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2000-06-12

Leonard Peltier Speaks from Prison

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he should be freed. Amnesty International calls him a political prisoner. The FBI says he’s a cold-blooded murderer. Today, an hour with Leonard Peltier. [includes rush transcript]

Today, Peltier will be reviewed for parole at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Amnesty International will attend the hearing in person to ask the commission to set Leonard Peltier free. The National Council of Churches, the National Congress of American Indians, the Assembly of First Nations, and Peltier’s family will also be asking the Parole Commission for Leonard Peltier’s release.

Peltier underwent his first full parole hearing in 1993, at which point the Parole Commission denied his release far beyond what their guidelines recommend and set his next full hearing for the year 2008. However, the Commission is required to hold interim hearings every two years in order to determine whether there are any circumstances that warrant a change in their original decision.

The Parole Commission originally denied Peltier parole based on their finding that he "participated in the premeditated and cold blooded execution of those two officers." However, the Parole Commission has since said it "recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Peltier] personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents." Leonard Peltier, who has served over twenty-four years of his sentence and has maintained a good behavior record during his incarceration, has been eligible for release for over nine years.

Today, a parole examiner will hear the case and make an initial recommendation as to whether or not the Parole Commission should grant Mr. Peltier a date to be released.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

On February 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, together with a number of local Native Americans, began their seventy-two-day occupation of Wounded Knee. They were protesting injustices against their tribes, violations of treaties, and current abuses and repression against their people. The United States government responded with a military-style assault against the protesters.

Throughout the next three years, long referred to by local Native Americans as the "Reign of Terror," the FBI carried out intensive local surveillance, as well as the repeated arrests, harassment and legal proceedings against AIM leaders and supporters. The FBI also closely collaborated with and supported the local tribal chairperson, Dick Wilson, and his selected vigilantes, the Guardians of the Oglala Nation, also known by the acronym "GOONS." During this period, some sixty-four local Native Americans were killed. Three hundred were harassed or beaten. No one was prosecuted.

In May of 1975, the FBI began a sizable buildup of its agents, mostly SWAT members, on the reservation. SWAT teams from numerous divisions were designated for special assignment at Pine Ridge. A June 1975 FBI memo referred to the potential need for military assault forces to deal with AIM members.

THE SHOOTOUT

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ron Williams, entered the Jumping Bull Ranch in South Dakota. The FBI says they were seeking to arrest a young Native American man they believed they had seen riding in a red pickup truck. A large number of AIM supporters were camping on the property at the time. The more than thirty men, women and children on the property were surrounded by more than 150 FBI agents, SWAT team members, BIA police and local posse members, and barely escaped through a hail of bullets. When the gunfight ended, a Native American named Joe Stuntz lay dead. His killing was never investigated.

The two FBI agents, Coler and Williams, were also dead. They had been wounded in the gunfight and then shot point blank through the head by a still-unidentified assailant.

THE VERDICTS

Leonard Peltier and two fellow AIM members, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau, were charged with first-degree murder. Butler and Robideau stood trial separately from Peltier, who had fled to Canada, saying he didn’t believe he would receive a fair trial in the United States. The two men were found not guilty by reason of self-defense.

Shortly after, Leonard Peltier was extradited from Canada based on an affidavit signed by Myrtle Poor Bear, a local Native American woman known to have serious mental problems. She claimed to have been Peltier’s girlfriend at the time and to have witnessed the murders. But according to Peltier and others at the scene, Myrtle Poor Bear didn’t know Peltier, nor was she present at the time of the shooting. She later confessed she had given the false statement after being pressured and threatened by FBI agents. Myrtle Poor Bear attempted to testify about the FBI intimidation at Leonard Peltier’s trial. But the judge barred her testimony on the grounds of mental incompetence.

When Leonard Peltier came to trial, the witnesses that placed Peltier, Robideau and Butler near the crime scene later said they were intimidated by the FBI. There is no forensic evidence as to the exact type of rifle used to commit the murders. Several different weapons present in the area during the shootout could have caused the fatal injuries. There was more than one AR-15 in the area at the time of the shootout. The AR-15 rifle claimed to be Peltier’s was found to be incompatible with the bullet casing near the agents’ car. Although other bullets were fired at the crime scene, no other casings or evidence about them were offered by the prosecutor’s office.

