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Activists Call on Obama to Pardon Leonard Peltier, Warning He’ll Die in Prison Otherwise

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While President Obama shortened the sentences of Oscar López Rivera and Chelsea Manning and 207 other prisoners, Obama took no action on 71-year-old imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Peltier is a former member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. He has long maintained his innocence. Peltier’s attorney Martin Garbus joins us here in New York.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to another sentence. While President Obama shortened the sentences of Oscar López Rivera and Chelsea Manning and 207 other prisoners, Obama took no action on 71-year-old imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Peltier is a former member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. He has long maintained his innocence.

Peltier’s attorney, Martin Garbus, joins us now here in New York.

No word yet, although President Obama is still in office, Martin.

MARTIN GARBUS: No word yet. We just received confirmation that yesterday a letter from the Vatican went to the White House. That went in in the afternoon.

There’s another thing. I think that, on behalf of Leonard Peltier, I want to thank you. I want to thank what happened as a result of this show. I was on about three weeks ago. And James Reynolds, who had been the prosecutor in the Peltier case, saw the show and then, as a result of the show, decided to come out, after 40 years of silence, and write a letter to the White House saying that the prosecution was flawed, and asking for clemency for Leonard Peltier. It’s an amazing turn of events. We were all surprised by it. Nothing like that has happened before. Immediately after that, a special FBI agent, Jack Ryan, who had been in that area at the same time, came out with a similar letter. Each of the letters went through the law. Each of the letters went through the facts. Each of the letters came out and asked for clemency. And that was the result of our discussion on this show a little while ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there any possibility? Have you heard anything from the White House?

MARTIN GARBUS: We have not heard anything from the White House. We do not have a denial. And, of course, his name was not on yesterday’s list.

AMY GOODMAN: And have you spoken to Leonard Peltier since this list came out?

MARTIN GARBUS: I spoke to—I communicated with Leonard yesterday. I was upset because his name wasn’t on yesterday’s list. And then, when I heard about the letter from the pope, I communicated with him. He knows that there are more names coming out. And if—I think it’s fair to say that if he doesn’t get commuted by President Obama, he’ll die in jail. He’s a very sick man. So, Obama’s not granting him clemency is like a sentence of death. Trump ain’t going to do it. And he’s very sick, and he’s not going to live past that time. I don’t want to be negative, but that’s the reality. He’s very sick, and he’s been in prison over 40 years, hard years, six years of solitary. So, they’ve gotten their pound of flesh from him. And I think insofar as the Native Americans, there should be an awareness that he’s important to them, he’s important to their cause. You and I both know that that’s a group of people awfully neglected. I know you were out there in Standing Rock recently. I’m going out there in about two months to try some cases. So, you and I both know what’s happened to Native Americans in America.

AMY GOODMAN: And certainly, when we were at Standing Rock, the call for clemency for Leonard Peltier from every angle of every resistance camp. Even the FBI agent, Jack Ryan, wrote Leonard Peltier should receive clemency, quote, “in the interest of the system of justice for which my two fellow agents died, and in the interest of reconciliation and compassion.”

MARTIN GARBUS: Right. I mean, I think it’s hard for people to understand that you had the Native Americans in the center shooting out. You had the FBI and the Army shooting in. It was impossible to tell which bullets went where. An Indian was killed. A Native American was killed. There was never a prosecution of him. Before Leonard was prosecuted—

AMY GOODMAN: Of those that killed him.

MARTIN GARBUS: —two other people were prosecuted and were acquitted.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Martin Garbus, of course, we’ll continue to follow Leonard Peltier’s case.

MARTIN GARBUS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Martin Garbus, one of the country’s leading trial lawyers, lead counsel for Leonard Peltier. When we come back, we look at the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, one of the leaders for privatization of education, to be the next education secretary of the United States. Stay with us.

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