A Great Injustice:
Clinton Denies Peltier Pardon

Revolutionary Worker #1088, January 28, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

"I want you to know that if my freedom is denied, I will not give up my fight. I won't give up because I am an innocent man. I cannot give up and accept a fate that is wrong. I will continue to fight for justice until I am free or until I leave the prison in a pine box. I will not surrender."

From Leonard Peltier's letter to his supporters, Dec. 10, 2000

In one of his last acts before leaving office, President Clinton continued the system's great injustice against Leonard Peltier. On January 20--the day of George W. Bush's inauguration--Clinton released a final list of people receiving presidential pardons. The list included figures like former CIA director John Deutch, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and Clinton's brother Roger. But he refused to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, who has spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In a January 20 statement, Leonard Peltier Defense Committee said, "Today will be remembered as but another day of U.S. government shame and betrayal of Native people."

Leonard Peltier was framed by the U.S. government for the killing of two FBI agents who attacked an American Indian Movement (AIM) camp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Peltier and other Native people were in the camp helping protect people on the reservation from what has come to be known as the "Reign of Terror." During this campaign--launched by the U.S. government and led by the FBI--64 AIM members and supporters were murdered. The Reign of Terror was punishment for the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee--during which hundreds of Indian people and their supporters stood up, guns in hand, against the U.S. government-backed murder and intimidation of AIM supporters and traditionals.

It was during the Reign of Terror that two armed FBI agents were killed. In 1977 Peltier was framed up and railroaded for the killing. He has been held behind bars ever since, under two consecutive life terms.

All of Peltier's appeals have been denied. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case. When Leonard was denied parole in 1993, the U.S. Parole Commission set the year 2008 as the date for the next review--many years beyond what the commission's own guidelines suggest. The only way Leonard could be released before 2008 is executive clemency.

People around the U.S. and the world have demanded for many years that the U.S. government free Leonard Peltier. As the end of Clinton's term approached, the movement to demand clemency for Leonard Peltier intensified. The demand for Leonard's release took on greater urgency because of his serious health problems. He has diabetes, a heart condition, and high blood pressure as a result of poor medical care in prison. Many people fear that he could die in prison before the next chance for parole.

Many people in the U.S. and internationally have spoke out in support of clemency for Peltier. On December 22, Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner, wrote a letter to Clinton supporting clemency for Peltier. The letter said in part: "Mr. Peltier was tried, convicted and sentenced to prison over 25 years ago in proceedings which have raised serious due process concerns. The case for clemency for Mr. Peltier has drawn support from a remarkably broad range of observers and institutions, including the European Parliament, Amnesty International, President Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Ms Roberta Menchu Tum. Indigenous people from around the world, including the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, as well as many others have expressed grave concern about the case against Mr. Peltier."

On December 10, 2,500 people marched through the streets of New York City to the UN in support of Leonard Peltier. The march was led by a contingent of Native people from Pine Ridge. Speakers at the rally included author Alice Walker; Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine; author Peter Mathiessen; Rev. Michael Yasutake of the National Council of Churches; former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver; Pam Africa of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; and Irish author Don Mullen.

But it was clear powerful forces were working against clemency for Leonard. The FBI in particular has carried out a dirty disinformation campaign including newspaper and radio ads and a website full of lies. When the White House announced late last year that Peltier was among the clemency requests Clinton was considering before leaving office, the FBI went even more hog-wild. FBI Director Louis Freeh (who is being retained by the incoming President Bush) wrote a letter directly to Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno demanding that Peltier's clemency application be rejected. Tom Daschle, liberal senator from South Dakota and one of the top Democrats, also reportedly advised Clinton against granting clemency to Peltier.

On December 15, more than 300 FBI agents protested outside the White House against clemency for Peltier. The Los Angeles Times called this action "an unprecedented show of political activism" by the FBI. The fact that a key body of the system's armed enforcers openly marched in front of the White House emphasized the high stakes involved in the battle to free Leonard Peltier.

Leonard vs the System of Injustice

The railroad and long imprisonment of Leonard Peltier exposes the deeply unjust nature of the U.S. system. After Leonard's conviction, secret FBI documents surfaced which proved that the FBI manufactured "evidence" against him. Even the government has admitted that there is no evidence linking Peltier directly to the shooting of the FBI agents. During Peltier's 1985 appeal, the U.S. attorney said outright, "We can't prove who shot these agents." In other words, Peltier was unjustly sentenced to spend life in prison--just for being present as the AIM encampment defended itself during the FBI's Reign of Terror.

At the December 10 rally in New York City, Curt Goering, senior executive director of Amnesty International, said: "We've seen too many innocent people who've been sentenced for crimes they didn't commit--even sentenced to death--only later to be found innocent. The pattern we've seen in other cases--cases like Geronimo Pratt, who was also imprisoned for 25 years for a crime he didn't commit. That pattern is also evident in Leonard's case. Enough is enough! Not one day longer!"

Throughout all the years of the government railroad and unjust imprisonment, Leonard Peltier has remained unrepentant and unbroken, an inspirational fighter for the people. He has continued his struggle from behind bars--with his words, his paintings, and his organizing efforts.

In his book Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance, Leonard Peltier wrote: "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."

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