Free Leonard Peltier

Here's an interesting headline: Leonard Peltier's prosecutor has written a letter asking for him to be granted clemency.

Peltier has been in jail for decades, following his conviction for killing FBI agents during the Pine Ridge shootout. The incident occurred during the American Indian Movement's heyday, when Vietnam veterans from the reservations came home and build up a movement to resist government authority where they found it corrupt and unjust. Naturally, this is the sort of movement that appeals to me -- unlike the Left, I like it just as well when the Bundy family did it as when the Lakota did it in 1975.

It is worth noticing that in both cases the fight was over what the government claimed as Federal land, but to which the other party also had a competing claim. The government would prefer you submit your competing claims to adjudication in its own courts, but the Oglala Lakota's claim on Wounded Knee is one that is bound up in a history that does not suggest reliance on Federal good faith.

Peltier's defenders maintain that he is innocent and never received a fair trial. There is something to be said for this, given that he was assigned two life sentences based on no proof that he ever shot anyone at all.
[The] prosecutor eventually admitted in court that the US attorney’s office “can’t prove who shot [the agents]” and claimed that Peltier was guilty of “aiding and abetting” in the shooting.

Reynolds was appointed US attorney in 1976 and oversaw the case’s appeal when much of the evidence that raised serious doubts about the government’s case were revealed.

The former prosecutor’s letter to Obama does not address the underlying conviction, and in an interview, he declined to say whether he believed Peltier is innocent. But Reynolds said it was wrong for Peltier to remain behind bars after 40 years, particularly considering that prosecutors ultimately considered him an accomplice in the crime. “You’re not really participating in the crime yourself. Just because you’re there, you’re going to get nailed.”
Even 20 years ago, it seemed like a bit much to me given that no one has proven he had anything to do with the actual killings. Nor, really, do the deaths strike me as properly-speaking murders in any case: it was a skirmish, in which the Federal agents were taking aggressive action and got caught in a crossfire.

It would be a shame for Barack Obama, to whom the petition was addressed, to have made friends with the Weathermen but to refuse clemency to Peltier. The Weathermen were actual terrorists. Peltier has paid a high price for a crime no one ever proved he committed. If the point was for him to serve as an example, surely forty years is example enough.

1 comment:

douglas said...

Well, this wasn't something I expected to see here. I don't really know anything about the incidents, but a quick bit of research seems to suggest that the FBI agents were not killed in a large scale assault, but were killed in a shootout that occurred as they attempted to execute an arrest warrant- just the two of them, not a huge force of agents. That appears to have been subsequent to the shootout that killed them.

Perhaps the site is in error, but it certainly seems reasonable. Unlike most of the folks I've seen sporting the "Free Leonard Peltier" bumper stickers over the years.