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FBI Office is Pursued for Data Tied to '70s Case

By Mark Sommer

Buffalo News Staff Reporter

November 29, 2003

Leonard Peltier in 1999

See DOJ Response:

May 19, 2003

FOIA Denial of Appeal from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Information and Privacy to Peltier Attoney, Michael Kuzma, regarding failure of FBI Buffalo Field Office to respond to request for access to records concerning Leonard Peltier.

Click Here to Read Other FOIA
Requests, Responses and Appeals

Leonard Peltier,
in a 1999 photo.

A local attorney is planning to file a lawsuit Tuesday morning against the FBI's Buffalo field office on behalf of Leonard Peltier. Peltier, the former American Indian Movement activist, was convicted in 1977 for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents in a shootout at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Michael Kuzma, one of several attorneys on the Peltier defense team, says the Buffalo office has refused to hand over documents that could help reopen the case.

"We've waited well over a year and exhausted our administrative remedies," Kuzma said. "We'll be suing the FBI to gain full access to any and all records they have on Leonard Peltier in Buffalo."

Peltier has long been a political cause celebre, with supporters saying he was railroaded in a trial marked by accusations that evidence was withheld and testimony was coerced.

The FBI is known to be just as passionate about Peltier's guilt. Nearly 500 current and retired agents held a march in December 2000 to urge then-President Bill Clinton not to provide clemency to Peltier in the waning days of his administration.

A heavily excised July 7, 1975, Teletype message from the Buffalo office to then-FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley and Special Agent Richard G. Held is the catalyst for the lawsuit, according to Kuzma. The defense team discovered it earlier this year after the FBI turned over documents to the National Archives.

"It appears a Buffalo source was trying to infiltrate the defense team," said Kuzma, who also works as a legislative assistant to Common Council Member David A. Franczyk of the Fillmore District. "That makes us especially intrigued about the files compiled by the Buffalo field office, and we want to see what else the Buffalo field office has."

Kuzma sent a Freedom of Information Act request in November 2002 to the Buffalo field office. Paul M. Moskal, supervisory special agent, confirmed in a letter that there were files in the Buffalo office's possession, but he said they were "too voluminous to be processed using the resources of this office." He said the request was being referred to Washington for processing.

After waiting several months for a response from FBI headquarters, Kuzma filed an administrative appeal in April with the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy. When that failed to pry open the FBI's files, Kuzma said, he was left with little choice but to file the lawsuit.

"It's my position this material should have been turned over at trial 26 years ago," Kuzma said. "Even if it wasn't, it should have been turned over after the first . . . . suit was filed over two decades ago.

"I think it's outlandish that we're still waiting for these materials."

Moskal said he was legally prevented from commenting on the status of Freedom of Information Act requests.

Kuzma began overseeing the requests when he joined the defense team in 2001, working alongside principal attorneys Bruce Ellison, Barry Bachrach and Carl Nadler. Also involved are former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Jennifer Harbury.

Prior to that, Kuzma was a longtime supporter of Peltier, writing letters and lobbying on his behalf.

Although the U.S. government contended during the trial that it had only about 3,500 pages on the Peltier case, tens of thousands have surfaced since then.

Last year, 45,000 pages emerged from the Minnesota field office alone, and 2,425 in Chicago, Kuzma said.

Kuzma thinks that Peltier and the American Indian Movement were victims of the FBI's notorious COINTELPRO domestic intelligence-gathering program, a widespread surveillance effort used against anti-war activists and others protesting government policies.

Peltier, a native of Grand Forks, N.D., has spent nearly half of his 59 years behind bars in maximum-security prisons, most recently in the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.


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