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CNN chat with author/editor Harvey Arden about the movement to free Leonard Peltier

Thanks for your patience, if you received the last issue of Flyby News more than once. I was hoping for more commentary on the failure of last Friday's test for missile defense on Sunday morning TV news. How can anything be more clear that the Star Wars deal is too complex, ineffective and expensive? Like missile defense, the case of Leonard Peltier is an abuse of Human Rights and Justice. The following is a transcript of an interview of Harvey Arden, who edited Leonard Peltier's book, PRISON WRITINGS: My Life Is My Sun Dance.

"I could wish, with a new century and a new millennium coming, that today's FBI would cleanse itself of the misdeeds of the 1970s and at least stand back and allow an innocent man to be returned to his People."
-Harvey Arden

An online CNN chat with author/editor Harvey Arden about the movement to free Leonard Peltier

(CNN) -- Harvey Arden, author of Wisdomkeepers: Meetings with Native American Spiritual Elders, Travels in a Stone Canoe: The Return to the Wisdomkeepers, and Dreamkeepers: A Spirit-Journey into Aboriginal Australia, joined for a Book Chat on Wednesday, November 3, 1999. Mr. Arden is also the editor of Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance, a book written by Leonard Peltier, and Noble Red Man: Lakota Wisdomkeeper Mathew King. The following is an edited transcript of the chat.

Chat Moderator: Welcome, Harvey Arden.

Harvey Arden: It's an honor to be here. Thank you so much.

Chat Moderator: Please tell us about Prison Writings: My Life is my Sun Dance, by Leonard Peltier.

Harvey Arden: It is a book that came about in a very unusual way in my life. I was a writer for many years at National Geographic magazine. At the end of those years, I wrote books about Native American wisdom. I wrote a book about the path of the Wisdomkeepers, the spiritual elders of Native America. I never dreamed that that path would take me into Leavenworth Prison, but so it happened. My book Noble Red Man mentions Leonard in passing. It shows how he was railroaded with the others. It tells about the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973. I sent a copy of the book Noble Red Man to Leonard via the publisher and it turned out that he was already a fan of mine from the stories I had written in National Geographic.

About 2 1/2 years ago I asked his lobbyist, Ron Lessard, in Washington, whether Leonard had ever written a book. Ron said, "No, why don't you write him a letter about it?" And I did, suggesting a book of more of a spiritual than a political nature, along the lines of Noble Red Man. Leonard agreed and for the next six months I gathered together all of his writings from his bimonthly journal, "Spirit of Crazy Horse," as well as other sources, hoping that, as an editor, I could glean from those enough of his really beautiful writing to make a book.

Alas, I only came up with about 30 to 40 pages, since most of his statements related specifically to the current legal dilemmas and hearings that his case was involved in. But I did pick out paragraphs and sentences, even adjectives that seemed worthy of being in a book. Ron brought them to Leonard, since I'm not allowed to, and he said to me, and, when I visited him the next day, Leonard told me, "One mind, Harvey, one mind."

I knew exactly what he meant because he and I had both been taught by the very same spiritual elders or Wisdomkeepers, as I called them in my first book, Wisdomkeepers.

I can honestly say that I was half hoping that he would be disappointed in what I had brought because I was getting a little spooked by the human nastiness that seemed involved in every aspect of Peltier's case. I was spooked especially by the nastiness of a government that seemed to be hiding its own misdeeds by attacking and imprisoning Peltier and his supporters, of whom I now found myself one.

Chat Moderator: Does the book describe the incident which resulted in Peltier's imprisonment?

Harvey Arden:Yes, it does. There is a whole chapter on it. And this is nothing you will hear about from the FBI…how an eagle flew above the heads of Leonard and those he was trying to save and led them away from the cordon of crazed lawmen who they were convinced were closing in to slaughter them, as Custer's cavalry slaughtered the people at Wounded Knee in 1890. That event is like yesterday to Indian people.

Comment from Aurora: Custer died in 1876.

Harvey Arden: It was Custer's cavalry that did the massacre in 1890, long after Custer's death.

Question from Suyeta: Mr. Arden, don't you think it's more than a bit odd that FBI agents, members of the official U.S. law enforcement arm, have taken out these newspaper ads opposing Peltier's release?

Harvey Arden: I don't know if it is odd. I think they have a right to state their piece. I don't, however, think they have a right to intimidate newspapers and politicians and to knowingly distort the truth, which they do their best to conceal from the American people. I could wish, with a new century and a new millennium coming, that today's FBI would cleanse itself of the misdeeds of the 1970s and at least stand back and allow an innocent man to be returned to his People.

Question from stream: Do you think that your book will force a change? And do you feel safe?

Harvey Arden: I think that I am maybe the canary down in the mine because the FBI has not intimidated me in any way. There is a time I thought they would. There may have been phone calls made here or there that were made to intimidate others but not to me personally. I think the FBI would like to cleanse itself of this matter. But it cannot "betray" its old agents who acted overzealously at the very darkest time of the cold war, when they launched illegal assaults on supposedly dissident groups like Black Power, the Vietnam movement, and the so-called Red Power movement represented by AIM, the American Indian Movement.

