LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - Lakota-Ojibwe activist Leonard Peltier was once again denied parole at an interim hearing.
In spite of statements of support from Amnesty International, the National Council of Churches, the National Congress of American Indians and the Assembly of First Nations, as well as his family, parole was denied June 12.
Peltier, 55, has served 24 years of two life sentences on conviction of killing two FBI agents in 1975 during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
"There is a simple and sad lesson in what happened today, it is clear and unequivocal as a lightening blast, the United States is still at war with the American Indian, as tragic as it is," said former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said in reaction to the latest denial. An attorney for Peltier, Clark spoke at a press conference organized by the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee headquartered in Lawrence, Kan.
"The government of the United States is particularly at war with Leonard Peltier' because of his spiritual power; one of the finest artists and authors of our time," Clark said. "It is the honorable thing to do for the United States government, not just release Leonard Peltier, but to thank him for his great contributions even while in prison, for the welfare for not only our people but for people everywhere."
Peltier was originally denied parole in 1994. At that time the Parole Commission set a second, full hearing in 2008, but must hold an interim hearing every two years to determine if any mistakes were made.
Jean Ann Day of the Defense Committee and Peltier spokeswoman, told reporters, "We need to start coming together and freeing Leonard, so you can really and truly free the United States for what they have done." She added that earlier that day was the first time that she had seen Peltier, face to face, in 21 years.
Audrey Mayes, representing the Assembly of First Nations-Canada, offered to provide Peltier with a home after he is paroled.
"One of the things I have presented today to the parole examiner today was an offer of residency ... they would offer Leonard upon his release a position of cultural resource advisory. We would also offer him a home. It would be quite an honor to welcome Leonard Peltier back to Canada."
Speaking for the FBI, which has opposed any release or presidential pardon, media representative Dave Miller, Washington, D.C., said, "The FBI has consistently served Indian country with the full capacity of law enforcement services, including joint task forces and training Native American police officers. When the facts of the incident are reviewed with impartiality, the events speak for themselves concerning the punishment fitting the original crime."
A table stacked with binders, filled with letters from individuals pleading for Peltier's release, were shown to reporters. Ernie Stevens Jr. from the National Congress of American Indians and moderator at the press conference, said more than 250 tribes signed petitions for Peltier's release.
"Mr. Peltier has devoted his life to justice for Native Americans," the Rev. Michael Yasutake told reporters. "The release of Mr. Peltier would show our society's willingness to do what is right to begin to correct some of the injustices done to the Native American people."
Parole Commission Public Affairs Officer Benjamin Kirby explained the parole process for Indian Country Today in a telephone interview. At each hearing, prisoners basically tell the parole examiner what they have been doing in the interim, between hearings, he said. Examiners look for signs that the prisoner is "rehabilitated," not drinking, using drugs, behavior changes and so on. After the examiner makes a determination, the report goes to the Parole Commission and a report is issued.
Kirby said he believed a report would be out regarding Peltier's hearing within two months. A heavy caseload is the reason for any delay in getting the report out, he said.
During the press conference, several Peltier supporters and his attorneys had charged he received inadequate medical treatment while in the federal prison. Supporters stated they feared Peltier would not receive adequate medical care to treat his diabetes and other problems that have affected his health in recent years.
Claude Chester, an information officer for the penitentiary countered the charges. "Offenders in here are afforded the opportunity to visit with medical staff and receive care and treatment that would be consistent with care and treatment that would be found in the community." Chester said he couldn't specifically address Peltier's case because of the right to privacy. He did say,"... the bureau does not single out or subject any individuals for abuse. It has zero tolerance for that."
Peltier supporters claim he was wrongly accused and is a political prisoner of the United States. The FBI contends Peltier is not only a convicted murderer, but lived a life of violence and continued that violence even after his murder conviction.
"The appeals have been exhausted in the case concerning the evidence in the case," Agent Miller said. "The Supreme Court has looked at it not once, but twice for points of law to observe if things were done correctly and they have upheld the conviction.
"Sometimes people forget that when Mr. Peltier escaped from Lompoc (federal prison in California), another Native American individual died during that escape; a rancher was robbed at gunpoint, his truck was stolen. Mr. Peltier was finally on foot and arrested by one FBI agent and two sheriff's deputies in the hills above Santa Maria, Calif., and then tried and convicted of prison escape as well.
"I point that out to show that beside the execution-style slayings, where individuals were on their knees and, as it were, holding up their hands in begging fashion to not be killed, he leads a life of violence after that set of circumstances causing the deaths of others - violent behavior in that regard."
Miller said Peltier had threatened to murder a police officer in Milwaukee and in Oregon.
This portrayal is completely different from the one advanced by the defense committee at the press conference which compared him to Geronimo and Crazy Horse and considers him a leader of the Indian people.
After 25 years, neither side appears to agree on anything other than the fact FBI Agents Ronald A. Williams and Jack R. Coler were shot and killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Both the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee and the FBI have web pages, which give details of the events that happened on June 26, 1975. Information about the Leonard Peltier case can be found at ww.fbi.gov/contact/fo/minn/Peltier and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee