The Case For Leonard Peltier
Greetings Below you will find a new detailed article on the case of Leonard Peltier.
This article explains why Leonard's case is so important to all of us and why support events like the Feb. 7th Tacoma Peltier March are needed to be supported by all who believe in social justice and peace.
The Case of Leonard Peltier - One of the most significant events in modern history took place on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s and continues with the case of Leonard Peltier. The reason why this has such great significance is that it brings together so many important issues, and with the case of Leonard Peltier, it clearly shows how far the government is willing to go to frame an activist and deny that activist his constitutional rights.
The issues include: the long standing policies of the government in dealing with Native people; the continuing theft of Native land; the government acting in the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the people; nuclear power and weapons; the destruction of the environment; the illegal use of the military within the borders of this country; the unconstitutional abuses of America's political police force, the FBI; and the denial of basic human rights to activists that organize opposition to governmental policies
Back in the 1970s, the head of the FBI office in Rapid City, Norman Zigrossi, defended the FBI's use of illegal actions against Native people by saying that "Indians are a conquered nation and that the FBI is merely acting as a colonial police force." He went onto say, "When you're conquered, the people you're conquered by dictate your future. This is a basic philosophy of mine. If I'm part of a conquered nation, then I've got to yield to authority."
Though the original people of this land have suffered much in over 500 years of genocide, it is a fact that they weren't conquered but rather signed peace treaties with the U.S. Government.
The government has treated Native people along the lines that Zigrossi stated in direct violation to those peace treaties. The peace treaties included in them geographic borders that would be the land of each tribe. Often that land was land that white people viewed as worthless and this land became what is called reservations. When reservation land was found desirable, the government seeks to acquire that land, often by illegal means.
In the case of the Lakota people their treaty was the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, and it included the Paha Sapa (the whites called this the Black Hills). When gold was found in the Paha Sapa, the government aided the miners in stealing the Paha Sapa illegally from the Lakota People. Even though the government's laws made taking the Paha Sapa an illegal act, the government would not return the land but did offer payment for it, which the Lakota has steadfastly refused to this day.
Through the use of the sophisticated NASA satellites, the National Uranium Resource Evaluation Program of the U.S. Geological Survey had located major uranium deposits in the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation in an area called Sheep Mountain. The multinational energy corporations, such as Kerr-McGee, wanted that uranium. The government had learned through its experiences with the Lakota and the Paha Sapa that they would not willingly give up any of their land; thus they had to find the means to suppress the Lakota opposition, and they found a willing ally in Dick Wilson who was a corrupt tribal chairman who had won election through fraud and intimidation.
"I have no doubt whatsoever that the real motivation behind both Wounded Knee II and the Oglala firefight, and much of the turmoil throughout Indian Country since the early 1970s, was-and is-the mining companies' desire to muffle AIM and all traditional Indian people, who sought-and still seek-to protect the land, water, and air from the thefts and depredations. In this sad and tragic age we live in, to come to the defense of Mother Earth is to be branded a criminal." Leonard Peltier
Wilson harassed and terrorized the traditional Lakota people who requested assistance from the American Indian Movement (AIM). Since it was impossible to hold demonstrations of protest on Pine Ridge, a council of traditional Elders requested that Lakota warriors, with the help of AIM, occupy the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. Even though the Wounded Knee occupiers faced the combined forces of Wilson's vigilantes, the FBI, the U.S. marshals, BIA agents, military advisors, including General Alexander Haig, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, and considerable military firepower that was used against them, they were able to hold on to Wounded Knee for 71 days.
After Wounded Knee II the government arrested hundreds of AIM members and the organization faced a huge legal burden. In the two and half years after Wounded Knee II there existed a reign of terror on Pine Ridge where over 60 traditionalists, AIM members and supporters were murdered, mostly, if not all, by a private armed force organized by Dick Wilson called the GOON Squad. The GOONs were armed by the FBI and given intelligence on AIM members. The GOONs set up roadblocks throughout Pine Ridge, assaulted many people, including lawyers, ran cars off the road, and on January 30 and 31 of 1975, several car loads of heavily armed GOONs shot up the town of Wanblee and firebombed homes, because as Dick Wilson stated, "Wanblee needed straightening out."
