Monday, February 8, 2010

Leonard Peltier: An Unrepented Outrage

Reprinted from GRANMA:


In November 2000, just two months before the end of his mandate, U.S. President Bill Clinton said during a radio interview that he was going to very seriously consider the pardon petition presented by the defense attorneys of Leonard Peltier. The U.S. indigenous activist had been in prison for 23 years then, in spite of substantial accumulated evidence pointing to his innocence. When Clinton left the Oval Office in late January, Peltier was not on the list of presidential pardons.

The former president "it appeared" was afraid of getting entangled in a situation that could anger the FBI, the U.S. agency accusing Peltier and certainly not interested in the case receiving further scrutiny, as a new legal process could lead to an indictment of that very agency.

Now history may be repeating itself. A pardon petition has been brought before President Barak Obama and is already circulating around the world, not so much calling for an act of presidential generosity but demanding that the case be given the sole and fair outcome it should have had three decades ago when, following a rigged trial, Peltier was sent to prison. February 6 will be marking 34 years since the imprisonment of this activist, who is unjustly serving two life sentences.

Even the judge who once turned down a request for a case review has joined outstanding cultural and political personalities who are asking for reconsideration. Peltier suffers from various ailments resulting not only from age but also mistreatment and lack of adequate care. What was Leonard Peltier̢۪s "crime"? Well, obviously the number one reason why he went to jail was for opposing the acts of hostility against the native peoples of North America, to which he belongs.

Available statistics reveal why these peoples need to be defended. Infant mortality rate among them is, for instance, ten times higher than the national average, an unresolved and outrageous situation that affects mostly the poor sectors of society and which in the case of the native Indian population is a true tragedy.

But history is stubborn and old enough to record the existence of prominent members of the Sioux, Apache, Lakota and Nez Perce communities who struggled with courage and dignity so that the then nascent United States would comply with the covenants and promises made, which were routinely violated. Their names include Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull.

The sadly unsuccessful struggle of those Native American heroes, who fought in disadvantage, lies at the foundations of the 1970 events at the Pine Ridge reservation, South Dakota, used to bring before justice several members of the American Indian Movement, including Peltier. Against Peltier the FBI would later focus its accusations, after seeing that the court had acquitted two of the activists, admitting they had fired in self-defense against agents who had broken into their farm, and that there was a high level of violence by authorities against the native communities in the area. An enraged FBI decided to turn all the blame on Peltier, who was the most prestigious and respected member of that group.

Evidence provided by experts proved that Peltier̢۪s weapon did not fire the shots that killed two police officers. So much so that the prosecutor was forced to admit that it was impossible to prove who shot the agents. But the test that led to such a determinant conclusion was kept in the dark.

The U.S. justice also overlooked the fact that one of the former defendants had admitted that he had been the gunman who killed the agents.

The prosecution presented statements by a woman, who did not know Peltier but claimed she was his girlfriend and had seen him shoot the agents. The woman was not even present at the scene of the shooting and retracted after a time, saying she had been threatened and pressured by the FBI into presenting a false testimony.

Thus, the idea of using and keeping visible a "this-ought-to-teach-you" prototype, so that others dare not challenge authority again, has prevailed over conclusive evidence such as this spontaneous self-confession.

Confidence that a president emerging from another group, victim of discrimination, could become sensitized and straighten up an old infamy is the hope of those who continue to seek justice for Leonard Peltier.

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