Question from Fred: Should we consider a "Free Leonard Peltier" march on Washington?

Harvey Arden: Certainly consider it. I have thought often about a million-man march on Washington on behalf of Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and other political prisoners. But our media, in particular the newspaper media, has been so complicit in the silence on Peltier and other political prisoners, that I think that it is impossible to stage such a march. We don't need a march. We need a prayer to President Clinton to give his heart the strength to withstand the flak from those who will undoubtedly give it and, with a stroke of his pen, to free an innocent man. And we all know he is innocent, including the FBI.

Question from Lorna: It's clear from Mr. Peltier's writings that he yearns for release from prison. Is there any word as to when the Justice Department will forward its recommendation to President Clinton regarding an adjusted sentence?

Harvey Arden: I find that the Justice Department, like the White House itself, answers only by auto responder. You may have received such an auto response from your own Congressman. Our government might think it is OK to govern by auto responder. We the people will not stand for that. The Justice Department has had nearly six years now to respond to the president with a recommendation on Leonard's petition for executive clemency. The usual time is three to nine months. So we hope that recommendation is sitting on the president's desk today and that it will be signed today, even as our people reenact the massacre of Wounded Knee outside the White House windows.

Leonard has written about how he wishes that the golden eagle on the flagstaff in the Oval Office would come to life and add its voice to the voices of millions of people who have written to President Clinton asking for, praying for, pleading for, and demanding the release of Peltier and the innocents in prison. Innocents should not be imprisoned. A prayer from every one of us will strengthen Bill Clinton. May he do it today!

Chat Moderator: Has President Clinton given any indications about whether or not he will sign it?

Harvey Arden: The only reports I have are from Tampa, Florida, in 1991 or 1992, when he said he would give the matter a "fair review." That would have been during the campaign for his first term. He knows the facts. I pray that he will not be intimidated by the sheaf of lies the FBI has once again perpetrated on the American people, as they did in 1995, with today's ad in the "Washington Post," a newspaper that has studiously avoided any mention of Leonard Peltier for five years. And it continues to deceive its readers on a daily basis by concealing major events now going on in the Indian world -- this I know for sure. And I only have to wonder what else they are concealing from us in other areas of public interest. I would like to know why the Washington Post has failed to review Leonard's book*, as has virtually every other major metro daily in this country. I really fear that there has been intimidation.

[Note from Harvey Arden: The Post finally reviewed Leonard's book Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun ance--very favorably, as a matter of fact--in a Colman McCarthy article in spring 2000...nearly a year after publication.
McCarthy called it: "Eloquent and compassionate...deserves a place alongside the best works of Vine Deloria, Jr., N. Scott Momaday...and other Indian authors." Why, then, was it not reviewed when it came out?]

I invite those who know of any such intimidation to reveal it publicly. I speak in particular to journalists, all those journalists who have NOT written all those articles about Leonard Peltier, and also their secretaries
and colleagues. Do they know what the decision-making process was in refusing to review, even if negatively, a book by the foremost political prisoner in the U.S. Gulag?

Question from Suyeta: It's my understanding that the FBI, like all law enforcement agencies, conducts internal reviews whenever their agents are involved in firefights. But, to my knowledge, there has never been such a review concerning the shooting death of Joe Killsright.

Harvey Arden: That is my understanding. There is probably some paperwork somewhere. The whole strange thing is that the FBI that day sent two unmarked cars onto a property they knew had armed men there to defend the defenseless. The FBI's excuse for those two unmarked FBI cars roaring at a high speed onto what was, in effect, foreign territory, was supposedly to search for a man whose alleged great crime was having stolen a pair of used cowboy boots. What's more, they had no warrant for such an arrest. Indian people and their supporters are convinced that this was utterly fabricated after the fact, and that the FBI's true intent on that day was to provoke a confrontation with the dozen or more people in the spiritual camp, one of whom was Leonard Peltier.

There is no aspect of this case from start to finish (and it ain't finished yet) that has not been fabricated by the FBI. Today's FBI is desperately in need of cleansing itself of this terrible chain of misdeeds and becoming once again respected by the American people whom they are sworn to defend.

Question from Cathy: Do you think that this case will further the cause of indigenous people?

Harvey Arden: This case is the cause of indigenous people. Anyone who would separate the political struggle from the spiritual struggle is not following the Indian Way.

Question from Cathy: How does Leonard feel about the tremendous amount of grass roots support he has gotten (i.e. e-mail campaigns, etc.)

Harvey Arden: He is endlessly overwhelmed by it and endlessly thankful for it. It is what has given him the strength to endure the daily torture he undergoes from a cruel and vindictive government that is hiding its own
misdeeds, not Leonard's. Leonard did NOT KILL THOSE AGENTS!

