THIS ARTICLE FROM PARTISAN DEFENSE NOTES WAS PASSED ON TO THE WRITER BY THE PARTISAN DEFENSE COMMITTTEE, P.O. BOX 99 CANAL STREET STATION, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10013.
THERE IS NOTHING THAT I NEED TO ADD EXCEPT THAT HISTORIANS OVER THE LAST GENERATION HAVE STEPPED OVER ALL OVER THEMSELVES TO CORRECT THE PREVIOUS FALSE ROLE ASSIGNED TO INDIGENOUS PEOPLES. THAT IS TO THE GOOD. BUT THE WRITER HAS ONE QUESTION –WHY IS THIS NATIVE AMERICAN LEADER STILL IN JAIL? ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
Thirty years ago, on 6 February 1976, American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Leonard Peltier was seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in western Canada. Peltier had fled there after a massive U.S. government attack the previous June—by FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents, SWAT cops and white vigilantes—on South Dakota's Pine Ridge reservation during which two FBI agents were killed. After Canadian authorities held Peltier for ten months in solitary confinement in Oakalla Prison, he was extradited to the U.S. on the basis of fabricated FBI testimony. In 1977, Peltier, a member of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations, was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences on frame-up murder charges stemming from the shooting of the two FBI agents.
While Peltier had sought refuge in Canada, two others charged in the agents' killings were acquitted in a federal court in Iowa. Jurors stated that they did not believe the government witnesses and that it seemed "pretty much a clear-cut case of self-defense" against the FBI invasion. In Peltier's trial the prosecution concealed ballistics tests showing that his gun could not have been used in the shooting, while the trial judge ruled out any chance of another acquittal on self-defense grounds by barring any evidence of government terror against the Pine Ridge activists. At a 1985 appeal hearing, a government attorney admitted, "We can't prove who shot those agents."
AIM had been in the Feds' gun sights because of its efforts to fight the enforced poverty of Native Americans and the continued theft of their lands by the government and energy companies, which were intent on grabbing rich uranium deposits under Sioux land in South Dakota. The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee stated in 2004: "Virtually every known AIM leader in the United States was incarcerated in either state or federal prisons since (or even before) the organization's formal emergence in 1968, some repeatedly." Between 1973 and 1976, thugs of the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON), armed and trained by the hated BIA and FBI, carried out more than 300 attacks in and around Pine Ridge, killing at least 69 people.
As we wrote during the fight against Peltier's threatened deportation, "The U.S. case against Peltier is political persecution, part of a broader attempt by the FBI to smash AIM through piling up criminal charges against its leaders, just as was done against the Black Panthers" (PTFNo. 112, 4 June 1976). AIM and Peltier were targeted by the FBI's deadly Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of disruption, frame-up and murder of the left, black militants and others. Under COINTELPRO, 38 Black Panthers were killed by the FBI and local cops. Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) spent 27 years in prison for a crime the FBI knew he could not have committed before finally winning release in 1997. Mumia Abu-Jamal—also an innocent man— remains on Pennsylvania's death row today.
In November 2003, a federal appeals court ruled, "Much of the government's behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and in its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed." But the court still refused to open the prison doors for Peltier. Last year, U.S. District Court judge William Skretny turned down Peltier's request for documents suppressed by the government, even while acknowledging that he could have been acquitted had the government not improperly withheld them. Peltier attorney Michael Kuzma stated that the evidence withheld by the government amounts to a staggering 142,579 pages!
On February 24, Skretny again ruled that the FBI can keep part of its records secret in the name of "national security." Peltier noted in a message to the March 18 protests against the Iraq occupation, "Our government uses the words 'national security' and fighting the war on transnational terrorism as a smoke screen to cover up further crimes and misconduct by the FBI." Also this February, defense attorney Barry Bachrach argued in St. Louis federal court that the federal government had no jurisdiction in Peltier's case, since the shootings occurred on a reservation.
Millions of people have signed petitions for Peltier over the years, including by 1986 some 17 million people in the former Soviet Union. His frame-up, like that of Geronimo ji Jaga and Mumia Abu-Jamal, demonstrates that there is no justice in the capitalist courts of America. While supporting all possible legal proceedings on behalf of the class-war prisoners, we place no faith whatever in the "justice" of the courts and rely solely on the power of mass protest centered on the integrated labor movement.
After Peltier's third appeal for a new trial was denied in 1993, thousands of prominent liberals, celebrities and others—ranging from Willie Nelson to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa—called for a presidential pardon. In a recent column titled "Free Leonard Peltier!" (5 February), Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote: "Many Peltier supporters put their trust in a politician named Bill Clinton, who told them that when he got elected he 'wouldn't forget' about the popular Native American leader. Their trust (like that of so many others) was betrayed once Clinton gained his office, and the FBI protested. In the waning days of his presidency, he issued pardons to folks like Marc Rich, and other wealthy campaign contributors. Leonard Peltier was left in his chains!"
Peltier is one of 16 class-war prisoners to whom the Partisan Defense Committee sends monthly stipends. For more information on his case, or to contribute to Peltier's legal defense, write to: Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, 2626 North Mesa #132, El Paso, TX 79902. Free Leonard Peltier and all class-war prisoners!