Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist who is serving consecutive life terms for allegedly killing two FBI agents, faced a parole hearing on July 28, 20009, the first full hearing in 15 years.  In mid- August, however, the parole commission denied his request for parole.  Peltier, now 62 and in poor health, has spent over 30 years behind bars, was convicted in 1975 of killing the agents in the turbulent period surrounding the conflict at Wounded Knee, S.D. on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He has claimed innocence. After a nationwide manhunt that lasted eight months, he was apprehended in Canada and extradicted to the United States.

Some consider Peltier to be a political prisoner. He has received support from world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu. Ongoing debate over his guilt and the fairness of his trial led to a series of appeals on his behalf, but none succeeded. Peltier, who was active in the American Indian Movement, maintained that traditional lobbying efforts in Congress on behalf of Native Americans had been ineffective. The occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1973 was meant to highlight the need for their being accorded greater rights. AIM has been actively pressing for parole.

When, toward the end of term, former President Bill Clinton was said to be considering granting Peltier clemency, hundreds of agents and their families protested outside the White House. If he had received parole, his tribe arranged for him to have a place to live and a position on the council of elders.  With his guilt in question, three decades behind bars is surely sufficient, even in a country noted for some of the longest sentences in the world. There is need for a more thorough investigation of the issue of his guilt or innocence. Allegations of FBI officials bribing Native Americans to testify against Peltier need to be addressed as to their veracity.

After the parole commission denied Peltier parole, Curt Goering, senior deputy director of Amnesty International USA, stated: “Given that the case against Peltier unraveled years ago, his continued imprisonment is only protracting a grave miscarriage of justice. He added: “When you consider the concerns that plague the case–retracted witness testimony, serious allegations of FBI coercion, the lack of sufficient access to counsel–it s unconscionable that Leonard Peltier should continue to suffer behind bars. It is high time,” he concluded, “for the U.S. government to intervene and right the wrongs of the past.”

George Anderson, S.J.

Comments

Anonymous | 9/7/2009 - 5:05pm
Peltier is not terminal; just terminally unrepentant. His parole board of 1993, I think, had it exactly right:
"Although the above evidence is consistent with your having, while at the scene of the murders, aided and abetted the use of the above-mentioned AR-15 rifle by another individual to execute the agents, the Commission is persuaded that the greater probability is that you yourself fired the fatal shots… It would be unjust to treat the slaying of these F.B.I. agents, while they lay wounded and helpless, as if your actions had been part of a gun battle. Neither the state of relations between Native American militants and law enforcement at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation prior to June 26, 1975, nor the exchanges of gunfire between individuals at the Jumping Bull Compound and the law enforcement agents who arrived there during the hours after Agents Coler and Williams were murdered, explains or mitigates the crimes you committed… Your release on parole would promote disrespect for the law in contravention of 18 U.S.C...."
Anonymous | 9/5/2009 - 7:44am
I have to agree with James Simon.  Those now advocating for Mr. Peltier's release make the best arguments they can, but omit inconvenient facts such as those mentioned by Mr. Simon, and walk very close to misrepresenting other matters.  (I do not imply his supporters are dishonest in doing so - that is what American lawyers and advocates do.)  Recent arguments based on the release of Squeaky Fromm, easing of incarceration of James Hinckley and others are inapt.  Those persons killed no one; the agents killed in the Peltier matter were shot point blank as they lay wounded - more an execution than self-defense.  Although some disagree, murder accomplished is legally more serious than murder attempted.
I too have read the official court records that are available online in the several actions Mr. Peltier has filed.  I respectfully suggest that those who are interested read those records before drawing conclusions. 
If Mr. Peltier is suffering from terminal illness as some supporters seem to imply, he probably should be released on humanitarian grounds and permitted to return to the Turtle Lake reservation under some sort of house arrest.  Given his age and his health condition it is unlikely he would reoffend.
Anonymous | 9/1/2009 - 10:31pm
Peltier's guilt has never been in question where the federal courts are concerned; every judge who has reviewed his case (over a dozen), after carefully weighing the evidence, has concluded that Peltier was fairly tried and fairly convicted. I've studied the Peltier case at length and have determined that, not only is he guilty, he is completely without remorse. He has bilked millions of well-intentioned people out of their time and money. Mr. Goering is simply not correct when he says that the case against Peltier has unraveled. On the contrary, the evidence that Peltier lied about his location when the killing shots were fired, and that he boasted about shooting Agent Ron Williams in the face at point-blank range, have only been confirmed since his 1977 conviction. In fact, Peltier has been repeatedly caught in lies about his supposed alibi (the Mr. X fraud), about where he was when the shooting started (not in Tent City as he claimed), and up until the CNN interview, the fact that he went down to the Agents during the critical window when both men were executed. Look at the court records and read the book, American Indian Mafia. It will open your eyes to the truth. Personally, I'd like to see Peltier freed, but only if he accepts responsibility for his actions and asks for forgiveness.
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 12:01pm
I think we really have to ask the question, why was a carload of FBI agents armed to the tilt entering Pine Ridge Rez, who issued the orders, why were they issued and what did the Lakota people, elders, children, AIM members know about what was going to happen.  Wasn't it all self-defense?  Not only were there issues of self-defense for native peoples, but defense for what was happening to their land, to their beliefs, to their culture.  I probably should not say this but I feel it was murder by manipulation by an agency that should have know better and Leonard is the one paying the great price for this, as well as those FBI agents who died in the process.  Hopefully, President Obama can determine Clemency for Leonard Peltier and the truth can be retold and the healing process shall begin.