Nothing seems to
change for native activist Leonard Peltier. Despite 27 years of
imprisonment, Peltier continues to steadfastly maintain he's innocent
of a double murder involving FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation in South Dakota.
And despite the
compelling evidence indicating that both the U.S. and Canadian
governments are culpable in this controversial case, neither country
will acknowledge that Peltier was likely railroaded.
All of this adds
up to a seemingly hopeless scenario for Peltier, who is serving
concurrent life sentences in Leavenworth Prison. Now 59 and in poor
health, Peltier is destined to die in jail.
Peltier can't even
get a proper parole hearing to tell his side of the story.
Astonishingly, he has been repeatedly denied this basic right,
routinely given to individuals who have served the mandatory 200
months for a murder charge. The latest blow to "early
release" came a few months ago when Denver's 10th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals refused to grant Peltier a parole hearing, even
though the court acknowledged that the "government withheld
evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed."
government vendetta against Peltier has resulted in Amnesty
International labelling him a "political prisoner." Amnesty
believes Peltier should "immediately and unconditionally be released."
Which leads to
U.S. President George W. Bush, who now represents the only glimmer of
hope left for Peltier. Bush has the power to grant Peltier a
presidential pardon. While a pardon neither clears a person's record,
nor proves innocence, it does bring freedom.
However, a pardon
is problematic for Bush. The president would face the same dilemma
that confronted former president Bill Clinton. Clinton was
sympathetic to Peltier but changed his mind about a pardon after
hundreds of FBI agents launched a huge protest on the streets of Washington.
Bush also might
not want to risk offending the FBI, given the agency's role in
homeland security issues. But in Peltier's case, justice cries out
for the president's intervention. What a pardon would say about
Bush's sense of fairness and compassion would far outweigh any
fallout from the FBI's unrelenting campaign against Peltier.
The treatment of
Peltier makes a strong case for presidential intervention: Peltier
was extradited from Canada solely on the false affidavits of one
individual, Myrtle Poor Bear. She outlined details of Peltier's plan
to kill the FBI agents, and claimed to be an eyewitness to the shootings.
In 2000, however,
Poor Bear told a privately commissioned legal inquiry in Canada that
she had never even met Peltier. She denied being on the reservation
that fateful day. Poor Bear also said she was threatened and harassed
by FBI agents. Meanwhile, FBI ballistics evidence used at Peltier's
trial has proven to be questionable. In fact, parts of the evidence
may have been fabricated ? a 1975 telex from an FBI ballistics expert
noted that Peltier's alleged rifle had a "different firing pin,
from the gun used to kill the two agents."
surrounding Peltier's case continues to draw support from scores of
high profile individuals including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the
Dalai Lama, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Sara McLachlan and
members of Blue Rodeo. Others include former Liberal solicitor
general Warren Allmand, a member of the Liberal cabinet at the time
of the extradition, and Gerald Heaney, the chief judge of the U.S.
Court of Appeals that upheld Peltier's conviction.
What's missing is
any high level political support for Peltier in either Washington or
Ottawa. It would greatly help Peltier to have Prime Minister Paul
Martin ? who has vowed to make aboriginal issues a priority ? discuss
the case with the president and acknowledge Canada's complicity.
President Bush has
a moral obligation to at least consider a pardon for Leonard Peltier.
It's a matter of justice, compassion and also doing what is right.
2003 Windsor Star