Nonetheless, Leonard Peltier was convicted of the murders and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. At Peltier’s trial, the prosecutor wrapped up his case by saying, "We proved that he went down to the bodies and executed those two young men at point blank range." But at the appellate hearing, the government attorney conceded, "We had a murder. We had numerous shooters. We do not know who specifically fired what killing shots...We do not know, quote-unquote, who shot the agents."

Guest:

  • Leonard Peltier, in a rare interview from prison. The Native American leader has spent the last twenty-four years of his life in prison, mainly at the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth. He was convicted of the June 26, 1975 murders of two FBI agents on the Jumping Bull Ranch in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He continues to maintain his innocence. Call US Attorney General Janet Reno: 202.305.1400 (comment line to voice your opinion on the Peltier case. Parole hearing is today, June 12, at Leavenworth).

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Peltier. Today, a conversation with him at Leavenworth prison, on the day of his interim parole hearing.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he should be freed. Amnesty International calls him a political prisoner. The FBI says he’s a cold-blooded murderer. Today, we’ll spend the hour with him.

Peltier will be reviewed for parole at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Amnesty International will attend the hearing in person to ask the commission to set Leonard Peltier free. The National Council of Churches, the National Congress of American Indians, the Assembly of First Nations, and Peltier’s family will also be asking the Parole Commission for Leonard Peltier’s release.

Peltier underwent his first full parole hearing in 1993, at which point the Parole Commission denied his release far beyond what their guidelines recommend and set his next full hearing for the year 2008. However, the Commission is required to hold hearings every two years in order to determine whether there are any circumstances that warrant a change in their original decision.

The Parole Commission originally denied Peltier parole based on their finding that he, quote, “participated in the premeditated and cold blooded execution of those two officers,” unquote. However, the commission has since said it, quote, “recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Peltier] personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents.” Leonard Peltier, who has served over twenty-four years of his sentence and has maintained a good behavior record during his incarceration, has been eligible for release for over nine years.

Today, a parole examiner will hear the case and make an initial recommendation as to whether or not the Parole Commission should grant Peltier a date to be released.

On February 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, together with a number of local and traditional Native Americans, began their seventy-two-day occupation of Wounded Knee. They were protesting injustices against their tribes, violations of treaties, and current abuses and repression against their people. The US government responded with a military-style assault against the protesters. In the end, various officials promised hearings on local conditions and treaty violations; they were never convened.

Throughout the next three years, long referred to by local Native Americans as the “Reign of Terror,” the FBI carried out intensive local surveillance, as well as repeated arrests, harassment and legal proceedings against AIM leaders and supporters. The FBI also closely collaborated with and supported the local tribal chairperson, Dick Wilson, and his selected vigilantes, the Guardians of the Oglala Nation, also known by the acronym "GOONS.” During this period, some sixty-four local Native Americans were killed.

In May of ’75, the FBI began a sizable buildup of its agents, mostly SWAT members, on the reservation. In June ’74, SWAT teams from numerous divisions were designated for special assignment at Pine Ridge. Yet the politically related murder rate climbed. A June 1975 FBI memo referred to the potential need for military assault forces to deal with AIM members.

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ron Williams, entered the Jumping Bull Ranch in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge reservation. The FBI says they were seeking to arrest a young Native American man they believed they had seen riding in a red pickup truck. A large number of AIM supporters were camping at the property at the time. More than thirty men, women and children on the property were surrounded by more than 150 FBI agents, SWAT team members, BIA — that’s Bureau of Indian Affairs — police and local posse members, and barely escaped through a hail of bullets. When the gunfight ended, a Native American named Joe Stuntz lay dead. His killing was never investigated.

Two FBI agents, Coler and Williams, were also dead. They had been wounded in the gunfight and then shot point blank through the head by a still-unidentified assailant.

Leonard Peltier was one of several AIM members invaded — who was involved with the shootout. And I had a chance to interview him in a rare extended interview in Leavenworth on Friday, speaking to him by telephone. And these are large excerpts of that interview.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    My name is Leonard Peltier. I’m a Lakota and Chippewa Native American from the state of North Dakota. I am currently serving two life sentences for the deaths of two FBI agents in Leavenworth United States Penitentiary.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Did you kill the FBI agents?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    No, I did not. No.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Maybe we could go back to that day that these FBI agents were killed, and you could tell us what happened.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, at that time, there was a — what is known as today as a region of terror going on against traditional people from the so-called progressives under a tribal chairman named Dick Wilson, who was very corrupt, who organized his own private police force, kind of like a Contra group, and started terrorizing his own people, the own traditionalists on the reservation. So the traditionalists asked for the help of the American Indian Movement. And the end result, after long protests and my getting no responses from any law enforcement agency in the country, Wounded Knee II was then occupied, and there was a seventy-one-day siege.

