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Leonard Peltier Defense Committee's Statement: "DAY OF SHAME"



We were both shocked and saddened by President Clinton's decision to deny executive clemency to Leonard Peltier. During the last few days world support for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Peltier had reached remarkable levels, with calls and letters arriving from such renowned human rights and religious leaders as Coretta Scott King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Amnesty International, Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, amongst many others. Grassroots support from people across the country had swamped the White House phone and fax lines for months. Native nations and organizations made their support known again and again in powerful messages. Thousands of concerned citizens walked and prayed in the streets of New York on International Human Rights Day. Yet somehow none of this was enough.

Why? The question remains for William Clinton to answer. The fact that so light a penalty attached to the perjury charge in the Monica Lewinsky case raises disturbing issues. We would like an explanation.

For many weeks now President Clinton had called for national reconciliation and racial unity in this country. He has called for "One America" and emphasized the great racial disparity and discrimination so evident in our criminal justice system. He has called again and again for respect and equality for all races. He has stressed the need for righting historical injustices and healing long festering wounds inflicted upon people of color. He has insisted that the United States take its place as a world leader of human rights affairs. He has personally visited Pine Ridge Reservation, the site of the tragic shoot out at Oglala a long and bitter quarter of a century ago, and called for greater respect and justice for our first citizens.

Yet in this last and most critical test, President Clinton has betrayed his own goals and ideals. Again we must ask why?

Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned for 25 years without ever receiving the benefit of a fair trial. The FBI forced Myrtle Poor Bear to sign a false affidavit, then committed fraud upon the Canadian government by presenting her statement to their courts of law. Three teenaged boys were terrorized and coerced into giving false testimonies to the grand jury and at his trial. A ballistics test reflecting his innocence was concealed from the defense and the FBI expert gave distorted testimony to the jury. No consequences for these illegal acts have ever attached. Today even the United States Attorneys admit that no one knows who fired the fatal shots. Yet Leonard Peltier was denied a new trial on a technicality, with the judge admitting that a strong doubt was cast on the prosecution's case. Even that judge now supports clemency. Meanwhile Mr. Peltier himself is long overdue for parole and receives human rights awards for the remarkable human rights work he carries out from behind bars. He is now in failing health.

Most disturbing still is the fact that Leonard's highly controversial conviction is deeply rooted in one of the most grim chapters of recent American civil rights history, specifically the Pine Ridge Reign of Terror. Between 1973 and 1976, FBI backed vigilantes terrorized, battered and assaulted scores of Lakota Traditionalists and AIM supporters throughout the reservation. Houses burned and entire families were wounded in drive by shootings. While the FBI stood by, some 64 AIM members and supporters were murdered, their deaths never properly investigated or vindicated. Civil rights organizations excoriated FBI abuses again and again.

It can hardly be gainsaid that the history of our government's dealings with the first citizens of this country have been tragic at best, and oftentimes shameful. It is difficult to imagine a case more crucial to national reconciliation and healing that the case of Leonard Peltier. Yet a door, instead of opening, has been slammed and locked. Our society will pay the price.

Today will be remembered as but another day of U.S. government shame and betrayal of Native people.

Leonard Peltier Defense Committee
P.O. Box 583
Lawrence, KS 66044


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