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As a special service to English speaking visitors, here´s a translation of my chapter "USA vs. Leonard Peltier".
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Leonard Peltier. Courtesy of LP DOC

USA vs. Leonard Peltier  

On a very hot sunny day, June 26th 1975, the reservation was scene of an armed confrontation between two FBI agents and a small group of AIM activists. The incident became known as The Pine Ridge Shootout.

There were heavy thunderstorms that night on June 26th 1975. The AIM people in the camp at Jumping Bull´s property, located close to Oglala, had struggled most of the night to save there tents and belongings from the strong winds. Now the thunderstorms had gone and a young Indian named Leonard Peltier was sleeping late. At about eleven am he was still laying on top of his sleeping bag enjoying the warmth from the bright shining sun. Outside the tent some women where preparing breakfast. Making coffee and pancakes on open fire. Leonard could hear the women chatting. One of the women burst out: “Hey, I dropped a pancake in the mud!” The other woman answered loudly laughing: “Dust it off. They never notice anyway.” Leonard was smiling to himself. The woman was right they would never notice. The smell of freshly made coffee, camp fire and pancakes drifted into his tent. He stretched himself fantasizing about the hot pancakes with golden syrup, which he would consume soon. It was a perfect morning. Leonard never got his pancakes ...

Two FBI agents, Special Agent Jack R. Coler and Special Agent Ronald A. Williams, allegedly chased an Indian boy, Jimmy Eagle, on suspicion of stealing a pair of cowboy boots. The FBI agents chased a red station wagon in high speed on a dirt road. The red station wagon probably passed close by the AIM people in the remote located camp on the Jumping Bull family´s property. The Jumping Bull family had asked for AIM to protect them, as they feared reprisals from Wilson´s GOONs.  Leonard Peltier was one of the nine AIM leaders present and there where even non-Indian families on the property at the same time.  For some reason the agents suddenly stopped and opened fire on the camp site. 

Lying in his tent still enjoying the morning Leonard heard the first shots being fired. His first thought was someone had some shooting practice in the nearby forest. But as he hear the gunfire increase and people start yelling loud he realizes something is terribly wrong. He grabs his old hunting rifle and cartridge bag, which he lost as he tumbles out of the tent. His first thought was to get the old Jumping Bulls and the children out of harms way.       

No one in the camp knew who attacked them and why.

According to American laws is it legal to shoot in self-defense. A little group of Indians returned fire with their obsolete rifles while others got the women and children out of harms way. 

One Indian Joe Stuntz Killsright was killed with a shot in the head - The homicide was never investigated.  

The two FBI agents lost their lives.  

It was only after the gunfire has ceased the Indians finally dared to approach the vehicle. Here they discovered that the individuals who attacked them were FBI agents. Then they got real scared. No one will shot an FBI agent unpunished – especially not an Indian. They knew that all in the camp – men, women and children – were as good as dead. They knew that even if they surrendered it would be certain death. The only chance was to escape.   

The incident unleashed the biggest manhunt ever in the history of The United States. FBI and The National Guard launched a full scale operation. But despite the massive effort including intense helicopter surveillance, the little group of AIM people escaped safely into the hills in Pine Ridge, sometimes under heavy fire. Here they was surrounded by several hundred armed men, but as the situation got more and more desperate a big Bald Eagle landed in a tree above them. Convinced it was Tunkashila – The Great Mystery appearing as an eagle the surrounded Indians decided to follow the bird of prey. 

The eagle took off and flew slowly away close to the ground. They followed it until an old subterranean water main appeared. They crawled through the water main and in this way they succeeded in escaping their pursuers. They split up and disappeared in various ways out of the reservation and spread out all over the country. This caused a large-scale national search which lasted 8 months. The frustration and anger of not having caught the escaping Indians were so huge that “somebody” shut a bullet through every single family portrait in the home of Jumping Bull.

Two AIM members, Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, were later taken into custody and put on trial for murder. They were both found not guilty as the Court made it clear that they had acted in self-defense. Leonard Peltier had fled to Canada as he feared not becoming a fair trial in the USA. However, the government of the USA had him extradited on a very questionable testimony, which a mentally ill woman was forced to give to the FBI. On the 6th February 1976 he was arrested by The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Hinton, Alberta. He was unarmed when arrested. 

