Revolutionary Worker #762, June 26, 1994
The RW interviewed Leonard Peltier by telephone from the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. He is serving two life sentences--railroaded for the killing of two FBI agents in the famous 1975 Oglala shootout between American Indian Movement activists and federal authorities on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Prison authorities limit Leonard Peltier's calls to 15 minutes, so we had to talk fast.
Leonard Peltier: Hi. This is Leonard Peltier.
RW: Glad to hear your voice, man. How are you doing?
Leonard Peltier: Alright, bro.
RW: I guess we have to get right down to work.
Leonard Peltier: Yes, please. I only have fifteen minutes.
RW: Last November and December the Parole Board put you and your legal team through quite a circus. Would you like to tell us about that?
Leonard Peltier: On December 14, 1993 I made my first appearance before the Parole Board here in Leavenworth United States Penitentiary. In a four-hour hearing we presented our side. They first tried typical illegal tactics by attempting to have an FBI agent present. My attorney Ramsey Clark demanded that he leave the room.
But the end result was that they'd already made their minds up. They gave me a fifteen-year hit--said I would not be reviewed for another fifteen years.
In other words, the eighteen years that I already have spent in prison is not enough. And in fact, they have even stolen another year of that--so they are only giving me credit for seventeen years.
But we appealed it and quoted the case history on it--the way they are claiming me guilty of something that the jury acquitted me of. And the Parole Board Commission in Washington, D.C. in their vindictiveness even extended that fifteen years to twenty-one years.
RW: How long did it take the Parole Board to reach this decision?
Leonard Peltier: After a four-hour hearing, approximately ten to fifteen minutes. They went out for coffee, went to the bathroom and came back and gave me the decision.
RW: At this point the government does not deny that they don't really have any evidence against you?
Leonard Peltier: In fact, the government has admitted in two courts of law at the Appellate Court level that they don't know who killed the agents. Let me quote them. Prosecutor Lynn Crooks stated, "Your honor, the government does not know who killed our agents nor do we know what participation Peltier may have had in it. We don't know if he was the actual participant or just an aider and abettor."
And now the government on their most recent decision is claiming that I am an "aider and abettor."
RW: I read the government has a theory of "long-range aiding and abetting." Is that the term they are using?
Leonard Peltier: Basically yes, that was their theory--I was aider and abettor at fifteen to twenty feet or two hundred yards, about two football fields away. They don't know where I aided and abetted--but I was on the reservation. (laughing)
RW: This coming week, people will be gathering in Washington, D.C. on June 26 from all over to demand that you be freed. Tell us where your case is today, and what you want people to do.
Leonard Peltier: My clemency petition is pending before the Justice Department. It has already passed through the Pardons Attorney's office and is now going through the Attorney General's office. The woman who has been assigned to it is a newly appointed Deputy Attorney General, Jamie Gorelick. We need people to write letters to her requesting that she recommends clemency.
Of course, we need letters and faxes sent to the president also that he grants clemency.
RW: Please explain what clemency means. Some readers probably don't know.
Leonard Peltier: Clemency means accommodation of sentence--in other words, they will release me saying "time served."
I want to express to people that it's going very, very well. I can't reveal some of the things that I know, except to say that it is going extremely well.
And I need people now, more than ever, to sit down to help us with the events in Washington, D.C. on June 25 and 26. To write letters, faxes, telephone calls. To flood the White House and Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick's office. It's very critical, so people should do that immediately.
RW: What kind of support have you gotten from the people, from prominent figures and from international forces?
Leonard Peltier: I've gotten a lot of support from major celebrities and stars, both actors and actresses, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Reverend Jesse Jackson--just to name some of the well-known political figures. Fifty-five members of Congress and the Senate. Sixty members of the Parliament in Canada--which are also holding parliament hearings right now on the illegal extradition [that moved Peltier from Canada to the United States after he was captured]. After eighteen years [since that extradition] they are finally doing something.
Over 150 tribal nations have passed resolutions demanding that I be granted clemency. And of course millions of people just in the United States alone, and multi-millions around the world, have been supporting me.
The Chiapas Indians, down in Mexico, are very well aware of me--are very strong supporters of mine. And, of course, vice versa.
RW: They've been in contact with you?
Leonard Peltier: (laughing) We've been allies for years, man.
RW: Can you tell me what brought you into this struggle against the system--and what the conditions of the people were that you saw?
Leonard Peltier: Poverty. Discrimination. The injustices that people were receiving in the courtrooms. The violations of the Indian treaties made between two sovereign nations--the United States government and Indian nations. The bigotry that exists around Indian territories. The unemployment, which brings in the high alcoholism rate and disease rate of the reservations.
In them days, it was just still not illegal to kill an Indian. If you killed an Indian, you'd be very unfortunate if you got probation--most of them were released immediately.
Because most of us didn't want to grow up in that poverty and wanted changes, I became involved and am still involved today.
RW: What was the reason you were framed in the first place? And why haven't they let you out after all their evidence was exposed?
Leonard Peltier: Well, some of us were becoming very influential and powerful leaders. It wasn't just the ones that were before the media--a lot of us that were staying away from the media were probably just as powerful among the Indian nations... with quite a large following.
And they needed a scapegoat. Somebody had to pay for the deaths of their [FBI] warriors that died that day. And we've also received information from a very higher-up U.S. Marshal in Washington saying that the government believed, at that time, that someone had to pay--and I was unfortunate enough to become the scapegoat. They believed that if I got off too, that it would be open season on all federal law enforcement agents.
Plus, there is a lot more behind that: At that time, the government was pushing for termination of the reservations--to continue stealing what little land we had left and, most important of all, the resources.
RW: I was reading today that the government stole Indian uranium land the same day the shootout at Oglala happened.
Leonard Peltier: Right.
RW: Why do you think after 18 years, and after their evidence has been exposed, that they still haven't let you go free yet? What do you think is behind that?
Leonard Peltier: I think they want to save face, for one thing. They still don't want to admit to the world that this isn't the best and the fairest and most equal justice system. And that they are guilty of railroading people into jail. They don't want to, or never will, admit these things.
They have never admitted to having political prisoners. And they won't admit to that. If I'm released they certainly ain't gonna apologize to me or the Indian people. We can't even get them to apologize for the massacre at Wounded Knee. The best that we can get out of them is that they "regret" that it happened.
Those are some of the political aspects to it all. They don't want a person like myself coming out--knowing that I have such enormous influence on Native people--that I might galvanize something.
RW: Last week, we published a statement by you and Jaan Laaman in Leavenworth about Mumia Abu-Jamal. What's the scene in Leavenworth prison these days? Do you have a scene among the political prisoners there? Are you able to get and circulate revolutionary literature?
Leonard Peltier: We're in open population. I get the Revolutionary Worker's paper all the time and we pass 'em around. We discuss these certain issues that come up. If we need to write out a letter, we talk about it. If we support it, we endorse it.
Leonard Peltier: There's that first click. We have one minute and ten seconds before they cut us off.
RW: Is there anything you want to say to the readers of the RW around the world?
Leonard Peltier: I just hope that the people will endorse June 25 and 26. We could also use some financial help--it's very important. And to subscribe to Crazy Horse Spirit Newsletter and also to read In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen. They're cutting me off, so thank you very much.
Then the prison authorities cut off the call.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)