The Expansion of FBI Powers During the So Called War On Terror: A Look at the Case of Leonard Peltier

StoryAugust 06, 2002
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A bipartisan group from the House Government Reform Committee recently proposed legislation that would strip the name of J Edgar Hoover from the FBI Headquarters Building in Washington, as the evidence mounts that Hoover systematically violated the law in the conduct of FBI investigations. The lawmakers, including Republican Dan Burton of Indiana and Democrat John Tierney of Massachusetts, cite the case of James Salvati, who, along with three others, were sentenced to life in prison for a 1965 mafia-related murder in Boston that the FBI knew they did not commit.

Exposure of similar cases of FBI misconduct have led to the release from prison of such people as Black Panther Party members Gernimo Ji Jaga Pratt and Dhoruba Bin Wahad. Another focus of the FBI’s COINTELPRO activities was the American Indian Movement, or AIM. The FBI’s efforts against AIM culminated in the June 26, 1975 shootout at Oglala, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he should be freed. Amnesty International calls him a political prisoner. Amnesty International and the US Committee on Civil Rights have called for a congressional investigation into his case. The FBI says he’s a cold blooded murderer.

I am talking about Native American leader Leonard Peltier. Peltier is serving two life sentences for the fatal shootings of two FBI agents he says he did not kill. He has been in jail for nearly 26 years. Next month, he will turn 58. Two medical doctors have determined that he is receiving sub optimal care in prison for a series of chronic conditions including hypertension. He is partially blind in one eye.

Last month Peltier was denied parole from the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth again. He has been denied parole at least five times.

In April, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee filed a civil suit against the FBI for its political, media, and lobbying efforts they say have thwarted Peltier’s due process to obtain a fair hearing. His Defense Committee claims the U.S. government falsified evidence leading to his arrest and coerced false testimony or hid exonerating evidence to obtain his conviction.

This June, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee obtained 30,000 pages of classified documents through FOIA. The FBI says the documents are the full extent of the FBI’s so called “resmurs file”, which stands for “reservation murders.”

We are going to turn now to a talk that Peltier’s lawyer, Bruce Ellison, gave in Lawrence, Kansas a couple weeks ago. Bruce Ellison was co-counsel during Leonard’s trial in 1977, and has represented him ever since. He has researched, studied and documented the FBI’s involvement on Pine Ridge and the FBI’s activities against the American Indian Movement (AIM). Perhaps more than any other, Bruce Ellison has an encyclopedic command of the facts and history of the Peltier case, and of the scores of AIM members and Lakota traditionalists whose murders have gone uninvestigated.

The talk was filmed by Chris Lucky.


  • Bruce Ellison, attorney for indigenous rights activist Leonard Peltier and a staff attorney with the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee. Ellison also works with the Innocence Project of Northwestern University.

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