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On Friday, October 8, 11 members of Congress sent a letter to President Biden, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland, Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal, and Southeast Regional Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons J.A. Keller requesting the expedited release of and clemency for Leonard Peltier. 

Leonard Peltier, a tribal citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, was arrested and convicted for the murders of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and has served more than 43 years in federal prison. He suffers from diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He is 77 years old today. 

“Biden has an obligation to release Peltier based on the treatment of our people,” said International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee Board Member Jean Roach to Native News Online. “If we want to make reconciliations with Native people, release Peltier. There is no justice for Native people if there’s no justice for Peltier.” 

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Fearing oppressive government retaliation, Peltier fled to Canada. While in Canada, two others, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau, were charged with the murders of the FBI agents and tried separately. Their case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence. Peltier was eventually apprehended and extradited from Canada based on an affidavit that cited Peltier admitted he shot and killed the two FBI agents. The witness who made the statement to secure Peltier’s extradition later admitted she was coerced by the FBI. 

Peltier’s trial was also riddled with evidentiary concerns. The witness who gave the statement to the FBI citing Peltier admitted to her he shot and killed the agents and later admitted she was coerced and was not permitted to be called as a defense witness. The defense later discovered that the government withheld evidence, including ballistics evidence, and argued that if made aware of the additional evidence the outcome may have been different. 

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark maintianed Peltier was not given a fair trial by the U.S. government.

“I think I can explain beyond serious doubt that Leonard Peltier has committed no crime whatsoever. But if he had been guilty of firing a gun that killed an FBI Agent, it was in defense of not just his people but the integrity of humanity from domination and exploitation,” U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said.

Friday’s letter was signed by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL), Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM).

“Given the combination of this overwhelming support, the constitutional issues underlying Mr. Peltier’s prosecution, and his status as an elderly inmate with severe underlying health conditions, we believe it is highly appropriate that BOP prioritizes the expedited release of Mr. Peltier. We therefore request that Mr. Leonard Peltier receive an expedited release and be granted clemency.”

Individuals and groups who have also called for Mr. Peltier’s release include Amnesty International, the National Congress of American Indians, the late Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rigoberta Menchú, and seven other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Former U.S. Attorney James H. Reynolds, who oversaw Mr. Peltier’s original conviction, has written to President Biden requesting clemency for Mr. Peltier. Last year, Chair Grijalva co-led a similar clemency request letter with then-Representative Deb Haaland, now Secretary of the Interior.

He’s the longest serving political prisoner in the United States.

“He has serious medical conditions,” said Roach. “He’s been in there long enough and it’s time for him to come home.”

“As a survivor of the 1975 Oglala firefight and member of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, I urge everyone, every tribe, to pass resolutions supporting his freedom,” said Roach.
Read the letter in full here.

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About The Author
Author: Darren Thompson
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a freelance journalist and based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he also contributes to Unicorn Riot, an alternative media publication. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.