    After that, he, Dick Wilson, again intensified his GOON squads. And the General Accounting Service, an agency of the United States government, did an investigation, and before the funding was — ran out, they found over sixty murdered Indian people, traditionalists. And so, on June 26th, we didn’t know it at the time, but we knew later from Freedom of Information documents, that the FBI, with the GOON squads, were planning on attacks on the Jumping Bull Ranch and another ranch in Kyle — that’s another community on the reservation — that they were declaring American Indian Movement strongholds. And on June 26th, a firefight started. And the end result was two FBI agents and one Indian — young Indian man was killed.

    And they indicted four of us — Bob Robideau, Dino Butler, Jimmy Eagle. After a year, they dropped the charges on Jimmy Eagle. And Bob and Dino went to trial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was found not guilty by reasons of self-defense. I was later — my trial was mysteriously moved from Cedar Rapids, which I was supposed to go to trial at the same place under the same judge as my co-defendants — was mysteriously moved to Fargo, North Dakota.

    Later documents show that the FBI then went judge shopping to get a judge to work closely with them. And Judge Paul Benson agreed to do it. And I was not allowed to put up a defense. They manufactured evidence. The murder weapon was perjury by government witnesses. And the judge erred in his rulings, which prevented me from putting up a defense.

    This was on my — this all came out in my 1985 appeal under the ballistics. They had taken this gun during the trial and claimed — no one testified this was my weapon, by the way. But they had taken this weapon and said this was the murder weapon and this belonged to Leonard Peltier. Well, we weren’t allowed to properly cross-examine the firearms expert of the FBI. So this was left then as only on the word of the prosecutor that this was my weapon and that this was the murder weapon.

    Through the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, we were able to discover that they had done a firearm test on this weapon and it came out negative. So I filed a 1985 appeal. And because my attorney, Bill Kunstler, made a mistake, I am now serving two consecutive life terms in prison, for — possibly for the rest of my life, if it’s left up to the FBI, on the technicality.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What was the mistake?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, the judge asked him if I was changing my plea and also because Norman Brown testified that he’d seen me down by the agents, the car —- agents’ car, and Kunstler agreed with him that Norman Brown testified to this, and this was never -—

    OPERATOR: This call is from a federal prison.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    And this was untrue. Norman Brown never testified to that. In fact, nobody testified to that.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Who was Norman Brown?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    He was one of the three young men that was taken and interrogated under very brutal tactics — tied to chairs, their lives were threatened, their families were threatened — to testify against Bob and Dino and myself.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Leonard Peltier, why weren’t you tried along with your co-defendants Dino Butler and Bob Robideau?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, I was — at the time, I had got arrested in Canada. I was — I’d been back and forth to Canada numerous times, about four times before I was arrested over there. But going through Canada with a lot of Native Americans that lived in Montana, Washington state, North Dakota, Minnesota, it’s like crossing another border for us. All across the Canadian border, there’s a treaty with the United States government and Canada that we’re — Native Americans are allowed to do this, because they split some of our lands, our reservation lands, and part of it was Canada and part of it the United States. So we go across like going to another state.

    And I had been over there three or four times. But I finally got arrested over there, so I decided to fight extradition, because I was, you know, well aware that Native Americans could not receive justice in the courts and that, you know, 99 percent of us would get railroaded, so — especially the American Indian Movement people. We — so I started to fight extradition. But I also made a formal request that I wanted to go to trial with my co-defendants. But somehow the government got to speed up the trial, and they took my co-defendants to trial first.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Over the years, there’s been discussion of someone named Mister X, who has come forward and admitted to some that he killed the two FBI agents. Leonard Peltier, can you explain who Mister X is?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Mister X is — could be anybody. I mean, you know, there’s no doubt that somebody killed those agents, but we don’t know who it is.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    In the first trial, the trial of Robideau and Butler, they were acquitted by reason of self-defense.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Why do you think, in your trial, the jury didn’t come to the same conclusion?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, they had a judge that was — that believed in fair, equal justice for all, and he allowed my co-defendants to put up a defense. And they put up a defense showing that the police — the Jumping Bull Ranch was under siege, under attack, and that — you know, first of all, the FBI was claiming that they were there looking for Jimmy Eagle because of a kidnapping charge. This is what they released in the newspapers, and this was their reasons for being there on the Jumping Bull Ranch. But when all the records came out, they found that — found out he was looking — they were looking for him, which they don’t have jurisdictions over, pursuing a pair of cowboy boots. And they were allowed to — people were allowed to come and testify on their behalf of what was going on on the reservation, the terror, the murders that was being committed against them, the firebombing of their homes, the drive-by shootings, and etc. Plus the fact there was no evidence against them, as there was not none in mine.