In April 1977 a controversial trial took place in Fargo, north-Dakota. The place of the trial might have been selected because of its remote location and because of the fact that the local people were known for their hostile attitude – and distrust – towards the Indians. 

Maybe the possibility of another acquittal was too risky. A jury, solely consisting of local white citizens, found Peltier guilty of the killing of Coler and Williams and the judge sentenced him to two imprisonments for life in succession.  Many books have been written about the trial of Leonard Peltier. The most important is probably Peter Matthiesens “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse”. In this book Matthiesen documents, beyond any doubt, that the trial against Leonard Peltier was a totally show trial. According to the book witnesses were threatened by FBI agents to make false testimonies. Other people were paid to do it. A huge amount of evidence was a forgery. It all took place in a “spirit” of that “somebody” no matter whom – had to pay for the death of the two agents. When the book was published for the first time in 1983, Governor William J. Janklow brought an action against the author and the publishing house Viking Press. Booksellers were threatened with reprisals, if they did not remove the book from the shelves and buyers of the book were threatened not to buy it. It took 8 years of fatiguing trials before Janklow lost his case. The book was finally published in 1991. 

Robert Redford made a documentary of the trial “Incident at Oglala”. A movie that, in every way, supports the interpretation of Peter Matthiesen.  

The Peltier case attracted a considerable international attention. Many are considering him a political prisoner. Many have appealed to the American Government to retry his case. Among his supporters are Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, The Maya Indians, and the Noble Prize Winner Rigoberta Menchú, UN´s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dalai Lama, The Europe Parliament, The Parliaments of Belgium and Italy, the south-African  archbishop Desmond Tuto, Kennedy Center for Human Rights and the rock-band  “Rage Against the Machine”.   

In USA it is a tradition that the president leaving office pardons a number of prisoners.  As President Bill Clinton left office January 2001 rumors said that Clinton would pardon Leonard Peltier. But FBI lobbyists blocked the decision. FBI paid full-page advertisements stating Peltier was a dangerous murderer, who had to be kept in prison. 500 FBI officials and their families demonstrated against his parole in front of The White House.

President Clinton gave in for the pressure and in favor of a number of convicted criminals President Clinton abstained from paroling Leonard.  

In 2007 this decision caused great commotion in the Clinton Campaign office, as the multi-millionaire David Geffen – well-known American music and film producer and philanthropist – withdraw he´s financial support to Hillary Clintons attempt to be USA´s first female president and instead financially supported  Barack Obama´s campaign. The reason David Geffen gave was disillusion because former president Clinton did not pardon Leonard Peltier.      

Violating a number of federal laws FBI still withhold 150.000 pages of evidence in the case – the reason: National security!

The Leonard Peltier case was never reopened. Today he is 64 years old serving his 33rd year of his double life sentence in a US Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Peltier is suffering from diabetes, bad heart condition, high blood pressure and is partly blind. Despite that he is still acting as mentor of the young Indian inmates urging them to live a life without drugs, alcohol and crime, but instead teach them self-respect and to respect their own cultural roots. Leonard Peltier has shown great self-discipline and spend his time in prison positively. He is now a skilled artist and an articulate writer. Most admirable is his continued work for charity all the many years in prison. Peltiers paintings are sold on auctions and the whole amount is spent on projects like helping abused women, rehabilitation programs for drug- and alcohol abusers, and scholarships to make it possible for young Indians to get an education.

Further more Peltier is promoter and coordinator of the annual distribution of Christmas presents and money to the poor families in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Leonard Peltier has received a great number of national and international awards for his achievements.

On a cold day in January 2009 I received an email on my computer. It was an open letter signed by Betty Peltier-Solano, Leonard Peltier´s sister. Betty is leading coordinator of a group called Leonard Peltiers Defense Offence Committee, dedicated to work for the release of Leonard Peltier.

The email told that Peltier without prior warning, either to him, nor his family and attorneys, was transferred to another prison in January 2009.

