During his last days in office, President Clinton will review the case for clemency of Anishinabe-Lakota political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
In 1973 I participated in the Wounded Knee occupation for seven weeks. There I learned first hand of the reign of terror being perpetrated against traditional Lakota people who were demanding a modicum of civil rights and protesting both outrageous police brutality and violations of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. From 1973 to 1976 over 66 traditionalists and American Indian Movement supporters were murdered and over 300 severely beaten on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is also the poorest county in the United States.
After attending the October, 1973 funeral of Lakota civil rights leader Pedro Bissonette, I was arrested for walking Pine Ridge streets after dark. I was held overnight. All my cash was taken as a fine and I was left on an isolated road on the reservation border in freezing wind and rain to hitchhike home.
Thirty days of jail awaited me if I returned to the reservation. Luckily the first car that stopped that day was filled with friendly Lakota elders.
Leonard Peltier was not so lucky. Leonard has taken the rap for everyone involved. The FBI Cointelpro program was out to make someone serve prison time for the Wounded Knee occupation and its aftermath.
Peltier was convicted of “aiding and abetting” the murder of two FBI agents during a shootout in the civil war zone/police state that was the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. How ironic is it that the two individuals Leonard supposedly “aided and abetted” were found innocent on grounds of self defense?
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that the FBI coerced witnesses to perjure testimony, that evidence was fabricated, and that a ballistics test proving Peltier's innocence was suppressed. While the Court called FBI behavior “a clear abuse of the investigative process” it refused a new trial, being “reluctant to impute further improprieties to them (the FBI).”
At a 1995 parole hearing U.S. Prosecutor Lynn Crooks admitted again that no evidence exists against Peltier, but the parole board denied Peltier's request.
The California Democratic Party, Green Party, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson, Mother Theresa, Robert Redford, and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark are among over 10,000 individuals and groups who have called upon President Clinton to release Leonard.
I implore you to add your voice and call the White House comment line: 202-456-1111
to urge Peltier's clemency before January 20. Just wait on the line – you'll have to spend a lot more time if you start punching numerical options. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the words of Green vice-presidential candidate Winona LaDuke. “At this point there can be no justice for Native people until Leonard Peltier is free.”
John Iversen is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa (Anishinabe) Tribe and co-founder of ACT UP/East Bay and the Berkeley Needle Exchange. He lives in San Leandro.