portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting united states

prisons & prisoners

PELTIER: "They're trying to break his spirit"

Since July 1 of this year, political prisoner and AIM warrior Leonard Peltier (Lakota/Anishinabe) has been moved from three different correctional facilites.
"They're Trying to Break His Spirit"
Leonard Peltier and the Government's War on Dissent
By: Marlena Gangi

Since July 1 of this year, political prisoner and American Indian Movement (AIM) warrior Leonard Peltier (Lakota/Anishinabe) has been moved from three different correctional facilities. On August 15, Peltier was moved to the USP facility in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where he is serving out his sentence of two consecutive life terms for the false charge and conviction of the killing of two FBI agents.

Prison officials at Leavenworth have downgraded the facility from maximum to minimum security. As Peltier is classified as a maximum security prisoner, Leavenworth could no longer hold him. Peltier has been moved a vast number of times from one prison to another during his imprisonment which began in 1976. His latest move from USP Leavenworth in Lawrence, Kansas, to USP Terre Haute, and then to Lewisburg, via the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma was, according to Paula Ostrovsky, wife of Russell Redner, Executive Director of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee "sheer torture."

Throughout his time in incarceration, Peltier has been the target of mistreatment which has included beatings, FBI and prison authority assassination attempts, denial of proper medical care and deliberate exposure to radiation.

"They are trying to break his spirit," states Paula Ostrovsky. "We have to get him out."

Following are the facts of this case (for detailed background on the unjust persecution of Leonard Peltier and the FBI's war on AIM, go to www.leonardpeltier.org.)

The FBI Indian Wars

By June of 1975, when FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler were shot and killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, life had become unbearable for the Natives who lived there. Under the rule of fraudulently elected tribal president Dick Wilson, the reservation had become a battleground as Wilsonite violence ruled supreme in its quest to silence grassroots activists who demanded a return of tribal decision making to traditional councils of elders. Under the Wilson government, tribal members had no voice in determining policy regarding sovereignty. Working in conjunction with corporate planners and under the protection and assistance of the federal government, Wilson imposed a reign of terror to ensure that his practice of misuse of tribal funds, ceding of tribal land for mining purposes and swift punishment against his opponents would all continue as business as usual. This reign of terror included rape, other physical assault and armed aggression that resulted in the murder of over 60 people between 1973 and 1976. Of these 60, the only cases ever fully investigated are those of Williams and Coler.

Long in the sights of FBI surveillance, AIM had been asked by Pine Ridge elders to set up camp and serve as an armed security force to counter acts of oppression perpetrated by a corrupt tribal government. With their militant stance corroborated by the 1972 takeover of the Washington D.C. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, AIM accepted the invitation and set up camp on the Jumping Bull compound near the Pine Ridge village of Oglala. Leonard Peltier, along with Darrell "Dino" Butler and Bob Robideau were members of this armed security. It is precisely because of AIM's warrior culture as well as their presence at Oglala that the FBI, with full assistance from Wilson and his henchmen, stepped up their tactics to instill a full federal presence at Pine Ridge. It was in this climate of fear and oppression that Special Agents Williams and Coler drove onto the Jumping Bull property on June 26, 1975 to serve a warrant on Jimmy Eagle for the theft of a pair of cowboy boots. That the FBI would use their resources to investigate a petty theft speaks volumes to the unprecedented attention given to AIM activity at Oglala.

When the FBI agents without warning or provocation began shooting at the houses of residents on the compound, comprised largely of elders and children, members of the AIM camp returned fire. Within minutes agents Williams and Coler lay dead, as did AIM warrior Joseph Bedell Stuntz. No warrant was ever found on the agents.

Understanding fully the concrete ramifications of what had occurred, Butler, Robideau and Peltier fled with the intent of going underground. Within days Butler and Robideau were apprehended and charged with the murder of the agents. Miraculously, their jury found them to have acted in self defense and therefore not guilty of the crime charged.

Peltier was arrested 5 months later in Canada. He was brought back to the U.S. after unsuccessfully fighting extradition. The perjured testimony and manufactured evidence used in the affidavits to extradite him found their way into his trial. On April 18, 1977, Peltier was found guilty on two counts of 1st degree murder.

Peltier Update

I originally began this article in mid-July after learning that Leonard had suddenly and without warning been transferred from USP Leavenworth in Lawrence, Kansas, where he had served for 13 years, to the Indiana USP in Terre Haute. While awaiting his reply to a letter written to him (graciously accepted and passed on by Peltier's lead attorney Barry Bachrach) to include in the article, I learned that Leonard had been moved yet again to Lewisburg.

The following update is culled from my first and second conversations with Peltier's lead attorney Barry Bachrach and Russell Redner.

Barry Bachrach: I've been involved in this case for three or four years now. Legally, we have a number of issues to work on. Two of these issues involve gathering information which could lead to further lawsuits and Leonard's immediate release. On June 15 we argued a motion to correct an illegal sentence. It is our position that the crimes for which Leonard was tried and convicted of were crimes that the US had no federal jurisdiction over. The only crimes that they could have charged him were crimes under the Indian Crimes Act. We're not saying that he could never have been tried but they didn't charge and try him or have him sentenced pursuant to statutes over which we contend the court had jurisdiction. We are awaiting a decision on this motion.