The letter is published with permission from Betty Peltier-Solano:
I am so OUTRAGED! My brother Leonard was severely beaten upon his arrival at the Canaan Federal Penitentiary. When he went into population after his transfer, some inmates assaulted him. The severity of his injuries is that he suffered numerous blows to his head and body, receiving a large bump on his head, possibly a concussion, and numerous bruises. Also, one of his fingers is swollen and discolored and he has pain in his chest and ribcage. There was blood everywhere from his injuries.  
          We feel that prison authorities at the prompting of the FBI orchestrated this attack and thus, we are greatly concerned about his safety. It may be that the attackers, whom Leonard did not even know, were offered reduced sentences for carrying out this heinous assault. Since Leonard is up for parole soon, this could be a conspiracy to discredit a model prisoner.
          He was placed in solitary confinement and only given one meal, this is generally done when you won´t name your attackers; incidentally being only given one meal seriously jeopardizes his health because of his diabetes. Prison officials refuse to release any info to the family, but they need to hear from his supporters to protect his safety, as does President Obama. His attorneys are trying to get calls into him now.
          This attack on LP comes on the heels of the FBI´s recent letter, prompting this attack by FBI supporters as an attempt to discredit LP as a model prisoner. Anyone who has been in the prison system knows well that if you refuse to name your attackers or file charges against them, then you lose your status as a victim and/or given points against your possible parole and labeled as a perpetrator. 
          It is not uncommon, in fact is quite common for the government to use Indian against Indian and they still operate under the old adage “it takes an Indian to catch an Indian”. In 1978, they made an attempt to assassinate him through another Indian man who was also at Marion prison with LP. But Standing Deer chose to reveal the plot to him instead of taking his life in exchange FOR A CHANCE AT FREEDOM. When Standing Deer was released in 2001, he joined the former Leonard Peltier Defense Committee as a board member. He also began to speak on Leonard´s behalf until his murder six years ago today. Prior to his murder, Standing Deer confided with close friends and associates that the same man who visited him in Marion to assassinate Peltier, had come to Houston, TX and told him that he had better stay away from Peltier and anything to do with him. We are aware that currently, the FBI is actively seeking support for his continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier and also also seeking support from Native People. So please be aware, and keep Leonard in your prayers. The FBI is apparently afraid of the impact we are having. If they will set him up to blemish his record just before a parole hearing, what will they do when it looks like his freedom will become a reality? We need to make sure that nothing happens to him again!
          Please write the President, send it priority or registered mail. Email to Change.gov or email President Obama. Call your congressional representatives and write letters, not email, to them. Do what you can to get the word out to insure that LP is receiving adequate medical attention for his injuries.
          I am asking you, supporters of Leonard and advocates of justice at this time to help. I don´t know what else to do. Please Help! 

Thank you 
Betty Peltier-Solano

The consequences were thousands of letters and emails from caring citizens to the American government and the prison administration. Most likely because of the public attention Leonard Peltier was transferred back to his “old” prison in Lewisburg on January 30th 2009. It was a victory, but he is still, like many others, a political prisoner in an American prison.

Under the headline on an Associated Press newsflash, dated April 29th 2009: “The Supreme Court decides: Peltier´s appeal for FBI documents denied.”  You could read: “The imprisoned American Indian activist, Leonard Peltier, has lost another trail in his attempt to force the FBI to release about 150.000 pages of documents concerning his trial. Peltier is serving a double life sentence for the death of two FBI agents under a firefight on The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near Oglala, South Dakota. He has without luck appealed his sentence several times. In 2001 he requested and received 70.400 pages of FBI documents concerning him self. FBI claimed that further thousands pages in the case was not included in the right of access to documents. The files could among other matters reveal secret sources.”   

May 2nd 2009 it is announced that Leonard Peltier for the sixth time is nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize. 

