Leonard Peltier, undaunted Native warrior: Demand swells for clemency for 24-year political prisoner

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Imprisoned since 1976 after being framed for killing two FBI agents, Leonard Peltier has more on his mind than just gaining his own freedom. He spends his time in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas writing, painting, sponsoring a Native scholarship program, supporting battered women’s centers, and spearheading projects such as a food drive for victims of government repression in Chiapas, Mexico and an annual holiday campaign to bring clothing and toys to children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

After more than 24 years behind bars, Peltier’s passion for righting wrongs remains strong. So, too, does the determination of his defenders to gain justice for Peltier himself. With the Anishinabe-Lakota warrior’s avenues for legal appeal exhausted, supporters internationally are focussed on winning an order of clemency from the White House.

Government target: AIM. Robert Free, co-coordinator of the Northwest Leonard Peltier Support Network, emphasizes that the passage of so much time since Peltier was arrested and tried makes it important that the facts of his case be revisited. Here, in brief, is the story.

The Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Reservation is located in the Black Hills area, rich in uranium and other minerals. In the early 1970s, the U.S. government was bent on handing over reservation resources to energy corporations. The government gained the cooperation of corrupt tribal council leader Dick Wilson, but was opposed by traditional Lakota elders who called on the American Indian Movement for assistance.
In 1973, AIM moved onto the reservation, and the FBI and Wilson’s GOON squads (“Guardians of the Oglala Nation”) launched a fierce campaign of terrorism against the organization and all who resisted the land grabs. Between 1973 and 1975, at least 66 AIM activists and traditional Lakotas were killed.

On July 26, 1975, two FBI agents chased a red pickup onto the Jumping Bull ranch, where a number of AIM members were camped to help protect the local people. Wild shooting broke out between the agents and whoever was in the pickup; the AIM people, who believed the ranch was under attack by the FBI, returned fire in order to cover the flight of elders and children.

FBI reinforcements, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police, and tribal council GOONs arrived within a few minutes. But before they could surround the ranch, both the AIM group and the red truck escaped. The original two FBI agents and young AIM member Joe Stuntz lay dead.

The government centered its investigation of the FBI deaths on AIM and indicted Dino Butler, Bob Robideau, Jimmy Eagle, and Leonard Peltier on murder counts. (Nobody was ever charged with the killing of Joe Stuntz.) Butler and Robideau successfully pled self-defense before an Iowa jury; the government dropped the case against Jimmy Eagle and concentrated on AIM leader Peltier, who had fled to Canada

Frame-up. Myrtle Poor Bear, after being threatened by the FBI, said that she saw Peltier gun down the agents at point-blank range. She later recanted, but her false affidavits furnished a pretext for winning Peltier’s extradition from Canada. His trial was scheduled before a racist North Dakota judge who excluded defense evidence of FBI coercion of witnesses, including Poor Bear’s full story.

The prosecution’s case was one fabrication after another. The red pickup truck the agents followed onto the ranch mysteriously turned into an old red-and-white van (Peltier’s vehicle); ballistics tests were falsified. Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Since then, authorities have admitted that they really didn’t know and don’t know who killed the agents. Nevertheless, Peltier’s appeals were denied and he has been turned down for parole repeatedly; he will not be up for parole review again until 2008. And treatment for serious and even life-threatening medical problems he has developed in prison has been delayed, shoddy, or nonexistent.

Release Peltier now! As of this writing, Peltier’s defense committee is intent on gaining an order of clemency from Bill Clinton before he leaves office in January. The committee has recently gained heartening new labor support for clemency in the form of resolutions passed by University Professional and Technical Employees/ Communications Workers of America Local 9119 in San Francisco and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 in Seattle.

They join an impressive roster of advocates for Peltier including the Delegate Assembly of United University Professions, a union representing faculty at the State University of New York; the National Board of Directors of the National Association of Social Workers; the National Congress of American Indians of the United States; the Assembly of First Nations of Canada; the government of Cuba; the European Parliament; 50 members of the U.S. Congress; Jesse Jackson; Robert Redford; Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Mayan Nobel Peace Prize winner; and Desmond Tutu.

Peltier would be at liberty today were the U.S. government not still fully committed to the subjugation of Native Americans, denial of their sovereignty, and rape of their land and resources at the behest of oil, mining, and chemical corporations like Exxon, Union Carbide, and Kerr-McGee. He needs your voice lifted now to demand his release. Call the White House at 202-456-1111 or e-mail president@whitehouse.gov. For updates on the clemency campaign, visit www.freepeltier.org.

Free all political prisoners!

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