Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's way past time to free Leonard Peltier.

Dear President Obama
Perhaps the only Americans America has treated worse then African-Americans are the people who were here first, the Native Americans. The history of institutional violence towards the First Peoples is well documented and continues to this day.

Whether it is the Bureau of Indian Affairs/U.S. Department of the Interior’s continued, deliberate mismanagement of Native owned natural resource rights (see Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s recent rulings in Cobell v. Salazar), the Termination Program instituted during the Presidency of Dwight D Eisenhower (see House Concurrent Resolution 108 in 1953 and Public Law 28) which resulted in the illegal conversion to private ownership of approximately 1,365,801 acres lands previously held as tribal lands, or hundreds of legislative acts going back to the founding of our great country, the record of abuse suffered by Native Americans by our hands is a national disgrace. Perhaps you didn’t realize, as the person who best represents our great tradition of religious freedom, that Native Peoples were legally prohibited from practicing their religious beliefs until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978! I certainly was unaware of this until recently. Despite the progress our country has made in so many ways, the disgraceful and abusive treatment of America’s First Peoples continues to this day and shames our nation and the principles upon which this nation was established.

It is as a direct result of the illegal Termination Program of 1953 that my appeal comes to you today. The American Indian Movement, much like the several civil rights movements of the 1960s, was founded responsive to the theft of Native rights and lands and the hateful tradition of violence inflicted upon the Native Peoples at the hands of racists and opportunists who valued money and profits over Native lives. In 1975 Leonard Peltier (now Federal Prisoner #89637-1320) answered the call to the people of the American Indian Movement for help and put himself between those who would kill Native Peoples for their lands and natural resources and those whose rights were again being betrayed. Since Mr. Peltier’s trial in1977, evidence continues to come to light in appeal after appeal that directly contradicts that which was presented by the government at the trial where Mr Peltier was convicted of the murder of two FBI agents and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Even the FBI itself has acknowledged that the Bureau withheld exculpatory evidence; that the rifle linked to Mr. Peltier was not his nor had he ever been associated with that weapon; that the rifle in question was not actually at the scene or used in the crime; that the ‘eye-witness’ who testified against Mr. Peltier — a woman alleged to be Mr. Peltier’s ‘girl-friend’ —had never met Mr. Peltier; and that there was no way for the FBI to prove who fired the shots that killed the agents. Nor has the FBI ever explained why it sent more than 50 agents to the reservation that night, ostensibly to arrest a man who stole a pair of used cowboy boots. In the end the last appeal acknowledged that Mr. Peltier hadn’t killed the agents but stated that his actions “aided and abetted” those who did and thus his sentence was reasonable and appropriate!

Mr. Peltier has already served 34-years for “aiding and abetting.” There are many former prisoners who were actively involved in murder who served less than one eighth of the sentence Mr. Peltier has already served on these trumped up charges! In 2009 Mr. Peltier again came before the United States Parole Commission and he was again denied parole. If he lives so long, Mr. Peltier is allowed to again petition for parole in 2024, at which point he will have served nearly 50 years for a crime everyone acknowledges he didn’t commit. Like Nelson Mandela, Mr. Peltier is no common criminal, but a political prisoner held by a dangerously corrupted system that ignores both the actual evidence and the history of oppression that placed Mr. Peltier and those like him in harm’s way. At this point his, and America’s only hope, is executive clemency. I know that such acts are more typically granted to connected, white, wealthy, powerful people like Scooter Libby and Marc Rich but I’m hoping that you will give some serious thought to undoing some small part of the great damage this country has done to the people who were here first by either pardoning Leonard Peltier or commuting his sentence. I would very much appreciate hearing your thoughts on this matter. I would be even more appreciative if you took action to right the wrongs suffered by this courageous and heroic American.

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