For 33 years Leonard Peltier, a native American human rights activist with the AIM (American Indian Movement), an artist and writer, has been in prison for having the cheek to stand up for his people’s rights and dignity.
It is by now common knowledge that his prison sentence of two consecutive life terms is politically motivated and, as Leonard writes in his article on CounterPunch.org, Dakota politicians have made it a perverted tradition to climb up the career ladder by trampling on the native peoples – whether they are supposed to represent them or not.
But to add insult to travesty, as his latest appeal was denied in August of this year, Leonard is watching would-be presidential assassins walk free according to the 30-year parole law while his case seems beyond any critical discussion. And worst of it all, Leonard Peltier’s parole is not granted because he refuses to accept the sentence he was given. In other words, if he pleaded guilty, he might get a parole of grace by now. But since he doesn’t, he’s considered a stubborn and obviously dangerous element who questions the justice system and political order as a whole… How dare he be innocent! You figure out the logic behind that one.
After releasing an original and continuing disciple of death cult leader Charles Manson who attempted to shoot President Gerald Ford, an admitted Croatian terrorist, and another attempted assassin of President Ford under the mandatory 30-year parole law, the U.S. Parole Commission deemed that my release would “promote disrespect for the law.”
If only the federal government would have respected its own laws, not to mention the treaties that are, under the U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of the land, I would never have been convicted nor forced to spend more than half my life in captivity. Not to mention the fact that every law in this country was created without the consent of Native peoples and is applied unequally at our expense. If nothing else, my experience should raise serious questions about the FBI’s supposed jurisdiction in Indian Country.
Given the complexion of the three recent federal parolees, it might seem that my greatest crime was being Indian. But the truth is that my gravest offense is my innocence. In Iran, political prisoners are occasionally released if they confess to the ridiculous charges on which they are dragged into court, in order to discredit and intimidate them and other like-minded citizens. The FBI and its mouthpieces have suggested the same, as did the parole commission in 1993, when it ruled that my refusal to confess was grounds for denial of parole.
To claim innocence is to suggest that the government is wrong, if not guilty itself. The American judicial system is set up so that the defendant is not punished for the crime itself, but for refusing to accept whatever plea arrangement is offered and for daring to compel the judicial system to grant the accused the right to rebut the charges leveled by the state in an actual trial. Such insolence is punished invariably with prosecution requests for the steepest possible sentence, if not an upward departure from sentencing guidelines that are being gradually discarded, along with the possibility of parole.
Byron Dorgan, who is now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, used much the same reasoning in writing that “our legal system has found Leonard Peltier guilty of the crime for which he was charged. I have reviewed the material from the trial, and I believe the verdict was fair and just.
It is a bizarre and incomprehensible statement to Natives, as well it should be, that innocence and guilt is a mere legal status, not necessarily rooted in material fact. It is a truism that all political prisoners were convicted of the crimes for which they were charged.
The truth is the government wants me to falsely confess in order to validate a rather sloppy frame-up operation, one whose exposure would open the door to an investigation of the United States’ role in training and equipping goon squads to suppress a grassroots movement on Pine Ridge against a puppet dictatorship.