December 29, 2016
In the waning days of the Obama administration, liberal activists have intensified their decades-long campaign to free a Native American man who is currently serving consecutive life sentences in federal prison for the 1975 murder of two FBI agents.
Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), was sentenced to life in prison for the close-range executions of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Peltier has admitted that he exchanged gunfire with the agents, but denies that he killed them.
President Obama has commuted the sentences of 1,176 individuals this year, more than any president in U.S. history, according to the White House. But despite a petition urging him to grant Peltier clemency “without delay”, his name has not appeared on Obama’s list of pardons and commutations.
So groups such as DemocracyNow! are trying to convince Obama to do what former President Bill Clinton refused to do after nearly 500 active and retired FBI agents protested at the White House in December 2000.
After author Peter Matthiessen’s 1983 book claiming that Peltier had been railroaded and was innocent of the murder charges, his case became a liberal cause celebre.
Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu were among the high-profile celebrities who claimed that Peltier had been wrongfully convicted and called for his release. The effort gained new momentum during Obama’s last year in office.
A nine-foot redwood statue of Peltier by the California-based artist Rigo 23 was recently installed on the campus at American University in Washington, D.C. as part of the latest push for clemency for Peltier.
Amnesty International has asked Obama to free “a wrongfully convicted Native American”, and the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee is calling on supporters to write a letter, call, email, tweet, or post a comment on Obama’s Facebook page on Peltier’s behalf.
In February, the now 72-year-old Peltier petitioned Obama for executive clemency, stating that “I am deeply remorseful about the deaths that occurred on June 26, 1975 and the pain that all impacted have endured.
“There are, however, many mitigating factors that led up to the events of that day… The era was a tumultuous time period for American Indians, and although the improprieties detailed in this Petition were not significant enough to disturb the jury’s verdict in the 1970s courts, they are even more significant when viewed collectively and through today’s lens of ethics and modern notions of fundamental fairness.”
However, not everybody thinks that Peltier should be released.
In an editorial entitled “Peltier: Now what do we do? The truth emerges” in News From Indian Country published on April 2, 2007, Paul DeMain wrote that after personally spending 27 years reviewing FBI files and trial transcripts and going over “countless statements” by Peltier, “it simply took a delegation of people who were tired of all the deceptions, lies and dangers to step forward and tell me the truth: ‘Peltier was responsible for the close range execution of the agents’.”
Thomas O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, said in a statement that his group “is working to counter efforts in the media to portray Peltier as anything but the unremorseful murderer of two FBI agents.
“In well over a dozen appeals, twice reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, every aspect of Peltier’s trial has been reviewed in minute detail. Each time, Peltier’s conviction has been upheld,” O’Connor said.