #624391

Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South,

Livingston, TX 77351.