    In 1985, the judge Heaney — believe it was Judge Heaney — one of the three judges asked the prosecutor in my case, he said, “Just what was Mr. Peltier convicted of, as we cannot find no evidence of murder in the record?” And, of course, that’s when Crooks first — the prosecutor, Lynn Crooks, made the statement that we don’t know who killed the agents, nor do we know what participation Leonard Peltier may have played in it.

    AMY GOODMAN: Have you admitted shooting at the agents?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Have I — not specifically them. I was defending myself. I was defending women and children. We were under attack.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Can you explain more fully what happened that day, when you say you were under attack? Who were these men who had pulled up? Did you understand that they were FBI agents?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    No, nobody knew they were FBI agents. Just, you know, because of the terror that was going on, the tension that was so high on the reservation, people were very jumpy. People were — people, that we were going to funerals every week, sometimes two a week. And people were very paranoid. People were very tense. And that’s what you’re — you know, people were living under.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    In the trial, they said that the agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, were shot at point-blank range. Did you see a man shoot them at point-blank range?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    No, I did not see a man shoot those people at cold-blank range. But there was also over sixty Indian people that were killed at cold-blank range. Why isn’t the media asking about that stuff? What are we? Animals? That nobody cares?

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Can you talk about that? What happened?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yeah, there was over sixty — the number is higher than that, but there was over sixty Native American people killed on that reservation.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    In what period?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    From ’73 to ’76.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And who do you believe they were killed by?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, we know from Duane Brewer, who was the head of the GOON Squads, that he made a statement that — a public statement that they were being financed, given intelligence, armor-piercing ammunition and sophisticated weaponry from the FBI. Jesus, if he was the leader of this. This guy made a public statement of a couple of killings that they did.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Was anyone ever prosecuted?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    No, he’s never been arrested, never been charged, or nothing else like this. I mean, why is people worried about two FBI agents, when all these Indian people were killed? I don’t understand this.

    OPERATOR: This call is from a federal prison.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    If this happened in a black community or a white community, the media would be outraged. I mean, you know, we’re human beings, too.

AMY GOODMAN:

Leonard Peltier, speaking to us from Leavenworth Penitentiary. He is serving two life sentences for first-degree murder in the killing of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. Today is an interim parole hearing for him. We’ll continue the conversation in just a minute, here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

We continue the interview with Native American leader Leonard Peltier at Leavenworth prison. I conducted the interview on Friday morning. Today is his interim parole hearing. Many will be there testifying on Peltier’s behalf.

At Leonard Peltier’s trial in the 1970s, the prosecutor wrapped up his case by saying, quote, “We proved that he went down to the bodies and executed those two young men at point blank range.” He was referring to the FBI agents. But at the appellate hearing years later, the prosecutor conceded, quote, “We had a murder, we had numerous shooters, we do not know who specifically fired what killing shots…we do not know who shot the agents.”

As we continue now with Leonard Peltier.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    You have served twenty-four years in prison?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yes, twenty-four years. Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Monday is an interim parole hearing for you. What do you expect?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    I’m sorry to say this, but even though we’re putting on a full effort to try to get parole, I don’t expect anything. I don’t expect to get that reconsideration for parole.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    When you say you’re putting out a “full effort,” what is it that will be presented?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, you know, politicians, movie — Hollywood celebrities, academics, unions, and the general public are all putting on a campaign to get grant me — parole granted to me, in support of my parole.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Is it up to Janet Reno, the Attorney General, anymore?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    I believe it is. I believe it is. I’m no — I filed a clemency petition in 1992. And the procedures of that is it goes from the pardons attorney to the Attorney General’s office, then to Clinton’s. The pardons attorney’s office did an investigation. I think they did about a yearlong investigation. It did a little longer. It takes normally from six to nine months. It ended up — after about a year, he made the recommendation that I be granted clemency because of the seriousness of my illegal conviction. And it’s been sitting in the Attorney General’s office ever since.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Going back to that day, what happened to the Native American Joe Stuntz?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, again, I didn’t see — I know that — and all I’ve seen was photographs, but it looks like he was shot in the forehead. He was murdered. He was killed.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Was anyone ever prosecuted for that killing?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    There wasn’t ever even an investigation.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Leonard Peltier, when did you realize these men who were killed were FBI agents?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, I guess — I don’t know. Probably later on that day or next day, I’m not sure. Everybody was trying to get away from there. I was responsible for a number of young kids, their safety, and I — nobody was thinking about anything like — most — everybody was thinking about trying to get out of that area that was surrounded by over 250 people and being shot at continuously. The firefight started approximately about 10:00 or 11:00 that morning and lasted ’til about 8:00 that [inaudible].

