Readers: Below is a letter from one of the great lawyers of the anti-apartheid period. Denis Kuny is one of the few who defended the Mandela's as well as other known and unknown African National Congress (ANC) members. I brought Mr. Kuny to Lesotho to defend me when I, as a Peace Corps director, had fired a Mosotho from Peace Corps staff. That was the beginning of our long and fruitful relationship. I will let Denis Kuny's own words speak for themselves as he writes about the 41 years of imprisonment for Leonard Peltier.
[British spellings maintained]
Thanks for all the material you have sent me about Leonard Peltier. I am astounded that he has been kept in Gaol for over 40 years without parole and with no sympathy or understanding displayed for the circumstances under which he came to be imprisoned, his personal circumstances, the transformative effects of (lengthy) imprisonment, or the circumstances of his people.
I have been a practicing advocate in South Africa for almost 60 years, and during the Apartheid era, represented many people accused of and charged with myriad political offences of varying degrees of severity. At the time, the death penalty for treasonable offences still existed and several people in cases in which I appeared faced the death penalty or, at least, very lengthy periods of imprisonment. Yet, in not one of the cases in which I appeared, was the death penalty ever carried out or did any convicted person serve as long a sentence as that which has already been served by Leonard Peltier.
Except in the case of the man who assassinated Chris Hani in 1993 and who got a life sentence which he is still serving, not one of the people whom I represented or whom I know about served sentences as long as Peltier even under the Apartheid regime.
And of course, when the transformation took place, or was in the process of taking place from 1990 onwards, political prisoners were released, whatever the length of their sentences. And death sentences were commuted.
It seems to me, considering my own experience over many years of dealing with political offences, even those in which death has resulted, that the basic purpose of imprisonment still needs to be observed and applied, namely punishment, reformation, forgiveness and understanding, and, of course the interests of society. I am sure that these very basic and humane principles apply equally in the United States as they should do in any democratic country, however heinous the offence.
Each case should be evaluated on the basis of its own individual facts and circumstances and, from the little that I know about Peltier from the information that you have sent to me from time to time, to have kept Leonard Peltier in prison for over 40 years, is inhumane and, I believe, barbaric, particularly since he is now an old and sick man who presents no harm or danger to anyone and who should be allowed to spend his last years with his family, friends and, importantly, the community which he was part of. In light of what I have said above, please add my name to the already lengthy list of people calling for his release.
Regards Jack, and a tribute to you for the great work that you are doing. Your time as the Director of the Peace Corps in Lesotho where we first met, was a wonderful backdrop for the work which you have done since then with Amnesty International and more recently in Human Right Action Center (HRAC).