Mark/My Turn: Pardon Leonard Peltier

Last modified: 2/8/2016 1:37:14 PM

Leonard Peltier has been confined in prison for more than 40 years. He was charged with the shooting-death of two FBI agents, Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, in the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. However, the facts around his case show a dismal miscarriage of justice. It looks like the only way Leonard Peltier will be free to go home to friends and family after all this time is by an executive clemency pardon from President Barack Obama.

His prison record has been exemplary, and he has excelled as a human rights and environmental rights activist, a nominee for six Nobel Peace prizes, an acclaimed artist, a mentor, an author, a great-grandfather who is simply a good, humble and wonderful human being.

One could learn more about him from his book, “Prison Writings — My Life Is My Sun Dance.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated that it is “A deeply moving and very disturbing story of a gross miscarriage of justice and an eloquent cri de coeur of Native American for redress and to be regarded as human beings with inalienable rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution, like any other citizens. We pray that it does not fall on deaf ears. America owes it to herself.”

A little more than 15 years ago, on International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, 2000, I joined local activists that chartered two buses from Northampton to join thousands who walked and prayed in the streets of New York City for Truth and Reconciliation. Most everyone there was optimistic about President William Clinton granting Peltier clemency before leaving office.

However, when the Supreme Court chose George Bush Jr. as president, Clinton would no longer have Al Gore to protect him from the threat of criminal prosecution for having lied under oath regarding his affair with an intern. The political pressure at that time was quite intense.

In an unprecedented demonstration, approximately 500 federal agents marched to the White House in protest to keep Leonard Peltier in prison. President Clinton took the easy way out and kept him incarcerated and freed white collar criminal, Marc Rich.

Now that we are approaching another administration’s final hours, many are hopeful that President Obama will grant Peltier an executive clemency.

Peltier was beaten up and almost killed when transferred from one prison to another. His health has declined significantly. Currently, he is headed for surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurism. At 70 years old, many are wondering how much longer he can survive in prison.

Those supporting his freedom over the yeas have included such notable people and organizations as Dr. Helen Caldicott, The Dalai Lama, the late Nelson Mandela, the late Coretta Scott King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Amnesty International, Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu, Archbishop Tutu and other parliamentarians, and celebrated persons around the globe.

The only evidence against Peltier was the fact that he was present at the Jumping Bull ranch during the fatal shoot-out. There were more than 30 other individuals there on the day of the shooting, members and nonmembers of the American Indian Movement, (but only AIM members were prosecuted). Peltier is the only person who was convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned. And, today, the U.S. Attorney admits that no one knows who fired the fatal shots.

Judge Gerald Heaney of the Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit (who authored the decision denying a new trial), in reviewing withheld evidence and altered facts, has since voiced firm support for Peltier’s release. He also indicated that the FBI had engaged in improper tactics that played a major role in creating the circumstances for the shoot-out. He then sought clemency so justice can truly be served and promote healing with Native Americans and all concerned.

A film narrated by Robert Redford, “Incident At Oglala” documents the events landing Leonard in prison. One can watch and access this film at the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee’s website — plus, there you can keep updated on the campaign. A showing of the film is planned for today, 3 p.m., at Green Fields Market.

Concerned persons wishing to support executive clemency by President Obama should urge him to grant this tragically delayed pardon. One way to do this is by calling the White House comment line 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at 202-456-1111.

As has often been said the history of our government’s actions with the first citizens of this country has been tragic at best, and oftentimes unconscionable. It is hard to imagine a case more deeply human and spiritually mandated for reconciliation for all nations within our nation and world beyond, than the case of Leonard Peltier.

Jonathan Mark lives in Wendell Depot.

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