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FBI Withholds Documents and Campaigns Against the Release of Leonard Peltier

May 16, 2001

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill yesterday slammed the FBI for investigative breakdowns, slipshod evidence handling, and information control problems that they say led to the FBI’s failure to turn over thousands of pages of documents in the case of Timothy McVeigh.

Some lawmakers fear McVeigh and his attorneys will argue that, as a result of the FBI’s mistakes, he did not receive a fair trial, challenging the Federal Governments death sentence against the man convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing.

FBI Director Louis Freeh will appear before a House panel today to explain the incident. Freeh discussed the case in private yesterday with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), said afterward the FBI has "too many failures, too many blunders" of late. Shelby says that’s helped to undermine the confidence the American people have in the agency, and has called for a "broad review of the FBI, its mission, its problems and some solutions.

But there has been relatively little public outcry over the FBI’s withholding of documents in the cases of people who claim to be innocent.

For more than 25 years advocates of Leonard Peltier, have asserted that the FBI’s inadequate investigation, the withholding of thousands of relevant documents, and slipshod evidence handling resulted in an unfair trial and unjust imprisonment of the Native American activist .

Peltier has been in prison for almost a quarter of a century after being convicted of killing two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He has always maintained his innocence. His advocates have long highlighted the problems raised by his case to urge executive clemency for Peltier.

This week the Colorado Daily News published an in depth account of the debate in the Clinton Administration over granting executive clemency to Leonard Peltier. Reporter Michael de Yoanna reveals that advocates for Peltier, who lobbied President Clinton in the waning days of his administration, were so confident that Peltier would be granted clemency that they drafted a clemency statement for the President to deliver.

But the FBI, its Agents Association, and other prominent officials, waged an unprecedented public and private campaign against executive clemency for Leonard Peltier. De Yoanna suggests this campaign was linked to the Justice Department’s consideration of possible criminal charges against Clinton stemming from the Monica Lewinsky case. Clinton ultimately never made a decision on clemency.


  • Jennifer Harbury, attorney for Leonard Peltier
  • Michael De Yoanna, investigative reporter for the Colorado Daily News

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