Click below to link to Leonard Peltier Defense Committee site.
Leonard Peltier is an internationally renowned class-war prisoner. Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country’s racist repression of its native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier was framed up for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents marauding in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Although the lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 69-year-old Peltier is not scheduled to be reconsidered for parole for another eleven years! Peltier suffers from multiple serious medical conditions and is incarcerated far from his people and family.
This entry is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee. I need add little except to say that this man, a natural leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), should never have spent a day in jail. Free him now.
"We, along with millions of others, do not believe that Leonard Peltier should have been incarcerated at all. We demand his unconditional release from prison."
CASE OF LEONARD PELTIER
- Leonard Peltier is an imprisoned Native American considered by Amnesty International, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Congress of American Indians, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Jesse Jackson, among many others, to be a political prisoner who should be immediately released.
- Leonard Peltier was convicted for the deaths of two FBI agents who died during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mr. Peltier has been in prison for over 29 years.
- The Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 marked the beginning of a three-year period of political violence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The tribal chairman hired vigilantes, self titled as “GOONS,” to rid the reservation of American Indian Movement (AIM) activity and sentiment. More than 60 traditional tribal members and AIM members were murdered and scores more were assaulted. Evidence indicated GOON responsibility in the majority of crimes but despite a large FBI presence, nothing was done to stop the violence. The FBI supplied the GOONS with intelligence on AIM members and looked away as GOONS committed crimes. One former GOON member reported that the FBI supplied him with armor piercing ammunition.
- Leonard Peltier was an AIM leader and was asked by traditional people at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to support and protect the traditional people being targeted for violence. Mr. Peltier and a small group of young AIM members set up camp on a ranch owned by the traditional Jumping Bull family.
- On June 26, 1975 two FBI agents in unmarked cars followed a pick-up truck onto the Jumping Bull ranch. The families immediately became alarmed and feared an attack. Shots were heard and a shoot-out erupted. More than 150 agents, GOONS, and law enforcement surrounded the ranch.
- When the shoot-out ended the two FBI agents and one Native American lay dead. The agents were injured in the shoot-out and were then shot at close range. The Native American, Joseph Stuntz, was shot in the head by a sniper’s bullet. Mr. Stuntz’s death has never been investigated, nor has anyone ever been charged in connection with his death.
- According to FBI documents, more than 40 Native Americans participated in the gunfight, but only AIM members Bob Robideau, Darrell Butler, and Leonard Peltier were brought to trial.
- Mr. Robideau and Mr. Butler were arrested first and went to trial. A federal jury in Iowa acquitted them on grounds of self-defense, finding that their participation in the shoot-out was justified given the climate of fear that existed on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Further, they could not be tied to the close-range shootings.
- Leonard Peltier was arrested in Canada on February 6, 1976, along with Frank Blackhorse, a.k.a. Frank Deluca. The United States presented the Canadian court with affidavits signed by Myrtle Poor Bear who said she was Mr. Peltier’s girlfriend and allegedly saw him shoot the agents. In fact, Ms. Poor Bear had never met Mr. Peltier and was not present during the shoot-out. Soon after, Ms. Poor Bear recanted her statements and said the FBI threatened her and coerced her into signing the affidavits.
- Mr. Peltier was extradited to the United States where he was tried in 1977. The trial was held in North Dakota before United States District Judge Paul Benson, a conservative jurist appointed to the federal bench by Richard M. Nixon. Key witnesses like Myrtle Poor Bear were not allowed to testify and unlike the Robideau/Butler trial in Iowa, evidence regarding violence on Pine Ridge was severely restricted.
- An FBI agent who had previously testified that the agents followed a pick-up truck onto the scene, a vehicle that could not be tied to Mr. Peltier, changed his account, stating that the agents had followed a red and white van onto the scene, a vehicle which Mr. Peltier drove occasionally.
- Three teenaged Native witnesses testified against Mr. Peltier, they all later admitted that the FBI forced them to testify. Still, not one witness identified Mr. Peltier as the shooter.
- The U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case claimed that the government had provided the defense with all FBI documents concerning the case. To the contrary, more than 140,000 pages had been withheld in their entirety.
- An FBI ballistics expert testified that a casing found near the agents’ bodies matched the gun tied to Mr. Peltier. However, a ballistic test proving that the casing did not come from the gun tied to Mr. Peltier was intentionally concealed.
- The jury, unaware of the aforementioned facts, found Mr. Peltier guilty. Judge Benson, in turn, sentenced Mr. Peltier to two consecutive life terms.
- Following the discovery of new evidence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Mr. Peltier sought a new trial. The Eighth Circuit ruled, “There is a possibility that the jury would have acquitted Leonard Peltier had the records and data improperly withheld from the defense been available to him in order to better exploit and reinforce the inconsistencies casting strong doubts upon the government's case." Yet, the court denied Mr. Peltier a new trial.
- During oral argument, the government attorney conceded that the government does not know who shot the agents, stating that Mr. Peltier is equally guilty whether he shot the agents at point-blank range, or participated in the shoot-out from a distance. Mr. Peltier’s co-defendants participated in the shoot-out from a distance, but were acquitted.
- Judge Heaney, who authored the decision denying a new trial, has since voiced firm support for Mr. Peltier’s release, stating that the FBI used improper tactics to convict Mr. Peltier, the FBI was equally responsible for the shoot-out, and that Mr. Peltier's release would promote healing with Native Americans.
- Mr. Peltier has served over 29 years in prison and is long overdue for parole. He has received several human rights awards for his good deeds from behind bars which include annual gift drives for the children of Pine Ridge, fund raisers for battered women’s shelters, and donations of his paintings to Native American recovery programs.
- Mr. Peltier suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and a heart condition. Time for justice is short.
- Currently, Mr. Peltier’s attorneys have filed a new round of Freedom of Information Act requests with FBI Headquarters and all FBI field offices in an attempt to secure the release of all files relating to Mr. Peltier and the RESMURS investigation. To date, the FBI has engaged in a number of dilatory tactics in order to avoid the processing of these requests.
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!