"DAY OF SHAME"
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee Public
Statement Regarding Denial of Clemency 1/21/2001
We were both shocked and saddened by President Clinton's
decision to deny executive clemency to Leonard Peltier.
During the last few days world support for the immediate
and unconditional release of Mr. Peltier had reached remarkable
levels, with calls and letters arriving from such renowned
human rights and religious leaders as Coretta Scott King,
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Amnesty International,
Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu and the Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, amongst many others. Grassroots support from people
across the country had swamped the White House phone and
fax lines for months. Native nations and organizations made
their support known again and again in powerful messages.
Thousands of concerned citizens walked and prayed in the
streets of New York on International Human Rights Day. Yet
somehow none of this was enough.
Why? The question remains for William Clinton to
answer. The fact that so light a penalty attached to the
perjury charge in the Monica Lewinsky case raises disturbing
issues. We would like an explanation.
For many weeks now President Clinton had called for
national reconciliation and racial unity in this country.
He has called for "One America" and emphasized
the great racial disparity and discrimination so evident
in our criminal justice system. He has called again and
again for respect and equality for all races. He has stressed
the need for righting historical injustices and healing
long festering wounds inflicted upon people of color. He
has insisted that the United States take its place as a
world leader of human rights affairs. He has personally
visited Pine Ridge Reservation, the site of the tragic shoot
out at Oglala a long and bitter quarter of a century ago,
and called for greater respect and justice for our first
Yet in this last and most critical test , President
Clinton has betrayed his own goals and ideals. Again we
must ask why?
Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned for 25 years
without ever receiving the benefit of a fair trial. The
FBI forced Myrtle Poor Bear to sign a false affidavit, then
committed fraud upon the Canadian government by presenting
her statement to their courts of law. Three teenaged boys
were terrorized and coerced into giving false testimonies
to the grand jury and at his trial. A ballistics test reflecting
his innocence was concealed from the defense and the FBI
expert gave distorted testimony to the jury. No consequences
for these illegal acts have ever attached. Today even the
United States Attorneys admit that no one knows who fired
the fatal shots. Yet Leonard Peltier was denied a new trial
on a technicality, with the judge admitting that a strong
doubt was cast on the prosecution's case. Even that judge
now supports clemency . Meanwhile Mr. Peltier himself is
long overdue for parole and receives human rights awards
for the remarkable human rights work he carries out from
behind bars. He is now in failing health.
Most disturbing still is the fact that Leonard's
highly controversial conviction is deeply rooted in one
of the most grim chapters of recent American civil rights
history, specifically the Pine Ridge Reign of Terror. Between
1973 and 1976 , FBI-backed vigilantes terrorized, battered
and assaulted scores of Lakota traditionalists and AIM supporters
throughout the reservation. Houses burned and entire families
were wounded in drive by shootings. While the FBI stood
by, some 64 AIM members and supporters were murdered, their
deaths never properly investigated or vindicated. Civil
rights organizations excoriated FBI abuses again and again.
It can hardly be gainsaid that the history of our
government's dealings with the first citizens of this country
have been tragic at best, and oftentimes shameful. It is
difficult to imagine a case more crucial to national reconciliation
and healing that the case of Leonard Peltier. Yet a door,
instead of opening , has been slammed and locked. Our society
will pay the price.
Today will be remembered as but another day of U.S.
government shame and betrayal of Native people.