Many of the attacks on traditional people and AIM members were by means of drive by shootings. Oglala Lakota Elders again requested help from AIM; answering the call for help were mostly members of Northwest AIM that included Leonard Peltier. AIM set up an encampment on the Jumping Bull's compound.
The FBI created a national campaign against AIM within their secret COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program), including in the FBI's campaign of repression. On April 24, 1975, the FBI issued the memorandum called "The use of special agents of the FBI in a paramilitary law enforcement operation in the Indian country."
In that statement the FBI established itself on Native land as a paramilitary force with all other government agents subjected to FBI control. In May of 1975, the FBI built up a huge number of agents on Pine Ridge, mostly SWAT teams from many different divisions who were designated for special assignment at Pine Ridge. Clearly the FBI was getting ready for something. The FBI then went about creating a diversion for Dick Wilson, who was in Washington to illegally sign away that part of Pine Ridge where uranium was found. The FBI knew that there would be strong opposition among the traditionalists and AIM, and that the reign of terror had not succeeded in crushing the opposition. So the FBI set out to instigate an incident. There had been a drunken fight in which a young Lakota was accused of stealing a pair of used cowboy boots. On June 25, 1975, two FBI agents came to a cabin that overlooked the Jumping Bull's compound and the AIM encampment.
They stated that they were looking for Jimmy Eagle, the youth accused of stealing the boots. And they stated that Jimmy had been seen riding in a red pick-up truck. It is clear that the FBI was doing reconnaissance of the area and on the AIM encampment. The next day, June 26, 1975, roadblocks were set up in the area of the AIM encampment, and local hospitals were put on notice to expect casualties. Two FBI cars followed a red pick-up (which they had identified as being associated with the AIM encampment) out of a nearby town with the excuse that Jimmy may be in the truck. The two FBI agents were SA Ronald Williams and SA Jack Coler; both were counterintelligence agents and members of a FBI SWAT team.
One has to question with all that was going on at Pine Ridge why two highly trained agents were wasting their time looking for Jimmy in a matter that would normally be handled by tribal police. Rather than stopping the vehicle out on the main road, the two agents followed it into the Jumping Bull compound at a high rate of speed.
These agents were well aware that they were driving into an AIM encampment; as a matter of fact, they had a map in their car with the area circled and identified as an AIM encampment. They were well aware of the fact that AIM set up that encampment to provide protection against the reign of terror, and that many of the attacks on traditional people had come about by drive by shootings. The people at the encampment had no way of knowing that these two cars were not part of a GOON attack. When the red vehicle stopped, the two FBI cars pulled themselves into a defensive alignment, and the two agents jumped out with the guns drawn.
Then, a firefight ensued, drawing AIM members from the encampment into the shootout. The first question is why did these two highly trained agents drive into the encampment in the manner that they did knowing full well that AIM was there and armed for protection?
Next, when the firefight started, why did they not get back into their cars and get out of the line of fire? The two agents were hit by gunfire, and when people approached them, one agent raised his gun to fire at them, and then they were hit by the gunfire that killed them. Within a very short time there were hundreds of FBI agents and BIA agents, including snipers, firing upon the AIM encampment. A sniper killed one AIM member, Joe Stuntz Killsright. The over 30 people at the AIM encampment managed to get away, and then the FBI interned hundreds of people for questioning.
The trial of the first two AIM members for the firefight was held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The defense was allowed to present evidence of the reign of terror, which showed the reason why AIM thought they were under attack and thus defended themselves. One witness, Wilford Draper, admitted that he had been threatened by the FBI and changed his testimony to what the FBI wanted him to say.
Even though the jury was all white, the case for self-defense was so strong that the jury found them not guilty. Leonard Peltier, Anishinabe/Lakota AIM activist, was arrested in Canada on February 6, 1976, based upon an affidavit by Myrtle Poor Bear.
