WASHINGTON - The Leonard Peltier Legal Defense Committee has asked the
House Committee on the Judiciary to investigate the activities of FBI
agents and informants in conjunction with activities on the Pine Ridge
Reservation in the 1970s.
A plan to hold hearings on FBI informants that may have acted outside the
scope of their authority, incited groups to violent acts and caused
divisive activity within some organizations.
While those hearings take place, the Peltier lawyers want the committee to
include an investigation of any agent provocateur that worked against the
American Indian Movement from 1968 until today, and especially during the
period known as the "reign of terror" 1973 - 1976.
Peltier is serving two consecutive life sentences for the deaths of two FBI
agents in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He continues to maintain his
innocence and claims he has been incarcerated beyond the normal probation
limits without proper hearings.
Barry Bachrach, lead attorney for the Peltier group said much of the
government's activity on Pine Ridge during that period was to be condemned,
"The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts
are not disputed. Yet, the court claimed it lacked power to address this
"We believe that a congressional inquiry on the misconduct in this case is
Numerous calls for congressional hearings from the U.S Civil Rights
Commission, Amnesty International and members of Congress have not brought
about hearings or any investigation into the activities that occurred in
the mid 1970s on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The American Indian Movement claims that 62 deaths among its members were
never properly investigated. The FBI has documented those deaths and most
are listed as accidental or otherwise explained.
Advocates for the hearing allege that misconduct within the DOJ was
widespread, especially concerning the case of Leonard Peltier. The formal
request to the committee listed false affidavits to Canadian authorities to
secure Peltier's extradition; fabrication of evidence and intimidation of
witnesses by the FBI to secure Peltier's conviction.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a written decision, acknowledged
government misconduct. "Much of the government behavior at the Pine Ridge
Reservation and in prosecuting Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The
government withheld documents, it intimidated witnesses. These facts are
undisputed ... But [this] is a question we have no authority to review,"
the court stated.
The Church Committee, headed by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho in 1975 was set
up to investigate FBI activity on surveillance found that the
counter-intelligence program of the FBI between 1956 and the 1970s intended
to disrupt and expose organizations that were considered to be enemies of
the state. COINTELPRO, the acronym for the program, was still in effect in
1973 through 1976 according to Peltier.
"Uncover the COINTELPRO tactics employed against AIM. They are not any less
egregious than the tactics used against other activists of the time - Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., for example," Bachrach said.
The request to Congress for an investigation goes beyond that for Leonard
Peltier. Many people who lived through the times on Pine Ridge continue to
claim the area was a war zone and that the FBI and other law enforcement
authorities were responsible for instigating violence.
Bachrach pointed out that many regulations were put into place to protect
Americans' against domestic spying and the program that led to civil rights
violations, but those regulations were now in existence and the "abuses
were repeating themselves."
FBI documents confirm that citizens who protest federal government policies
in lawful gatherings or by other means are subjects of FBI investigations
regardless of terror activities.
What the Peltier Defense Committee wants Congress to look at is present
activity of the FBI by researching the history of the 1970s and the actions
taken against AIM.
Testimony during the recent trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, found guilty in
the death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, brought up COINTELPRO and FBI and
former FBI agents who acted as witnesses were asked repeatedly about
informants within AIM and about COINTELPRO activity. They all said they
were aware of the program, but it was not part of their assignment on Pine
Ridge in the mid 1970s.
Beginning with the Peltier extradition proceedings in Canada, evidence of
misconduct on behalf of the government was listed as points to consider as
arguments to include FBI activities against AIM and Peltier in the
What is most important to the case is a bullet casing that was at first
connected to a rifle used by Peltier at the Oglala fire fight, but was
later proven to not have been used in that rifle. The defense team claims
this fact in itself separates any evidence that Peltier killed the two FBI
Intimidation of teenagers has also been cited as evidence of FBI
wrongdoing. Three teenagers, Bachrach asserts, were intimidated into making
false testimony against Peltier.
In spite of this information which was presented to the court of appeals,
Bachrach said, the court decided "it was better to keep Leonard Peltier in
prison than to risk exposing further FBI misconduct in the case."
Peltier accuses the FBI and a federal judge of meeting in private and
exparte without any notes or evidence of the meeting. Because of the
private meetings, alone, should be grounds to conduct an investigation,
Bachrach said. "The FBI should never be allowed to have exparte
communications with a judge trying the case. Somehow our government
permitted this to happen with impunity."
Documents submitted to Congress argue that FBI had informants within the
Wounded Knee Legal Offense Defense Committee at the time of Peltier's
capture. Peltier also argues that if the government was required to reveal
the names of the infiltrators it would be found they were also part of the
Peltier defense team and passed along first-hand information to the
Peltier also claims that over 60,000 pages of documents still have not been
released by the FBI based on Freedom of Information Act requests. The FBI
claimed before the trial in 1976 that there were only 3,600 pages. After
the trial FOIA request revealed the existence of 18,000 pages, 12,000 of
which were released.
Peltier claims documents that could prove FBI involvement in infiltration
of AIM and coercion against him have been destroyed. Some field offices
claim they can't locate documents.
The FBI did not respond to phone calls and the House Judiciary Committee
did not confirm it had received the request.