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Why weren’t you granted a new trial?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, under the American system, somebody has to pay. And it doesn’t matter — it doesn’t matter whether it’s guilt or innocent. When something that they consider this serious, somebody has to pay. I mean, what you say, even the appellate judge has written letters because of the seriousness of the constitutional violations involved in this case, has asked Reagan, Bush and — I’m not sure if he wrote one to Clinton yet, but asking that I be granted clemency.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Ultimately, the President has the power to grant you clemency?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yes, yes.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What would you say to President Clinton?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, I’ve told him that I was innocent. I’ve written a couple letters to him. And it was hand-carried to him. And I would like to go home to my family, and I would like to continue to try to live out what little life I have left on this earth and try to do something for — you know, try to do something for the current issues that we’re having problems with on the reservations around the country.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What were your thoughts when President Clinton visited the Native American reservations on a poverty tour of the United States?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, I think it was a good move, in the sense that it opened a lot of eyes to — I mean, a lot of people’s eyes around the world to the conditions that Native people have to live under here in America. I mean, there’s poverty on those reservations that’s — it’s just as bad, if not worse, than some of these third world countries. And I don’t know if this is going to help. I haven’t got any feedback from anybody.

    But, Amy, they’re going to shut this off in about ten seconds, so...

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Can you call me right back?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    I’m going to call — I’m going to try to call right back. And I don’t know if it’s going to do it. I don’t know if they set it up this way or not.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Well, Leonard Peltier, let me ask you, perhaps the most damning evidence against you was the affidavit signed by Myrtle Poor Bear, the local Native American woman.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Myrtle Poor Bear was a fraud. It has been proven over and over in court a number —- about four -—

AMY GOODMAN:

At that point, Leonard Peltier was cut off in the conversation from the Leavenworth Penitentiary, where he was speaking from. And as is the custom at the prison, every ten or fifteen minutes or so, the conversation got cut off. But he was then able to call back.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    ...For fifteen minutes. But anyway, as I was saying, Myrtle Poor Bear is — has been exposed from the beginning to be a fraud. I never met this lady in my life. I never had seen her until she walked into the courtroom in Fargo, North Dakota.

    But Myrtle Poor Bear had given three affidavits to the extradition courts in Canada to have me extradited from Canada. They did not have enough evidence to extradite me from Canada, so they had to have — under the Canadian law, they had to have the same type of evidence that they would have in a preliminary hearing to take somebody to trial there as to send them back to the United States. So they didn’t have this type of evidence, so what they did then is that they created Myrtle Poor Bear.

    Myrtle Poor Bear gave the first affidavit, which we didn’t receive until during my trial, actually. But the first affidavit was so outrageous. I mean, this was — I just couldn’t do nothing, even though it was so serious, I couldn’t do nothing but just laugh at it. She claims that she come running up behind me, started beating on my back as I was shooting the agents, and she jumped on my back. And some guy, who I don’t know who to this day who the hell he is, but some guy named Ricky Little Boy grabbed her by the hair, threw her on the ground. She rolled around the ground, picked up a .30-30 Winchester, jumped on the back of this horse, and took off at full gallop. She looked behind her, and Ricky Little Boy was chasing her on another horse, shooting — shooting at her. So she started shooting back at him, until she was finally able to escape.

    Now, this was the type of person that they were using as a witness, to violate not only American law, but Canadian law and international law. The first affidavit that was — now, the next affidavit that they presented to the — no, the affidavit that they finally sent to Canada, of course, was all typed out, typed up, and gave a scenario of what happened on the reservation and that I had told her — or, no, she had seen me kill the agents. She had been my girlfriend and stuff like this, and then her signature.

    Well, during Bob and Dino’s trial, they had also, on discovery, got a third affidavit. The third affidavit apparently wasn’t good enough. What she had all said — what they had written for her wasn’t strong enough. And all they wrote in there is that she had — I had told her later on, a couple days later, that I had killed those agents.

