The welcome news that President Obama is taking steps to shut Guantanamo and right other Bush-era human rights abuses must quickly be joined by a proclamation of freedom for Leonard Peltier.
Peltier is the nation's best-known native activist and has become a global symbol of abject injustice and prison abuse. Imprisoned in the late 1970s for allegedly murdering two FBI agents, Peltier has never been given a fair trial. Federal authorities have quashed or destroyed thousands of pages of evidence that might have freed Peltier decades ago.
The Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee points out that
Amnesty International considers Leonard Peltier to be a political prisoner whose avenues of redress have long been exhausted... Amnesty International recognizes that a retrial is no longer a feasible option and believes that Leonard Peltier should be immediately and unconditionally released.
The committee adds that
Documents show that although the prosecution and government pointed the finger at Peltier for shooting FBI agents at close range during the trial in 1976, for three years the prosecution withheld critical ballistic test results proving that the fatal bullets could not have come from the gun tied to Leonard Peltier. This trial also denied evidence of self defense.
The committee further states that:
the U.S. Prosecutor, during subsequent oral arguments, stated: "we can't prove who shot those agents." And that the Eighth Circuit found that "There is a possibility that the jury would have acquitted Leonard Peltier had the records and data improperly withheld from the defense been available to him in order to better exploit and reinforce the inconsistencies casting strong doubts upon the government's case.
The committee also says that
Judge Heaney, who authored the denial now supports Mr. Peltier's release, stating that the FBI used improper tactics to gain Mr. Peltier's conviction.
Now 64 years old, Peltier is suffering from diabetes and a series of other serious ailments brought on by his decades in prison. He has great grandchildren he has never seen. His case is the centerpiece of the book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen.
Reports from Betty Peltier-Solano, Leonard's sister, now assert that Peltier was severely beaten during a recent transfer to the Canaan Federal Penitentiary. According to Peltier-Solano, he has been held in solitary confinement and limited to a single meal a day, a serious threat to his health due to his diabetes.
Over the decades Peltier has been a model prisoner, concentrating on his art and writing. His commitment to Native American rights has been consistent throughout the years, though he's been repeatedly denied media access.
Peltier is eligible for parole in the near future. His supporters fear this latest round of abuse may be designed to discredit him. The FBI recently sent a letter accusing Peltier of prompting this latest attack. Given Peltier's age, poor health, immanent parole status and long-standing political commitments canont be viewed as a calculated absurdity. His sister writes that "currently, the FBI is actively seeking support for his continued imprisonment."
The political involvement of the FBI is itself an issue the President must address. At very least Peltier should be freed on bail pending a new trial, with a concerted effort on the part of the new Department of Justice to unearth all suppressed evidence in this case.
Leonard Peltier has languished unjustly in prison far longer than those held in Guantanamo. It is time to set him free!
To find out more, contact the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee at whoisleonardpeltier.info.