Our View-Obama should ‘AIM’ at pardoning Peltier
November 21, 2009
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Most American Indian nations detest the distorted history of the first “American Thanksgiving” between indigenous peoples and the pilgrims.
Traditionally, we write an article debunking myths about the “first” Thanksgiving in order to provide alternate perspectives on one of America’s biggest ongoing lies; the tender story about turkey, cranberry sauce and the kumbaya moment we teach kindergarteners about.
There are many documented historical accounts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and broken treaties we could focus on, but because this is the first year President Barack Obama will pardon a turkey, we hope to beckon him to a higher sense of consciousness.
We’d like the former attorney and human rights activist to consider healing a wound in jurisprudence by granting clemency, or at least a new trial, for a fellow human being.
This Thanksgiving, we’re directing focus to one particular American injustice — the continuing political imprisonment of Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement. United States prisoner No. 89637-132, now 65, was convicted and sentenced to double life in federal prison in 1977 for the 1975 killings of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The two special agents, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams, were attempting to find Pine Ridge member Jimmy Eagle for suspicion of stealing a pair of cowboy boots. They chased what they believed to be Eagle’s red pickup truck onto the Jumping Bull Ranch on the reservation.
The agents, armed only with .38 caliber pistols and shotguns, radioed they were under high-powered rifle fire. Both agents were killed.
Peltier was detained by Canadian police a year later and, when the U.S. Justice Department presented an affidavit from Myrtle Poor Bear, a woman with known psychological problems, he was extradited. Poor Bear later admitted FBI agents coerced her into signing the affidavit.
Some of the improprieties in the FBI investigation should be pointed out because they were the nexus of evidence used to convict Peltier.
The agents had radioed they were chasing a red pickup truck. For weeks, FBI agents hassled every red pickup truck they spotted on the reservation. At Peltier’s trial, the FBI claimed it was actually looking for a red and white van, one similar to what Peltier was often seen driving.
Three witnesses who testified that they saw Peltier near the crime scene recanted, also claiming the FBI had threatened them into taking the stand. During Peltier’s trial, an FBI ballistics expert swore a shell casing from near one of the dead agents matched that of a rifle supposedly tied to Peltier.
The expert swore a forensics test matched the casing to the rifle’s firing pin, but it was later discovered the gun had been too damaged to test ballistics. Years later, the expert’s records were examined and his report stated that the firing pin did not match the gun presumed to be Peltier’s, but that report was withheld during an appeals hearing.
Following another failed appeals hearing, the prosecutor said, “We do not know who shot the agents.”
More suspicious is the appearance and re-appearance of Coler’s handgun at two different locations on two consecutive days.
On Sept. 9, 1975, a recreational vehicle Peltier was identified as driving blew up during a shootout in Oregon. Coler’s handgun was found in a bag under the front seat.
On Sept. 10, 1975, a station wagon blew up near Wichita, Kan. Numerous weapons were discovered in the car — including Coler’s handgun. This is one magic pistol.
The only thing clear in how the case was handled is it was botched. The FBI and federal prosecutors were on a mission to round up the usual suspects and convict somebody — preferably an AIM member.
Peltier was denied parole last month and won’t have another parole hearing until 2024 when he’s 79. Hopefully, Obama will treat Peltier and the White House turkey equally and let them go.