    OK, so I’m extradited on — based on those affidavits. If they hadn’t got — hadn’t used those affidavits, I would have been extradited on a Wisconsin attempted murder charges I had that I went to trial on and was found not guilty, because I wasn’t guilty. It was just a fish bite; they tried to blow it up, because I was an American Indian Movement member.

    So, at the trial, when she’s coming to my trial now, she was on the witness list. Her father and her sister came to my defense and said, “We’re going to testify on your behalf.” The father was going to testify that Myrtle Poor Bear had rheumatic fever when she was about nine years old and had an enormous imagination. Of course, from her first affidavit, you can see that was true. The sister was going to testify that, on that day, her and Myrtle were drinking, and they were leaving the reservation. They were going off the reservation to pick up some more beer, when they heard of the firefight going on in Oglala on the radio, car radio. So, when they, the government, seen that her father and sister was going to be on my witness list, they immediately recused her. So we tried to get her back on as my witness to show, you know, misconduct by the FBI in this whole case and what was going on.

    The judge held an evidentiary hearing without the presence of the jury. And he made a statement. He said that if I was to allow her testimony to be heard, which she testified that the FBI had forced her to sign these affidavits — they had threatened her life. They had held her captive in some hotel room. They had showed her pictures of the AIM sisters that was killed, and her hands was cut off, and told her that the same thing would happen to her, that the American Indian Movement would be after her, and they would do this to her, too, claiming that we were the ones that cut off her hands. But we know from the record, and the FBI admitted it, that they cut her hands off.

    But anyway, she made this — she testified this at the trial. That’s the first time I ever seen her. The judge made a ruling that she was incompetent and that if her testimony was to be heard, it would shock the conscience of the court. So she was not allowed to put the — not allowed to testify on my behalf.

    The Supreme Court of Canada also had a hearing, an investigation, and found out — found that she was a fraud.

    OPERATOR: This call is from a federal prison.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    The United States government, the representatives representing the United States government, before the hearing of the Canadian Supreme Court, conceded that they had committed fraud with the Myrtle Poor Bear affidavits. So that’s Myrtle Poor Bear.

AMY GOODMAN:

And that’s Leonard Peltier, speaking to us from Leavenworth prison, where he has now been serving two life sentences in prison for twenty-four years. We’ll come back to this conversation, on this day of his interim parole hearing at Leavenworth, in just a minute here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, a rare interview, national broadcast, with Leonard Peltier, speaking to us from Leavenworth prison. He has been in prison for twenty-four years, serving two life sentences for the murder, first-degree murder, of two FBI agents. They were killed in a shootout at Pine Ridge on June 26, 1975. As we continue with the Native American leader.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to the government attorney in the appellate hearing of your case, Leonard Peltier, saying, “We had a murder. We had numerous shooters. We do not know who specifically fired what killing shots. We do not know, quote/unquote, who shot the agents”?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, under the extradition law — this is in international law now, and as we know, that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that treaties are the law of the land. Alright, under this law, I was to only be prosecuted for what the United States government was requesting my extradition from, which was first-degree murder. And this is the only thing they could prosecute me on, right? I didn’t care, because they didn’t have any evidence. I said, “Yeah, that’s cool. Let’s go with it.” And I get back, and I have a trial.

    And I’m sure, to this — myself, up to this day, that I don’t have any direct evidence, but I know this is the reason they did it. What the judge did after the jury — after the defense and the prosecution rested, he instructed the jury that they could only — they could find me guilty on either first-degree murder, aiding and abetting, or first-degree manslaughter. Now, those jury instructions are supposed to be wrong, because I was only — I could only be prosecuted on first-degree murder. Now, when we appealed, Judge Webster, who became the FBI director, heard my first appeal, and we found out he was nominated and accepted the nomination for FBI director. We complained and protested it, and we tried to get a whole new panel to hear the case, but he wouldn’t allow that. He just assigned somebody to take his place. They ruled that I was found — I was found guilty of first-degree murder. Somehow that record — and the Supreme Court agreed with it. They refused certiorari, and when they do that, they’re saying that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in their decision.

    Alright, we find ballistics, that they have — oh, they also quoted — most critical evidence against me was a murder weapon. Well, then we filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. We found these documents where they had gunfire and print tests, and they came out negative.

