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Press Release: Peltier Attorney Urges Congress

to Investigate Official Misconduct

March 29, 2004

"After 28 years, the courts still won't correct the wrongs of the past. In November 2003, the United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that

'Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and in its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed."

"Yet, the court claimed it lacked power to address this issue. We believe that a congressional inquiry on the misconduct in this case is long overdue," said Barry Bachrach, lead counsel for American Indian activist Leonard Peltier.

Bachrach and other members of Peltier's legal team this week submitted a formal request to the U.S. Congress for an investigation into the Justice Department's actions against Peltier and the American Indian Movement (AIM) during the 1970s. The strife between the government and AIM culminated in the June 26, 1975, shooting deaths of two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Peltier, who still maintains his innocence, was convicted of the killings and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. He is currently imprisoned at the U.S. penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Human rights organizations worldwide have long called for hearings into the use of the criminal justice system by the FBI for political purposes. Amnesty International, convinced that Peltier has repeatedly been denied a fair trial and other fair consideration for either parole or Executive Clemency, has called for his immediate release on the grounds that he no longer has adequate recourse to justice.

"Despite repeated calls for congressional hearings by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Amnesty International and individual members of Congress, no congressional committee has yet had the courage to investigate the FBI’s counterintelligence activities against AIM or the misconduct in the Peltier case. We believe Indians must be heard on these matters. All Americans have the right to know the truth about what occurred during that turbulent era."

The request to Congress calls on legislators to fully investigate the FBI’s role in the politically motivated violence on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota from 1973 to 1976, and the now documented official misconduct against members of AIM during that period. In the case of Peltier, the FBI's own documents show that the government illegally obtained his extradition from Canada; as well as withheld critical evidence, presented fabricated evidence, and intimidated witnesses into providing false testimony at trial.

"We challenge Congress to finish the work the Church Committee began nearly 30 years ago. Uncover the COINTELPRO tactics employed against AIM. They are not any less egregious than the tactics used against other activists of the time – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example."

As discovered by the Church Committee and reported in 1976, the goals of the COunter INTELligence PROgrams of the period from 1956 to the mid-1970s were to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" those persons or organizations that the FBI decided were "enemies of the State." Presidential candidate and military veteran John Kerry was even placed under surveillance for exercising his free speech rights in opposition to the Vietnam War. The FBI’s COINTELPRO activities officially ended in 1971, but there have been examples of counterintelligence-type operations against political dissidents since.

On May 30, 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft effectively abolished the restrictions that were first imposed in 1976 on FBI surveillance of Americans' everyday lives. These regulations, a direct result of the Church Committee's inquiries, were specifically developed to counter the COINTELPRO domestic spying program that had led to massive civil rights era abuses during the 1960s and 1970s.

"COINTELPRO abuses are not a thing of the past. To understand the present, we have to examine the past," Bachrach said.

"Such government misconduct against our citizens cannot be tolerated, not by a society purporting to be founded on the principles of justice and freedom. We trust that this inquiry will again lead to congressional oversight of FBI domestic security investigations, as well as legislation designed to better protect Americans' fundamental rights."

Released: March 28th, 2004

Contact: Barry Bachrach, Esquire; Bowditch & Dewey, LLP
311 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01615-0156
Direct Telephone: (508) 926-340

Source: LPDC