29 January 2016
40 Years Behind Bars
Free Leonard Peltier Now!
(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)
Leonard Peltier is one of the most prominent political prisoners in America. Peltier’s imprisonment for his activism in the American Indian Movement (AIM) symbolizes this country’s racist repression of indigenous people, the survivors of centuries of genocide. February 6 marks 40 years since Peltier was arrested on frame-up charges of killing two FBI agents. This began his long ordeal of incarceration. Peltier’s innocence has always demanded his freedom, but a new health crisis makes it more urgent than ever that he be released now to get quality medical attention for a life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm.
In the early 1970s, the government turned its sights on AIM, which was combating the grinding poverty of Native Americans and the continued theft of their lands. The Feds and the energy companies were intent on grabbing the rich uranium deposits under land of the Oglala Lakota people in western South Dakota. The Pine Ridge Reservation became a war zone as the hated Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the FBI trained and armed thugs to terrorize and brutalize AIM activists. Between 1973 and 1976, these killers carried out more than 300 attacks, murdering at least 69 people.
When 250 FBI and BIA agents, SWAT cops and vigilantes launched an assault against Pine Ridge in June 1975 and the FBI came up two agents short, Peltier and three others were charged with their deaths. Peltier sought refuge in Canada, but was caught and held in solitary confinement for ten months. Charges were dropped against one of the others, while AIM supporters Dino Butler and Bob Robideau were acquitted. Jurors at the trial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, stated that they did not believe the government witnesses and that it seemed “pretty much a clear-cut case of self-defense.”
The government went into overdrive to make sure Peltier would be convicted. Perjured affidavits secured his extradition to the U.S. The trial was moved to Fargo, North Dakota, a town where racism against Native Americans was prevalent, and held before an all-white jury. To preclude another acquittal on grounds of self-defense, the judge excluded evidence of government terror against Pine Ridge activists. Defense witnesses were barred from testifying, and the prosecution concealed ballistics tests showing that Peltier’s gun could not have been used in the shooting. In 1977, Peltier was found guilty and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
The intent of the racist capitalist rulers to see this innocent man die in prison has been clear from the start. Peltier’s legal rights have consistently been trampled: calls for a new trial; requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act; applications for parole; demands for medical treatment—all denied time and again. In a 1985 appeal hearing, the lead government attorney admitted: “We can’t prove who shot those agents.” A 2003 ruling from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated: “Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and in its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned.” But the appeals were denied anyway. There is no justice in the bourgeoisie’s courts for fighters against racist and capitalist injustice like Leonard Peltier.
The Feds’ vendetta against Peltier and other AIM leaders was part of the FBI’s notorious Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, disruption, frame-up and murder. Launched in the 1950s, COINTELPRO initially targeted the Communist Party and the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. It was later deployed against other left organizations, antiwar activists and especially against radical black activists in the 1960s. The Black Panther Party bore the brunt of the Feds’ attacks: members were framed up and imprisoned by the hundreds while 38 were killed in cold blood.
AIM was formed in 1968 to fight police harassment in Minneapolis and quickly caught the FBI’s eye. AIM forged ties with Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton who, along with Mark Clark, was gunned down in his apartment by the Chicago cops on 4 December 1969. That same year, AIM started its 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island to demand the return of stolen Native land.
Like Peltier, many former Panthers still languish in prison, among them Mumia Abu-Jamal and Albert Woodfox. The Partisan Defense Committee publicizes their cases and provides support to them and eleven others through our Class-War Prisoner stipend program. Funds for this program are raised during the PDC’s annual Holiday Appeal. While supporting all possible legal proceedings on behalf of the class-war prisoners, we place no faith whatever in the courts, which are part of the apparatus used by the capitalist class to maintain its rule. We look to the social power of the multiracial labor movement to lead the poor and oppressed in struggle against the capitalist exploiters and their system of private property.
The vindictiveness of the Feds toward this unbowed fighter for Native Americans, who is also a gifted writer and artist, knows no bounds. In his four decades behind bars, Peltier has been subjected to supermax hell, punitive prison moves, long stretches in solitary and brutal beatings. Denied transfer to North Dakota to be near his people, he is incarcerated nearly 2,000 miles away in Florida. Peltier has diabetes and high blood pressure, has suffered a stroke and a heart attack, and he is partially blind in one eye. Twenty years ago he underwent surgery in prison to fix a defect in his jaw that had prevented him from eating solid food. The operation was so botched that he almost died and needed six blood transfusions. To avert public awareness of Peltier and the injustice inflicted on him, an association of former FBI agents forced the removal of four of his paintings from a Native art installation in Washington State last November.
In a November 26 statement to his supporters, Peltier spoke of the pain and neglect he was suffering even before his latest diagnosis:
“I wish I could lie to you and tell you I’m doing O.K., but that would not be fair to you.... I cannot walk but very slowly and while hanging on to someone for support. But after a few steps I’m O.K. So I move right along with the crowd. But those first few steps are awfully painful. I asked for a cushion, but was told they don’t have any here—and to make one myself from a blanket. Well, news flash. I did this and every time I did they took it away. Yep, for some reason this is illegal. Then I have to deal with the other medical problems. So, yeah, this is my Sundance.”
The PDC has written to President Obama to demand Peltier’s urgent release. Peltier’s defense committee urges supporters to mention Leonard’s current health crisis when calling the White House to voice support for clemency now, and to also demand that he receive the best possible care by contacting: Federal Bureau of Prisons, 320 First St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20534, (202) 307-3198, firstname.lastname@example.org. We urge our readers to do likewise. You can also write to Leonard Peltier, #89637-132, USP Coleman I, P.O. Box 1033, Coleman, FL 33521.
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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1082, 29 January 2016)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.