On May 5th 2009 Harvey Arden sends an open letter to President Obama. Harvey Arden has among other things written the books “Have You Thought of Leonard Peltier Lately” and "WISDOMKEEPERS: Meetings With Native American Spiritual Elders". He was editor on Peltier’s own book “My Life is my Sun Dance”. In his letter to the president he gives a brief rundown on the case. Telling that Peltier on the 33rd year is serving a sentence for a crime of which hard evidence proofs he never committed. In all these years Peltier, his attorneys and a huge number of human right activists has urged the administration in Washington to reopen the Peltier case and to get it tried in Court once more. In 33 years there has been no response to the requests. Arden begs the president and his new administration to demonstrate that all is equal to the law despite race, religion or financial status. This is Harvey Arden’s Letter to the President:    

Dear President Obama, 

On behalf of myself, friends, family and literally millions of people all across the United States and the world, I am writing you today concerning an urgent and heartfelt request: to consider the case of Leonard Peltier. For thirty-three years Mr. Peltier has been incarcerated in various American prisons for a crime that there is ample evidence to substantiate he did not commit. For thirty-three years Mr. Peltier, his lawyers and supporters have appealed to the powers that be in Washington to re-open, to re-try the case of the U.S. vs. Leonard Peltier. For thirty-three years these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Now, at age 64, Leonard Peltier is approaching the end of his life and is in poor health, and those of us who are interested in Native American issues of social justice are trying one last time, when hope has returned to the American spirit and we have a president who espouses transparency and equanimity of policy and practice, to appeal to your sense of compassion and justice in a case that for many represents an opportunity to finally bridge the gap of broken treaties and broken trust between the First Nation peoples of this country and their government. We truly hope that with your new administration and its progressively positive attitudes of equal rights for all peoples, races, religions and economic status, that a time of reconciliation has finally arrived and some of the injustices of the past can be put right, with critical bridges crossed and war wounds healed.

Rather than laying out the long history of the case of the U.S. vs. Leonard Peltier, I prefer to point you in the direction of Mr. Peltier´s book My Life Is My Sun Dance, a book he has written that was published in 1999 to universal acclaim and rave reviews (see enclosure), and which I had the great honor to edit. This book contains his full account of the events surrounding his arrest, his trial, his incarceration and the more than twenty-three years that followed. Also, you might want to consult your colleagues Senator Inouye and Gov. Bill Richardson on this case, as they are familiar with it and are supporters of the world-wide movement to reconsider, re-try and release Leonard Peltier from his incarceration as a political prisoner, wrongly convicted.    

To this end I would like to ask of you a favor by granting an audience to Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th-Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Pipe of the Great Lakota Nation, and myself, that we may deliver a message to you on behalf of all those concerned people around the world who have worked--by marching in protest, by contacting their representatives in government, by signing petitions, by writing letters, by working for his legal defense--so hard for Mr. Peltier´s freedom. We would be happy to meet with you, Vice President Biden, Sec. Hillary Clinton, Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Inouye, Jodi Archambault Gillette from the Office of Inter-governmental Affairs and anyone else you feel would appropriately need to be involved in such a meeting and any discussions that might occur to shed a brighter light on this matter. Such a meeting, we believe, would not only be a true sign of your willingness to begin a dialogue with Native peoples on issues of overlooked urgency and importance, but would go a long way, in good faith, to showing us that Democracy and Justice still have a meaning in America. 

Mr. President, it is with great hope and great expectations that my colleagues and I await your word in response to this letter of inquiry and appeal. Not only does the future of Leonard Peltier depend upon it, but also our hopes for a greater nation where there is truly liberty and justice for all peoples, including First Nation peoples.  

Respectfully yours,    

Harvey Arden 
Washington, DC 
with assistance from 
Thomas Rain Crowe

On Wednesday the 20th May in Portland, Oregon one could read that Leonard Peltier recently has applied for – and had it approved – a hearing about parole. The hearing is appointed to take place on the 28th 2009. Last time he had a hearing was in 1993, in which the decision was made that his case should be retried not earlier than 15 years after the past hearing. In spite of the fact that Peltier maintains, he has not killed the two agents, he has openly expressed his regrets and grief over their deaths.  

Indians as Bob Robideau, Steve Robideau, Joe Stuntz, Garcia, Roque Duenas, Nilak Butler, Anna Mae Aquash and hundred of other Indians have lost their lives fighting for their human rights.  Among a lot of other people it was a great victory for the black Americans, when Obama won the election in 2008. Let us all hope and believe that he possesses the courage and the strength which failed Bill Clinton. To pardon Leonard Peltier would not only be a humane act, but it would have a tremendous impact, which might become the beginning of a higher justice in the USA and maybe the opening for the North American Indian to start breathing freely in his own land.  

Ole Sveigaard
June 2009, Dagstrup, Denmark

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