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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Leonard Peltier

Many of you know the story of Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement activist convicted of killing rookie FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams on the morning of June 26, 1975. Coler and Williams had gone to South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation in search of a robbery suspect (who was not there); it was their misfortune to visit that place during a period of extremely high tension within the Oglala Lakota community. Some believe that Coler and Williams were deliberately sent into an explosive situation, as a provocation.

The state of high tension arose, in large measure, from the actions of a violent private militia -- the GOON squad -- created by Dick Wilson, a tribal chairman whom the traditionalists considered a government stooge. Many Wilson opponents had been "disappeared," almost certainly at the hands of the GOONs.

The events of June 26 will always be in dispute. One participant in the shootout was AIM member Joe Stuntz, who was himself killed by a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer later that same day: This memorial tells his story and provides much important background information. Peltier (apprehended after a lengthy manhunt) has told varying stories concerning his actions on the day of the agents' deaths. He insists that he did not fire the fatal shots, which had been administered at close range. The basis of his arrest was the testimony of a woman who claimed -- falsely -- to be his girlfriend; she later claimed that she gave her statement under FBI duress. Peltier was convicted and is still serving a life sentence.

The FBI's version of events can be found here. Michael Apted and Robert Redford created an acclaimed pro-Peltier documentary titled Incident at Oglala, which is now available online. I encourage interested readers to acquaint themselves with all of the facts and come to their own conclusions.

Whatever your feelings about the 1975 shootout, I strongly encourage you to read Leonard Peltier's account of his current situation.
On February 6th, I will have been imprisoned for 40 years! I’m 71 years old and still in a maximum security penitentiary. At my age, I’m not sure I have much time left.

I have earned about 4-5 years good time that no one seems to want to recognize. It doesn’t count, I guess? And when I was indicted the average time served on a life sentence before being given parole was 7 years. So that means I’ve served nearly 6 life sentences and I should have been released on parole a very long time ago. Then there’s mandatory release after serving 30 years. I’m 10 years past that. The government isn’t supposed to change the laws to keep you in prison — EXCEPT if you’re Leonard Peltier, it seems.

Now, I’m told I’ll be kept at USP Coleman I until 2017 when they’ll decide if I can go to a medium security facility — or NOT. But, check this out, I have been classified as a medium security prisoner now for at least 15 years, and BOP regulations say elders shall be kept in a less dangerous facility/environment. But NOT if you’re Leonard Peltier, I guess.
Today, I’m facing another dilemma — an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). It’s the size of an AAA battery. The doctor told me if it bursts, I can bleed to death. It’s also close to my spine and I could end up paralyzed. The good news is that it’s treatable and the operation has a 96-98 percent success rate. BUT I’m in a max security prison. We don’t get sent for treatment until it is terminal.
Many Americans think that we don't have political prisoners. The informed know otherwise.
What a mess. If the two agents were killed, who was left to be a witness other than a most likely bullied female?
There are three reasons for incarceration:
1. Rehabilitation, clearly this is inapplicable to a 71 year old man.
2. Punishment, society has a right, indeed a duty, to appropriately punish those who commit crimes. Failure to enforce its laws leads to a breakdown in respect for the justice system and to wronged parties engaging in vigilante justice. By the way, I object to victim impact statements because it is society, not victims, who should determine punishment. Every victim believes that the wrong committed to him is the worst thing that ever happened. Whether Peltier's crimes mandate a life sentence is the question. Personally, I am agnostic on the issue.
3. Removal, psychologists tell us that five percent of the population are sociopaths. Some sociopaths can follow the law out of self-interest. Those sociopaths who are unable to follow the law simply cannot be safely allowed to live among us. Whether a conscience can be implanted into sociopaths is an interesting question, though it doesn't seem that we currently know how to do that. The manner of removal is also a question that better minds than mine have not yet solved. In any event, whether Peltier is a true sociopath is another question about which I am agnostic.
None of this addresses the issue of the abysmal manner in which Native Americans have been treated through history, but violence is not the answer.
There is a fourth reason for imprisonment, according to a text book I had during my brief time as a law student, which is deterrence.
Punishment is for the purpose of deterrence. But if you want to say that punishment simply for the act and that punishment to prevent others from committing the act are two separate categories, I can accept that. Although for me, it is really just one category.
I think it is more likely that Leonard Peltier is being punished solely for his leadership activity with the American Indian Movement, just as the leadership of the Black Panthers were punished. I don't know that the legal case against him for the deaths of the FBI agents was ever that strong. Peltier fled to Canada in the aftermath, but was returned to the US after a petition by the US gov which was later revealed to have contained incorrect information (i.e. lies). There was a concerted bid to get Clinton to pardon him in 2000, but that went nowhere. His continued incarceration seems to be motivated by spite.
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