    Alright, so, in 1985, when — after 1985, when the government’s claiming now that I was found guilty for — I mean, there’s no evidence. When the courts were saying there was no evidence of first-degree murder, I filed another appeal in 1992, asking the courts what was I in prison for, because of the extradition law and the courts now saying there’s no evidence of first-degree murder. In 1992, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals came back and said, “Well, you were found guilty of aiding and abetting.” So now I am in prison for aiding and abetting, according to a higher court than the district court.

    What I’m saying to them is this: if I am in prison for aiding and abetting, why wasn’t I allowed to put up a defense for aiding and abetting? Why am I not being allowed to have the same constitutional rights as any other United States citizen is supposed to have. So, I mean, what they did is they changed the — every time we get evidence against this and that, they change it over.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Explain what you mean by saying why you weren’t allowed to defend yourself against aiding and abetting.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Because at the trial, the prosecutor, lawyers, didn’t put it on the record, told us — he said, “Look, we’re only going to prosecute for first-degree murder.” I heard Evan Hultman, chief prosecutor, tell my attorney Elliot Taikeff this. And Elliot came back to the table and told me. I said, “Yeah, I know. They can’t. They can’t prosecute me for anybody else,” I said —- “for any other charge.” And I said, “This is great. [inaudible]” “Yeah, this is great, but you don’t have no evidence of first-degree murder.” So -—

    AMY GOODMAN:

    We’re talking to Leonard Peltier, who has been in prison for twenty-four years, speaking to him at the Leavenworth Penitentiary. Leonard Peltier, what about your history? Can you just give us a little sense of your background, where you were born, where you grew up, and why you joined the American Indian Movement?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, I’m fifty-five years old, soon to be fifty-six, in September, September 12th. I was raised on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation and also the Fort Totten Dakota reservation. That’s — a lot of people know it as Sioux, but that’s not really our real name; that’s not the name of our tribe. I was raised there ’til — by my grandparents, ’til I was nine years old. And my grandfather died in 1953, and my grandmother was having a difficult time of taking care of us by herself and went to — made the fatal mistake of going to the Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent’s office asking for some kind of assistance to help raise us.

    And they came and got us, me and my sister and my first cousin. And they came up — three of us, and they put me in a boarding school, Indian boarding school. I was in the Indian boarding school, which was —- although the policy was not to treat us as harshly as they did my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation in these boarding schools, it was still -— as we know, government programs die hard. It takes years and years before they’re fully abolished. You know, as you see a certain program in government, it just takes that long to abolish. But we were receiving the same type of — same type of brutal treatment that, you know, my parents’ generation and grandparents’ generation were receiving. I stayed there from nine ’til about thirteen.

    Then I went back to the reservation. And then I went to Flandreau Indian School, high school, and then I went back to the reservation. In about 1958, I started going to tribal community meetings with my father and his generation of people that were organizing around the reservation.

    What was happening is that there were three reservations selected to be terminated. One was the Menominee Indians out of Wisconsin, the Klamath Falls out of Oregon, and the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota. And the policy was, we accept termination or we would not receive any type of social benefits, including commodities, and we didn’t have any other choice. We were —- the ultimatum was you either stay on the reservation and starve or accept a relocation and termination. So the people started organizing, and I started attending these meetings that my father and I started -—

    OPERATOR: This call is from a federal prison.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    And I became a runner for them, because we didn’t have telephones in those days, or some places didn’t even have cars. So I would run documents from one home to another, which usually were half a mile apart.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    If you can speak as loud as you can.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    I’m trying — oh, yes. I’ve got a lot of noise right now.

    And I started getting a political education of what was happening. And finally, one little girl died of malnutrition on the reservation, and all of the elders occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building on — this was 1958 on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation. They occupied it ’til the regional office in Bismarck, North Dakota, which is the state capital, sent down some representatives from there to see the conditions that Native people were living in, which they did the next day. And I was in the lead car of the caravan of cars taking these Bureau of Indian Affairs officials to inspect homes for — you know, to show them how much food they had, and whatever else.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What brought you to join the American Indian Movement? What year was it?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, later, later on, as I started traveling around — I started traveling around about sixteen years old — I got involved with the fishing struggles up in Washington state. I got involved with other Native issues that were happening around there. I was involved in the Fort Lawton takeover, which we built a multi-million-dollar structure under. We have alcoholic programs, cultural programs, religious programs, etc., etc. It’s a pretty prestigious place that we were — we built there. But I was involved in other things.

