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2009-07-27

Parole Hearing to Be Held Tuesday for Imprisoned Native American Activist Leonard Peltier

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The sixty-four-year-old activist has been in prison for thirty-three years and is now being held at the Lewisburg prison in Pennsylvania. Peltier was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. At his last hearing, the Parole Commission originally denied Peltier parole in 1993 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.” Peltier has long maintained his innocence and is widely considered a political prisoner who was not granted a fair trial. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the case of the imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who will have his first full parole hearing in fifteen years on Tuesday. The sixty-four-year-old activist has been in prison for thirty-three years, is now being held at the Lewisburg prison in Pennsylvania. Peltier was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975.

The Parole Commission originally denied Peltier parole in 1993 based on their finding that he, quote, “participated in the premeditated and cold blooded execution of those two officers.” However, the Parole 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 has long maintained his innocence and is widely considered a political prisoner by human rights groups around the world, calling — pointing out that he did not get a fair trial.

In a recent letter of support, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes Peltier’s incarceration is based on, quote, "fabricated evidence" and that he was, quote, "persecuted because of his beliefs and refusal to accept the injustices imposed about the peoples at Pine Ridge."

Well, I’m joined right now on the phone by Eric Seitz. He’s the attorney representing Leonard Peltier at his first full parole hearing in fifteen years. Eric Seitz is on the road, en route to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to meet with Leonard Peltier ahead of the parole hearing.

Welcome to Democracy Now! In these last few minutes, Eric Seitz, describe the significance of this parole hearing tomorrow.

ERIC SEITZ: Well, this is the first opportunity that Leonard has had to address the parole board since he has served all of his minimum terms. So, when he previously went before the parole board, according to their criteria, he was not technically eligible, because he had mandatory minimum terms that had to be served. But he’s eligible tomorrow. And we’re hopeful that, based upon everything that’s gone before and all of the support that he’s received, that we will be able to get him paroled this time.

AMY GOODMAN: How is Leonard Peltier’s health?

ERIC SEITZ: His health is not good. He’s, for a long time, suffered from some problems with his jaw, which he had surgery on a few years ago, has high blood pressure and diabetes and urinary problems. He’s going to be sixty-five years old in September. And a lot of those problems are aggravated by virtue of the fact that he’s in prison and can’t get adequate and timely care. So we’re concerned about his health, and that’s another reason why we’re hoping the parole board will allow him to be released at this point, before something more serious occurs.

AMY GOODMAN: What is going to be your main argument tomorrow, Eric Seitz? And will Leonard Peltier be addressing the Parole Commission?

ERIC SEITZ: Leonard will be addressing them. He is preparing. That’s one of the reasons why I’m going out there today, so that we can conclude that preparation.

But the main argument is going to be that no matter what one thinks about the case, it certainly has been enormously controversial. It’s something that millions of people around the world have expressed concerns about. Leonard has more than served enough time, under the circumstances. And under all of the criteria that normally would apply, he should be paroled.

AMY GOODMAN: Will the FBI be weighing in, as well? I remember the pressure in the last days of President Clinton around the issue of granting executive clemency to Leonard Peltier, and the marches of the FBI.

ERIC SEITZ: Yeah, the FBI can’t let it go. They take the position that two FBI agents died, and somebody’s got to pay for that. And so, Leonard is the person to whom they look to for that purpose, and they want him to stay in prison until he dies. So we expect that there will be a letter from the director of the FBI. We expect the FBI will be represented there. A US attorney from Fargo, North Dakota, apparently, is coming and is prepared to give a litany of reasons why Leonard should remain in prison and should never be paroled. And that’s just a part of this case, which we have to expect.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the Parole Commission itself says it recognizes “the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Peltier] personally participated in the executions”?

ERIC SEITZ: They have conceded that, and the US attorney himself has conceded that on several occasions. And as many of your listeners undoubtedly know, the only two people who were charged with the conduct which they say that Leonard is guilty of, those two people were acquitted in the separate jury trial. So the whole situation is one that is horrendous, in terms of the history of the case. And we’re hoping now, at this point in time, that enough people realize that, that they’re willing to take the step to put an end to it.

AMY GOODMAN: Does people weighing in make a difference at a Parole Commission level?

ERIC SEITZ: Yes, there are.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there ways to do that, people expressing their views either way to the Lewisburg prison?

ERIC SEITZ: I think there — sure. I think many, many people have written letters to the Parole Commission. I’ve seen many of them. Some of them have gone directly to them. And certainly, the Parole Commission operates in a political environment, so any kind of public statements of support for Leonard, editorials, all those kinds of things, are going to have an impact, if not now, in the next few days.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Seitz, I want to thank you for being with us, en route to Leonard Peltier’s parole hearing. We’ll link to a Leonard Peltier interview at democracynow.org.

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