Leonard Peltier Must Be Free

June parole hearing for Peltier

Revolutionary Worker #1058, June 11, 2000

"I know what I am. I am an Indian--an Indian who dared to stand up to defend his people. I am an innocent man who never murdered anyone nor wanted to. And, yes, I am a Sun Dancer. That, too, is my identity. If I am to suffer as a symbol of my people, then I suffer proudly."

Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings:
My Life Is My Sun Dance

As the June 12 date for Leonard Peltier's next parole hearing approaches, people around the world are demanding that he be freed. The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC) reports that letters demanding his release are pouring in from around the world.

A representative from Amnesty International will attend Peltier's federal parole hearing to argue on Leonard's behalf, as will members of the National Council of Churches, the National Congress of American Indians, the Assembly of First Nations and Leonard's family.

Framed for Defending the People

Leonard Peltier was accused of killing two FBI agents, when government forces attacked an American Indian Movement (AIM) camp in July 1975. The AIM forces were there, organizing to defend Indian people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota--who were facing an intense wave of assassination and government repression after the famous 1973 Indian occupation of Wounded Knee.

In 1977 Peltier was framed-up for the murder of the agents and railroaded into prison.

The authorities had no evidence linking Peltier to the killing of the FBI agents. So they manufactured it. And the judge refused to allow any testimony about the government violence against people at Pine Ridge, the FBI persecution of AIM, or the testimony from an earlier trial where two other AIM members were found not guilty of shooting the agents. Leonard Peltier was convicted of two counts of first degree murder on April 18, 1977 and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. (See "The Railroad of Leonard Peltier" on rwor.org)

Secret FBI documents have now surfaced that prove the FBI manufactured key "evidence" against Leonard Peltier. In addition, Prosecutor Lynn Crooks has admitted, "We did not have any direct evidence that one individual as opposed to another pulled the trigger." During Peltier's 1985 appeal in the Eighth Circuit Court, the U.S. attorney admitted, "We can't prove who shot these agents."

On October 5, 1987 the Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Then, in 1993, the federal courts denied Peltier's final appeal. They argued that even if there's no evidence of a "close-up killing," Peltier was guilty of "long-range aiding and abetting." After this, Leonard can only be released through parole or executive clemency.

Shortly after, Peltier was denied parole. The U.S. Parole Commission wrote, "The Commission recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that you personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents." But they refused to grant Peltier parole because of his "evident decision not to accept criminal responsibility."

In other words, Peltier has been told he must spend his life in prison for just being present as the AIM encampment defended itself.

When Leonard Peltier was denied parole in 1993, the parole commission set the date for the next review for the year 2008--many years beyond what their own guidelines suggest. The commission is still required by law to hold hearings every two years to determine if new circumstances would change their original decision. This is the purpose of the coming June 12 hearing.

Peltier's attorneys will argue that the commission has no evidence to support its earlier finding that Peltier "participated in the premeditated and cold-blooded execution of those two officers." They will point out that since that hearing the commission has said it "recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Peltier] personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents."

From Behind Bars

Leonard Peltier has continued the struggle from behind bars--with his words, his paintings and his organizing efforts. Leonard is respected around the world as a voice for Native people and an inspiring political prisoner who refuses to be broken. Thousands of individuals and organizations have written to the parole commission demanding that he be released; and the list of prominent political figures and artists who have spoken out on his behalf includes: Nelson Mandela, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Bill Richardson, Robert Redford, Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Oliver Stone, Whoopi Goldberg and Jesse Jackson.

In the past six months the battle to free Leonard Peltier has intensified. Thousands of people traveled to Washington, D.C. for Leonard Peltier Freedom Month in November. An article on prisons in the Washington Post in January featured a review of Peltier's new book, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance. A Spring 2000 Awareness Tour featured Pine Ridge Reign of Terror survivor Jean Day, who spoke on college campuses around the country.

The system responded with an FBI disinformation campaign against Leonard. Newspaper, radio ads and a new website full of lies have appeared. On February 28, Senator Orrin Hatch introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for U.S. presidents to grant executive clemency.

There has also been intense activity demanding that Leonard Peltier receive the emergency medical care he needed. For four years he suffered from intense and painful jaw problems, while prison authorities prevented him from getting treatment. The Special Rappateur on Torture for the United Nations included a report on this mistreatment in their annual report on possible torture cases. After international mobilization, Dr. E. E. Keller of the Mayo Clinic was finally allowed to perform a five-hour jaw surgery on Leonard Peltier on March 21, 2000.


It is important for people to speak out for Peltier as this June 12 parole hearing approaches. The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee is calling on people to demand that he be freed on parole and also to demand that President Clinton grant Leonard executive clemency. Plans are already being laid to carry this struggle into the fall with a march in Washington DC on October 27.

Despite ongoing government attempts to intimidate Peltier supporters, Amnesty International sponsored a press conference in Washington, D.C. on May 17, at which survivors of the Pine Ridge Reign of Terror, Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu, author Peter Mathiessen and Ernie Stevens of the National Congress of American Indians urged the U.S. government to grant Peltier parole or clemency.

Peltier has now served 24 long years in prison. This is a great injustice and we demand freedom for this important fighter.

For more information: Visit the RW Online at rwor.org or contact the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, P.O. Box 583, Lawrence, Kansas 66044, www.freepeltier.org

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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