    Then I went to Farmington, New Mexico, and was working on a power plant that they were building on the Navajo reservation. And in Flagstaff, Arizona, when I was observing this thing in this hotel room — I was looking out the window, and I was observing the police, how they were harassing and intimidating and beating Native people. And I just unconsciously got involved and started questioning these police officers of, you know, what gave them the authority to do this. And, of course, you know, I almost got arrested. So I started getting politically involved there. I helped build the Indian center at their Flagstaff — we built the first one there. And seeing the way Native people were being treated — this was about 1971, I believe it was — I just decided that I was going to continue working with Native people.

    Then I moved to Denver, Colorado, and ran into Vernon Bellecourt there, who was head of — state coordinator for the American Indian Movement in Denver. And Vernon took me out to dinner and explained to me the policies and goals of the American Indian Movement. And I joined up.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And were involved in 1972 in the nonviolent occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yes, sir. I mean, yes, ma’am. Excuse me. In Washington, DC, we occupied the building for a week. We, of course — the place was destroyed. I was one of the people in charge of security. And the young people, just out of frustration and anger — I just —- we just couldn’t control. They totally destroyed the building, you know, the toilets and stuff like that, like this. But they didn’t -—

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Eventually, in 1975, your involvement in AIM brought you to the Pine Ridge Reservation?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yes, I’ve been — about that time, I was being invited to a lot of different reservations because of the conditions of corruption, tribal government corruption and police brutality and stuff like this. I was invited back to Turtle Mountain. I was invited back to Fort Totten, which I did make appearances there and held some hearings then. We were invited all over the country. And that was basically what we were doing, just organizing all throughout the country.

    And it was so surprising and encouraging to us that, you know, we just — there wasn’t enough of us. We just couldn’t get — do the work that we needed — you know, there wasn’t enough of us to do the work that was in demand. I mean, we were getting letters from and phone calls from reservations throughout the country, that they wanted us to come down there and help them.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    When you were at Pine Ridge in 1975, there were many FBI agents there, I believe the highest ratio of FBI agents to citizens than any other area in the country.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yep.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    So how did they deal with all of the murders of Native Americans on the reservation?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, according to — Amy, they’re going to shut me off again.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Well, you could just call back.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Yeah, let me call back again. OK? Alright.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re speaking to Leonard Peltier from Leavenworth prison. He was disconnected and then called back.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    ...get too strong there at one of the questions you asked me about the agents, but I just — it’s so frustrating that after all — so many years, that it seems that the media, the only thing they want to concentrate on is the death of those two agents. You know, and this is not — this was not the whole deal there. This is — what about those Indians?

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Right.

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    You know, I mean, those people were really killed. You know, the General Accounting Service found over sixty. And why isn’t —

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And what was the FBI doing about it?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Why aren’t the media outraged about this?

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What was the FBI doing about it at the time?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, at the time, apparently nothing, because nobody was being arrested, nobody was being indicted. You know, they claim that they couldn’t find enough evidence to prosecute anybody, I guess, beyond just on the reservation for these murders.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Did you have any information about being watched by the FBI under — or being a target of their COINTEL Program, the Counter Intelligence Program?

    LEONARD PELTIER:

    Well, yes. I learned later on that, from that incident in Wisconsin that was a fistfight with the off-duty police officers, and they tried to make it into a first-degree — tried to give me thirty years in prison for that. But one of the officers — his wife or girlfriend, excuse me, came and testified in my behalf, and she has stated that she couldn’t allow this to happen. She was not raised this way and led to believe that law enforcement agencies were honest and would never commit perjury in trial. But she said that her boyfriend had come home bragging that night, carrying my picture, and said, “Hey, we’ve got — you know, this is — my career is on the road. We’ve got a big one for the FBI. We’ve got — you know, we’ve been assigned to watch out for the American Indian Movement and try to do as much as we can to get him in — put him in jail.” So, you know, like I say, he was carrying — everybody knew who I was. I was with Dennis Banks all the time. I mean, you know, I was one of his assistants, or whatever you want to call us. We really didn’t have any titles. But I was with him all the time.

AMY GOODMAN:

Leonard Peltier, Native American leader in Leavenworth Penitentiary for the past twenty-four years. We’re going to bring you part two of that interview tomorrow. Again, today in Leavenworth will be the interim parole hearing for Peltier. Ultimately, President Clinton decides on executive clemency, but people feel that Janet Reno, who considers it first, is the place to call if you want to voice your opinion either way on the case of Leonard Peltier. Her number is, the Attorney General’s number is (202) 305-1400. That’s (202) 305-1400. We’ll also be speaking with a lawyer tomorrow to find out how the parole hearing went today.

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