The other case is pending in the District of Kansas and involves the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 in which Congress in a nutshell gave the parole commission five years to exist and by October 11 1989, the parole commission was required to give firm release dates for all in their custody. The parole commission didn't do that and that lawsuit contends that this violates the congressional mandate and there are constitutional violations also involved. We are also working with attorney Michael Kuzma on continuing our Freedom of Information Act requests because the government has still not produced over 140,000 documents on this case, 90,000 alone of which are at the Minneapolis [FBI] office.

Leonard spent his entire time [six weeks] at Terre Haute in isolation. He was allowed only one phone call a month but was able to speak to me whenever I could set it up. He was given one hour a day to exercise which was basically him walking in a vented cage. Leonard suffered a stroke awhile back, and has diabetes in addition to the wear and tear that 30 years in prison can put on a 60 year old man. Getting his medication to him was an issue at first.

In beginning with the premise that no one in prison does well, Leonard seems to be doing as well as can be expected. He can now take part in traditional practices [sweat lodge] and has been placed in general population and it looks like he can get back to his painting [Peltier is an excellent self taught artist]. We had hoped that he could have stayed at Leavenworth by getting his security level lowered. I think this might be his last move for awhile.

Leonard really appreciates everyone's support and correspondence and wishes to thank everyone. We appreciate any support that will help Leonard get an appropriate placement. I have no doubt that the calls and letters of support for Leonard at Terre Haute were in large part a factor in his move to Lewisburg. Leonard's freedom is always the ultimate priority. There is so much more to say about this case but right now there's not much else to say other than we are going to keep working until we get justice.

Russell Redner:
The government has always placed an inordinate amount of attention on Leonard Peltier. During his trial, key evidence that exonerated him was withheld, witnesses were held and intimidated by the FBI, the FBI had exparte communications with a judge trying the case, Peltier's defense team was infiltrated and the prosecution was receiving first-hand information concerning the defense. We have reason to believe infiltration was still occurring as recently as June 2005. The FBI has never demonstrated against the release or parole of any other person that they've interacted with or convicted as they have with Leonard. Let's not forget, when Leonard was seeking clemency from President Clinton in 1998, over 500 FBI agents marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to protest against his request. Former FBI agent Ed Woods has the "No Parole for Peltier" website which is basically a Peltier misinformation outlet. Several memoranda, we recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, describe FBI intervention against Leonard's clemency bid, how they got their story out through FBI friendly media (Reader's Digest, Life, Detective Magazine or other publications), a plan for a prompt and strong response if Leonard's side of the story was given press, and pressure put on public personalities like Robert Redford, Senator Daniel Inouye, and Judge Heaney to change their stance of public support for Leonard. This is a deliberate attempt to stifle the Indigenous voice in America. No other group has experienced this unwarranted attention in this fashion. COINTELPRO is still in effect for Leonard.

Leonard was moved from Leavenworth without notification. The prison had not been cooperative in informing even Leonard's own attorney, Barry Bachrach. We only discovered that Leonard had been moved when we were notified by Cyrus Peltier, Leonard's grandson who has routinely visited for the last 13 years. He had gone to see his grandfather only to be told rather abruptly by prison officials, "He's not here." After a series of maneuvers by Barry, we learned that Leonard was in transit but were given no idea as to where he would end up. A day or so later, Barry was able to track him to Terre Haute.

The reason finally offered for the move from Leavenworth was that the prison had been downgraded to a minimum security institution. While Leonard is classified as a maximum security prisoner he was originally told that because of his record of exemplary behavior he wouldn't be moved. Then, lo and behold, on June 30 at 11:30 pm, he was taken to Terre Haute.

Leonard feels pretty strongly that if the FBI office releases over 140,000 documents that they are holding, we can use [the documents] to express our position regarding the factual evidence about this case. We can show a much different outcome. We have some unfinished business with the FBI specifically and the United States government in general. It's about neo-colonialism. Our appeal is to the consciousness of the nation, or whatever is left of it with their racist system. We're going to fight the good fight and this good fight will be what carries us. In 1975 at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation we were attacked by the U.S. military and we acted in self defense. We have to take this case before the American people. We have to get Leonard out.

The Lakota have a number of Akicita [warrior] societies, each with specific roles in war time and peace time. One of them is the Tokala (Kit Fox) society, to which I belong. Another society is the Strong Heart Society, these warriors are in the front line during battle. Some of the Strong Heart warriors when under attack by the enemy and upon the people fleeing; would stop, stick their lance in the ground and stake themselves to it. They would not run. They would take on the enemy. And that's what Leonard did. He took on the United States government, and what they've done to him is what they did to Sitting Bull; they put him in prison. Like Sitting Bull, Leonard's only crime was that he defended his people. He was asked to be there [at Pine Ridge]. He put his lance in the ground. Leonard is a Strong Heart.

Prisoner Support: Please continue writing to Leonard but be respectful of his personal affairs.

Leonard Peltier
USP Lewisburg
US Penitentiary
PO Box 1000
Lewisburg PA 17837

Paula Ostrovsky and Russell Redner contributed to this article (a million thanks...).

Marlena Gangi is a Portland, Oregon based photojournalist.
Letter 31.Aug.2005 07:57


Note card being sent today. He's been unjustly in prison the total life of my younger daughter born in '76, our nation's bicentennial year.

Lots of Respect to strong Warrior 03.Jan.2006 20:57

Jo/Flo Clawson wingsintheairflo@yahoo.com

much love and respect. your courage to keep fighting and not braking to the cruelty of the system is beyond me. Respects & Prayers from ours to yours as we all come from a special Nation of people. True Natives.

Always Respecting,
Jo/Flo Clawson