Leonard Peltier 101: Leonard Peltier Justice Campaign Grant Proposal

Mr. Peltier is a gifted
Native American leader who has now been incarcerated for some 24 years in
the United States. Despite disturbing evidence that the FBI coerced
witnesses and concealed a key ballistics test indicating his innocence, Mr.
Peltier has been denied a new trial and is overdue for parole. He is 55
years of age and in deteriorating health. Time is of the essence for
obtaining his release.

Mr. Peltier is a gifted
Native American leader who has now been incarcerated for some 24 years in
the United States. Despite disturbing evidence that the FBI coerced
witnesses and concealed a key ballistics test indicating his innocence, Mr.
Peltier has been denied a new trial and is overdue for parole. He is 55
years of age and in deteriorating health. Time is of the essence for
obtaining his release.

The origins of his case lie in the 1973 occupation of the town of Wounded
Knee. Traditionalists from Pine Ridge Reservation were outraged by the
corrupt practices of local tribal Chairperson Dick Wilson, who was
improperly selling their uranium rich lands to the United States government.
Not surprisingly Mr. Wilson enjoyed the strong support of the various
federal agencies. Meanwhile, the traditionalists had sought the assistance
of leaders of the American Indian Movement, or "AIM". In a now historic
protest, the people spontaneously occupied the town of Wounded Knee for more
than two months, demanding justice. The United States government responded
by firing half a million rounds of live ammunition at the men, women and
children inside. The siege ended only after White House officials promised
an investigation of the matter.

After Wounded Knee, the people returned to their homes in Pine Ridge,
inviting the AIM friends and supporters to accompany them. A number of
prosecutions were brought against the leadership, but the charges were
dismissed in virtually all cases. With the courts frequently chastising the
FBI for improperly coercing witnesses and tampering with the evidence.
Meanwhile, for the next several years the people of Pine Ridge endured what
is now know as the "Reign of Terror". Some 64 AIM supporters and members
were murdered, with strong indications that the killers were members of
Wilson’s vigilantes, who were in turn supported, armed and often paid by
U.S. security officials including the FBI. Despite a massive FBI presence
on the reservation, there was no adequate investigation of these crimes nor
did anyone stand trial.

It was in this background of terror and violence that the "Incident at
Oglala" occurred. On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents in an unmarked car
chased a small red pick-up truck onto a private ranch where AIM members were
encamped. The owners [of the ranch] had requested an AIM presence to protect them.
Shooting broke out between the FBI agents and the people in the pick-up,
catching the AIM members by surprise and trapping small children in the
crossfire. In the fear and confusion, the gun battle escalated. When it
was over, the two FBI agents lay dead. Someone, from amongst the numerous
people on the ranch that morning, had shot them at close range. To this
day, U.S. officials admit they have no idea who pulled the trigger.

At that point, police, SWAT patrols and FBI cars surrounded the ranch and
the AIM community found itself under a hail of bullets from all sides. All
but three in the group were under age. The United States government was
shooting at children. A young Native man named Joe Stuntz was shot through
the head by a sniper’s bullet. The rest survived when Leonard Peltier lead
them through a narrow drainage tunnel below the police circle, to the other
side of the dragnet. Outraged Native people on the reservation fired their
own guns into the air to help distract the authorities while the group fled
to freedom.

Leonard Peltier, convinced that he would receive no fair trial in the United
States, fled to Canada. The two other adult leaders present that day, were
charged with murder as well, and stood trial. The jury found no evidence to
show they had fired the fatal shots, and determined that returning fire
under those circumstances was a matter of self-defense.

This left Leonard Peltier as the only remaining adult AIM leader present
that day whom the FBI could in fact name. He was extradited from Canada on
the basis of an affidavit signed by a Myrtle Poor Bear, who claimed to have
been his girlfriend and to have witnessed the murder. After Mr. Peltier was
returned to the U.S. in chains, she admitted that she had never met him and
had signed [the affidavit] only after being terrorized by FBI officials. The extradition
was not cancelled, nor was she permitted to tell the jury about what had
occurred. Nor was the jury permitted to hear of the numerous related cases
against AIM members in which the FBI had been chastised for coercing
witnesses and tampering with the evidence. Meanwhile, three adolescents
gave highly vague and self-contradictory testimonies, refusing to swear on
the sacred pipe, and later admitting that they too had been abused and
coerced by FBI agents. Still worse, the FBI ballistics expert insisted that
the most accurate ballistics test could not be performed due to damage to
the rifle alleged to belong to Mr. Peltier. The expert stated that a
different, less precise test was performed, showing that the bullet could
have come from this weapon. Years later, after a Freedom of Information Act
demand, it was discovered that the expert had indeed performed the better
test and had concluded that the bullet could not have been fired from the
rifle in question. This critical report, reflecting Mr. Peltier’s
innocence, had been improperly withheld from the defense. Lastly, the FBI
agents had long testified that their colleagues had been chasing a red
pick-up truck. At Mr. Peltier’s trial this vehicle somehow became an orange
and white striped van, more easily linked to him.

Despite this disturbing showing of obstruction of justice and falsified
evidence, Mr. Peltier had been denied a new trial. Although the United
States Prosecutor now admits that no one knows who pulled the trigger on
that fatal day, Mr. Peltier is long overdue for parole but has not been
released. He now suffers from a heart condition as well as diabetes. He is
near blind in one eye due to limited medical care. He also suffers from a
long term jaw problem which causes constant pain and leaves him unable to
chew or speak easily. Although a Mayo Clinic specialist has offered to
repair this jaw free of charge, permission has been denied.

Mr. Peltier has been recognized as a political prisoner by a number of human
rights leaders of world renown, including Amnesty International, the
National Council of Churches, Nobel Laureates Rigoberta Menchu and
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Kennedy Memorial Center
for Human Rights, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the National Congress of
American Indians.

Call the White House Comments Line Today and
Demand Justice for Leonard Peltier! 202-456-1111

Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee was established by Leonard Peltier
himself many years ago. It is staffed by two full time volunteers who work
for room and board only, and is complemented by an international team of two
volunteers in Europe, as well as additional volunteers from the human rights
community in the United States and Canada. Mr. Peltier is in daily
communication with his staffers, and makes all key decisions as to policy
and programs.

www.freepeltier.org

PO Box 583
Lawrence, KS 66044
785.842.5774

Author: Leonard Peltier Justice Coalition

News Service: Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

URL: http://www.freepeltier.org