Demanding Justice for Peltier

FBI admissions underscore the need for a new hearing

by Dave Dellinger

Toward Freedom magazine. June / July 2001


Before leaving office, President Bill Clinton pardoned Marcus Rich and other rich people who gave money to his elitist post-presidency plans. Now, we need a massive new campaign to free Leonard Peltier. We must make action by the Parole Commission unavoidable. And no matter what private views President George W. Bush holds, he must understand that the only way he can answer is to issue a pardon.

A habeas corpus petition has been filed in Federal District Court in Topeka, KS. Peltier is serving time nearby in Leavenworth. The petition challenges the actions of the US Parole Commission; specifically its illegal, erroneous, arbitrary, capricious, and unconstitutional denial of parole. It also questions the decision to schedule Peltier's next parole hearing for December 2008. That's 12 years in excess of the commission's applicable guidelines, and six years after the date set by Congress for the abolition of the commission itself. If and when a hearing is held, we need to fill the courtroom.

Peltier's petition also charges that, as a result of changes in federal parole laws, practices, and procedures since 1975, Peltier has been imprisoned longer than the law then authorized. This violates the US Constitution's ex postfacto clause, as well as Peltier's right to due process and equal protection.


For those unfamiliar with the facts, Peltier has been in prison for more than 25 years for a crime he didn't commit. In response to a Freedom of Information Action-based lawsuit, the FBI has admitted that agents provided false testimony during his trial. The prosecutors have testified that they have no idea who actually committed the crime.

Even before his arrest and extradition from Canada, Myrtle Poor Bear was tortured and terrorized by the FBI into saying that she was Peltier's girlfriend and had witnessed his shooting of FBI agents. Actually, she didn't know him, and admitted prior to the trial that the FBI had coerced her statement.

Years ago, the Canadian government said that it wouldn't have extradited Peltier without the dishonest testimony provided by the US. Later, the US admitted what it had done. Yet, when Myrtle Poor Bear showed up at the trial to tell the truth, her testimony was banned.

His trial took place in a different state than the ones for two of his co-defendants. They were acquitted, while an all-White jury found Peltier guilty. In addition, he wasn't allowed to claim self-defense. From several hundred yards away, he had fired back at over 150 FBI agents, BIA police, SWAT team, and local posse members who had already shot at men, women, and children.

There is also evidence that someone else killed the two agents, who had entered the reservation on a false pretext.

Why was Peltier on the reservation? The FBI had worked with local conservative Lakotas to sell part of the reservation to a corporation that wanted to mine uranium deposits. After FBI-infiltrated goon squads killed more than 70 Lakotas who actively resisted the sale, Peltier was invited to set up an American Indian Movement (AIM) group to protect local residents. Peltier was a Chippewa Lakota Pipe carrier and AIM activist.

In fact, that's why the two FBI agents entered the reservation, providing a pretext for others to follow and fire. Besides the two agents, Joe Stuntz, a native Lakota, also died. But neither the FBI nor any other part of the government ever investigated his killing.


Dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure, and a serious heart condition, Peltier has already suffered a stroke. His phone privileges have been serious curtailed. In addition, he should be able to visit with his children and grandchildren outside the limitations and confines of prison.

Members of the Peltier Defense Committee, located in Lawrence, KS, visit with him at least once a week. They report that his sense of humor hasn't been lost, his spirits remain remarkably strong, and he's still painting. Recently, he told them that he was happy to receive a letter I sent. Among other things, I said that my wife, Elizabeth Peterson, and I have one of his paintings on our wall. But I've always been denied the right to visit him.

When Peltier's conviction was appealed, the appellate judges decided that ballistic evidence had been improperly withheld, and that, had the jury known about it, he might have been acquitted. Shockingly, the appeal was nevertheless denied on a technicality.

But as Federal Appeals Court Judge Heaney later wrote: "The United States government must share the responsibility with the Native Americans for the June 26 firefight .... [T]he FBI used improper tactics in securing Peltier's extradition from Canada and in otherwise trying the Peltier case .... [A]t some point a hearing process must begin."

We as a nation must treat Native Americans more fairly. To do so, we must recognize their unique culture and their great contributions to our nation. Favorable action by the president in the Leonard Peltier case would be an important step in this regard.


The Defense Committee doesn't plan to march outside the prison in June, since the last time they did so Peltier was put in the Hole. Instead, they'll restructure and issue a new call for local community events soon. After more organizing and actions, they'll announce a national event, probably in December.

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