Later Myrtle Poor Bear revealed that she had been held by the FBI and threatened, including that she would lose her daughter, unless she signed the affidavit that the FBI had written for her. The fact that the U.S. Government knowingly lied to the Canadian courts is still a major issue in Canada. Myrtle Poor Bear wanted to testify at Leonard's trial but the judge denied that request stating that "if Myrtle Poor Bear was to be believed she would shock the conscience of the court," and then barred her testimony due to "mental incompetence."
Leonard's trial was removed from the judge in Cedar Rapids and given to a new judge in Fargo, ND, Paul Benson, a Nixon appointee with a history of anti-Native bias. He would not allow evidence of why the firefight was an act of self-defense as the Cedar Rapids Judge did. The FBI tried to scare the people of Fargo with baseless warnings of planned AIM violence that never took place. The government case included the testimonies of three young Natives who were at the AIM encampment.
They again, used Wilford Draper who had admitted to testifying under fear of the FBI in the Cedar Rapids case. Mike Anderson, who told friends and family members that he was very fearful of threats from the FBI, died in a car crash when being chased by BIA agents a year after his testimony. The last of the three young Native witnesses gives a detailed account of FBI intimidation and his false testimony in the documentary movie Incident at Oglala.
The testimony of these three Native youths is what the government used to directly connect Leonard to the deaths of the agents by means of eyewitness testimony. Then, the government used ballistic expert, Even Hodge, who stated that an extractor mark test was done on shell casings the FBI said were found near the agents' car, and that they matched the gun that the FBI said Leonard used. Hodge stated that a firing pin test, which is the best test, could not be done on the gun. Years later, in documents Leonard's lawyers got through the Freedom of Information Act, it was found that the government withheld a document from the defense that stated that in fact a firing pin test had been done and the results were that the shell casings did not come from Leonard's gun. This is very important because the government used those shell casings as prove that Leonard directly killed the agents. Using the testimony of the three intimidated witnesses and the fabricated ballistics report, the government stated at Leonard's trial that: "We proved that he went down to the bodies and executed those two young men."
After the witnesses stated that they were forced to say what the FBI wanted them to say, and after it was revealed that the firing pin test showed that the shell casing did not come from Leonard's gun, the government changed its story. They then stated: "We had a murder (if you can call self-defense a murder), we had numerous shooters (there were over 30 people at the AIM encampment)…we do not know who shot the agents." The government has also stated that they "do not know what role Leonard Peltier may have played in the deaths."
Now the government says that Leonard was convicted for "aiding and abetting" the deaths of the agents because he was there. Remembering that the verdict in the first trial resulted in a non-guilty verdict, because of self-defense, Leonard Peltier has been in prison for all these years for "aiding and abetting," an act of self-defense.
Leonard was not convicted for "aiding and abetting" but rather for being the person who killed the agents. Through the appeals process and gaining more information from withheld evidence, Leonard's lawyers have disproved the government's case of direct murder and have left the government with nothing else than to say that he was just there that day. But the courts have refused to grant Leonard a new and fair trial.
One of the judges, Judge Heaney, who denied Leonard a new trial, stated the following in a letter to Senator Inouye: "The United States government overreacted at Wounded Knee. Instead of carefully considering the legitimate grievances of the Native Americans, the response was essentially a military one, which culminated in the deadly firefight on June 26, 1975. The United States government must share responsibility with the Native Americans for the firefight."
He then went on to recommend clemency/commutation of sentence for Leonard. While Clinton was president Leonard's lawyers filed for clemency and after a good deal for support was built up for clemency, the FBI stepped in and directly organized against it. FBI agents created an anti-Peltier organization with direct links to the FBI web page; they pressured newspapers to write anti-clemency editorials; they took out ads in papers using a completely false story about what happened; and some 500 agents took 'sick leave' to march on Washington against Leonard. We are sure that the FBI also placed other behind the scene pressure on Clinton. Because of all that Clinton did not grant Leonard clemency.