Lynn Crooks, the prosecutor, admitted in federal court that the FBI had no idea who shot its agents. The federal appeals judge in 1986 also said that the FBI was "equally responsible" for the deaths of its own agents and advised the president at that time to give clemency to Leonard Peltier. We pray that the president will heed that message 13 years later. Either allow Leonard out or give him a new trial. He would take the second option anytime.

Question from Suyeta: Harvey, how do you think the recent CNN/Time piece on Peltier went?

Harvey Arden: I think it made Leonard look very bad. The camera repeatedly focused on him chewing his lips, but never told CNN's audience that Leonard suffers from an extremely painful case of lockjaw. His upper and lower jaws are fused with only a one-eighth-inch space between his upper and lower teeth. He continually works his lips to fight the terrible feelings in his jaw. This is a condition the bureau of prisons has repeatedly refused to allow to be fixed by the Mayo clinic, which has offered to do this rare operation. So to focus on Leonard's lip movements repeatedly, which they did, is like focusing on Bob Dole's pencil in hand while he gives a speech. I wish CNN had hold that.

So much truth was left out, so many lies were left in, and the words of the FBI were never challenged. Yet Leonard was virtually cross-examined. Other pieces of tape were inserted in the discussion with him. It was a set up. He never went down to the agents. Could he see them? Not nearly as well as CNN's audience, which was treated to nearly a dozen shots close up of the agents' bodies.

If Leonard was cross-examined, why was the FBI not cross-examined? Because their lies are endless. Leonard was not lying. He saw the agents from a distance, as would anyone standing where he was because the landscape is bowl shaped and the agents were at the bottom of it.

Question from Squirrel: Looks to me like it is finished. Peltier remains in prison, regardless of how much we protest. Regardless of all the books, pow wows, letters, TV specials, whatever, the bottom-line is -- he is there, right?

Harvey Arden: He is definitely there. He can be released from there by the simple action of one man, President William Clinton. He has absolute constitutional authority to grant clemency. The FBI may state to him their opinion but they had better not intimidate him. This is his decision. And allowing Leonard to go, to be free once again, is as much in the interest of the FBI and the government as it is in the interest of the Indian people who love Peltier and share this land with us. So I believe that he will be given clemency and that every one of the protests of the last 25 years, every one of the messages sent by millions of supporters, every one of the prayers we sent winging to the White House, that every one of those was well worth doing and continues to be worth doing. And everyone here reading these words today, the moment this interview is over, should be grabbing his or her telephone and dialing the number of a friend or of the president to make your feelings
known. There are tens and scores and millions of us. We must raise our voices.

Question from Suyeta: How is it that Peltier's companions acted in self-defense, yet Peltier himself committed first degree murder?

Harvey Arden: A very good question. In fact, it has never been demonstrated that there was a murder. The entire scenario of someone coming up to the agents and finishing them off at close range is created by the FBI to present a false picture of what happened. Leonard does not know how those agents were killed, only that he could see their sprawled bodies beside the cars, as CNN's tape clearly showed, as anybody would see.

So it has never been demonstrated that there was a murder, only a killing. How could there be a murder if the two people who were accused of it were acquitted on self-defense. To defend yourself is not murder, which is all Leonard ever did. He did not kill those agents. There is not a shred of evidence to show it. The words of the FBI agent and the prosecutor on CNN's recent show were knowingly false. This same prosecutor has admitted in federal court that they do not know who killed their agents. Therefore, how can they describe in such amazing detail how this man, Leonard Peltier, walked up with a high powered rifle to these injured agents and dispatched them at close range. Where did they get these "facts?"

I can understand their anguish at the deaths of their agents. And I can tell you absolutely that their anguish is exceeded by Leonard's anguish, because he never took part in any such execution. And it is even unlikely that any execution took place at all. But whatever happened to those two agents is something neither the FBI nor Leonard Peltier knows for certain. They may both have their ideas about it but, in the words of their own prosecutor, Lynn Crooks, they don't know who killed the agents. Therefore, Leonard Peltier is not guilty of murder by any evidence now on the record.

Question from Lorna: Mr. Arden, why not a political book now?

Harvey Arden: Leonard is delighted that people like his book and his writing. It surprises him and he will now be working on a book about the very concept of imprisonment, whether it is for the guilty or for the innocents. The title will be a line taken from this present book, Even the Guilty are Human: Meditations on Imprisonment by Leonard Peltier. For more information on all this please go to

Chat Moderator: Thank you, Harvey Arden, for joining us today.

Harvey Arden:Thank you for your very perceptive questions.

# # #

[Additional Note from Harvey Arden 7/9/2000]
Also definitely check out <"" the terrific website of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC) and you can order Leonard's book & CD from them. Also subscribe to the LPDC's bimonthly Spirit of Crazy Horse newsletter to learn things about America and the world that you won't read about in the Washington Post or the New York Times!

Also--IMPORTANT!-- check out and sign petition at Clemency for Leonard Petier



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