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.