Presently the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee has a lawsuit going over the FBI's actions against clemency for Leonard. Leonard went in front of the Parole Commission and even though the government stated that they could not prove that Leonard killed anyone, the commission used the disproved testimony and fabricated evidence in their ruling against Leonard and added something that even the government never claimed, that the agents were ambushed.
The Parole Commission ruled that Leonard could not go before them again until 2008. Leonard's lawyers filed an appeal and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, on Nov. 4, 2003, issued their ruling denying Leonard Peltier's appeal.
The conclusion of the ruling by the court states: "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. Mr. Peltier asserts, 'The blatant government misconduct is a mitigating factor which should bear strongly on whether (he) should be immediately considered for parole….'
He may be correct. But whether the Parole Commission gave proper weight to this mitigating evidence is not a question we have authority to review. Our only inquiry is whether the Commission was rational in concluding Mr. Peltier participated in the execution of the two federal agents. On the record before us, we cannot say this determination was arbitrary and capricious."
The Parole Commission based its decision upon a trial where evidence that Leonard could have used to prove his innocence was withheld and part of what was used to convict Leonard was testimony by witnesses intimidated by the FBI-the court admits this as fact.
Also in its ruling the court stated that "the Commission's description of the firefight as an 'ambush' was imprecise: there is no indication any of the participants were lying in wait for the agents." And the court admits: "In 1975, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota was embroiled in conflict between traditional elders, who sought independence from Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) managers, and Native Americans supportive of the BIA power structure.
The conflict became violent, and the traditional elders sought protection from members of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Mr. Peltier and other AIM activists arrived at Pine Ridge to defend reservation traditionalists." So the court acknowledges the reason why Leonard was there; it acknowledges that the government behavior at Pine Ridge, which was to side against the traditionalist, is to be condemned.
It acknowledges the violence-over 60 traditionalists had been murdered, many victims of drive by shootings. The first two AIM members who went on trial were found not guilty because of self-defense. But the court states that the Parole Commission's denial of parole for Leonard, which was based upon things that the court states should be condemned, was not "arbitrary and capricious."
Again the courts have shown that in the case of Leonard Peltier such things as justice and common sense do not apply. Like in the past when Leonard lost appeals, was not granted clemency and not paroled, there are those who want to give up because Leonard will never find justice in a system that only acts in its own interest even when its actions stand against any sense of justice and even violates its own laws.
Though it is clear that the system will not grant justice to Leonard, we should not give up. Enough people demanding justice for Leonard from the government will result in his freedom. Rather than give into the government and its system of injustice, we should use each and every act by the government and its courts as further example of the rightness of our cause, and struggle even harder.
Leonard's defense team continues to work to get all the documents on his case released. The first time documents were released, over 6,000 pages, the FBI said it had another 6,000 pages that it would not release because of "national security." Leonard's lawyers found later the number of pages not released is somewhere around 120,000 pages.
The question must be asked is just whose national security is the FBI protecting by withholding the evidence within those documents? It is clearly not the national security of the people of this land! Rather it is the jeopardized security of the FBI through exposure of their illegal actions. It is in the national security of the people of this land that those documents should be released so that they can realize the truth of America's political police force, the FBI.
We are committed to actively supporting Leonard Peltier for however long it takes to free him. The directive given us is to get Leonard's case out into the public view as much as we can for it will only be the public pressure of the people that will free Leonard.
For this reason, we here in Tacoma have held public demonstrations of support for Leonard and have kept the story behind Leonard's case alive for the past 11 years. We will be holding our annual solidarity march and rally as stated below.
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH LEONARD PELTIERMARCH AND RALLY FOR JUSTICESATURDAY, FEDRUARY 7, 2004TACOMA, WA12:00 NOON: MARCH FOR JUSTICE
Portland Ave. Park (on Portland Ave. between E. 24th and E. Fairbanks Ave. Take Portland Ave. exit off I-5 and head east)1:00 PM: RALLY FOR JUSTICE U.S. Federal Court House, 1717 Pacific Ave.