United States: Justice denied for Native American political prisoner

Issue 

Leonard Peltier, an activist for the rights of Native Americans and one of the US's longest-serving political prisoners, was denied parole by the US Parole Commission on August 21.

Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in 1977 for the deaths of two FBI agents killed in a gunfight on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota on June 26, 1975.

His co-defendants, Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, were acquitted on the basis of self-defense.

However, the government managed to secure a conviction against Peltier despite never producing any witness who could identify him as the person who killed the agents.

Supporters have been fighting for more than 33 years to free Peltier, who is now 64 years old. Many had hoped that he would be released as a result of this hearing — his first full parole hearing since 1993.

Eric Seitz is Peltier's attorney. The following is abridged from a statement he wrote after Peltier was denied parole.

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The former Bush administration holdovers on the US Parole Commission today adopted the position of the FBI that anyone who may be implicated in the killings of its agents should never be paroled and should be left to die in prison.

This is despite judicial determinations that the unrepentant FBI fabricated evidence and presented perjured testimony in Leonard Peltier's prosecution. It also ignore the jury's acquittal on grounds of self-defence of two co-defendants, who were found to have engaged in the same conduct of which Peltier was convicted.

It is despite Peltier's exemplary record during his incarceration for more than 33 years and his clearly demonstrated eligibility for parole; despite letters and petitions calling for his release submitted by millions of people in this country and around the world, including one of the judges who ruled on his earlier appeals; and despite his advanced age and deteriorating health.

Despite all this, the Parole Commission today informed Peltier that his "release on parole would depreciate the seriousness of your offenses and would promote disrespect for the law".

The judge set a reconsideration hearing in July 2024.

This is the extreme action of the same law enforcement community that brought us the indefinite imprisonment of suspected teenage terrorists, tortures and killings in CIA prisons around the world, and promoted widespread disrespect for the democratic concepts of justice upon which this country was supposedly founded.

These are the same institutions that have never treated indigenous peoples with dignity or respect or accepted any responsibility for centuries of intolerance and abuse.

At his parole hearing on July 28, Peltier expressed regret and accepted responsibility for his role in the incident in which the two FBI agents and one Native American activist died as the result of a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Peltier emphasised that the shootout occurred in circumstances where there literally was a war going on between corrupt tribal leaders, supported by the government, on the one hand, and Native American traditionalists and young activists on the other.

He again denied — as he has always denied — that he intended to kill anyone or that he fired the fatal shots that killed the two agents.

He reminded the hearing officer that one of his former co-defendants recently admitted to having fired the fatal shots himself.

Accordingly, it is not true that Peltier participated in "the execution-style murders of two FBI agents", as the Parole Commission asserts.

There never has been credible evidence of Peltier's responsibility for the fatal shots.

Moreover, given the corrupt practices of the FBI itself, it is entirely untrue that Peltier's parole at this juncture will in any way "depreciate the seriousness" of his conduct and/or "promote disrespect for the law".

We will continue to seek parole and clemency for Peltier and to eventually bring this prolonged injustice to a prompt and fair resolution.

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