Presentation by Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General, regarding Leonard Peltier made on June 20, 1997 at the Native American Journalists Association's Annual Conference
I want to tell you why the freedom of Leonard Peltier is so important. There are well over 200 million indigenous people on the planet. I personally feel that there are over 300 million, but counters would say maybe 250 million.
They live on six continents and on countless numbers of islands. And everywhere they are the most endangered of human species. Yet the survival of humanity depends upon their salvation.
They were the people who were there first. The others always came in greater numbers and technology. Usually forced out by war, or lack of adequate food, whatever, from cultures that had sophisticated means of domination, the indigenous people everywhere are a spiritual people. I would think because they are close to nature. It's inherent really. Where are they, but on the land - Not like folks like me that started out on the land in Texas and now live on the pavement in New York City.
What would we think of the species if it permitted the continuation of the onslaught against indigenous peoples? Yet, where do you see resistance? Where do you see understanding and committment - to more than their survival, to their prevailing?
In Guatemala, still 70% of the population is indigenous. Their renaissance in their culture is stunning to see. But the repression of the people, the systemic triage, literally the elimination of a third, by violence - physical and psychological, hunger and all the rest, is stunning.
In Peru, the poverty of the indigenous people is unbearable. In many places, they are just barely hanging on.
If in these United States, our Indian people cannot through vision and courage and unity and compassion prevail, what hope any place on earth is there for indigenous people?
This is it, for better or worse. Because whether it's evil or good, this is the empire. Our duty, all of us, is to see that it is just and good and it is imperative that we recognize the enormity of the crimes that those who came from Europe have committed against those who Will Rogers said were "at the dock to meet the Mayflower."
And if we fail, who would want to be a part of what's left? Because it would be a genocidal society that had succeeded in its genocide, in the extermination of not just a peoples, but of right and decency and justice.
Leonard Peltier is the symbol of the struggle. Outside of this country, he is outside of movie stars and maybe a few athletes, like Mohammed Ali, one of the best known Americans. And they see in him the struggle of our indigenous people, for their dignity, for their sovereignty, for their future. And they wonder how it is that he's been held so long?
I think I can explain beyond serious doubt, that Leonard Peltier has committed no crime whatsoever. But that if he had been guilty of firing a gun that killed a FBI Agent, it was in defense of not just his people but the integrity of humanity, from domination and exploitation.
You have to remember no witness really said they saw Leonard take aim at anybody. No witness said they heard him shoot at the time he could have killed an agent. There was no evidence that he did it, except fabricated, circumstantial evidence, overwhelmingly misused, concealed and perverted.
Among the things withheld in the trial were the staggering violence on Pine Ridge, that it existed certainty before Wounded Knee #2 in 1973. It had accelerated enormously.
At the time of Wounded Knee in 1973, there were only a few FBI agents in the whole state of South Dakota, and frequently just one. But by 1975, there were 60. In proportion to the population, that was staggeringly high. And more than 40 Indian peoples on that reservation had died violent deaths, overwhelmingly from activity provoked by the federal government. And there is little doubt about it.
An organization that proudly called itself the GOONS, Guardians of the Oglala Nation, we now know were provided with weapons, training and motivation - to create violence.
In March of 1975, seven people were killed by violence. And that's why the traditional people, the elders, asked AIM (the American Indian Movement) to send some people to help protect them. And I say, thank God.
That there was some young Indians that said 'I'll go.' 'I'm not going to see our people be eliminated by violence.' Fewer than 17 came, 6 men, and they came to protect tribal people, traditional Indians from violence by our government.
These things are all interrelated. We should never forget Martin Luther King's heartbreaking words in 1967, when he came out against the war in Vietnam and he said, "The greatest purveyor of violence on earth is my own government."
What an awful thing to have to say. But there is no question that our own government was generating violence constantly on the Pine Ridge reservation as a means of control and domination. We now know, from December of 1995 (released documents), that FBI had people in place at least 20 minutes before the two cars that drove down into the Jumping Bull compound arrived. They were preparing for a major act.
They had a judge who excluded background evidence. The greatest exclusion was all of this violence. 'Why were these men there? Why was Leonard Peltier there?' He was there to protect people who were being killed If that's a crime, where are we?
It's amazing to me still, how they talk about Myrtle Poor Bear, and blame her for not telling the truth. Because after it was all over, some agent came before the press and said 'there's not a scintilla of evidence,' his word - scintilla, not a spark of evidence 'that Myrtle Poor Bear was a witness to anything.'
She wasn't there, that's what he said. Now do you think she just came forward and volunteered three affidavits? Not on your life.
What did that poor woman go through? What type of abuse?
You can see that's the same sort of manipulation of a whole reservation sometimes, can't you? Of a whole population. But here they've got their hands on her head.
I have a retarded daughter. I love retarded people. Poor Bear was easy to manipulate. She was not a coherent person. Her first affidavit said she didn't see anything. And then two more, and what did they do when they got them, whamee, off to Canada' as fast as they could go.
What a shameful act! What a criminal act!
Think of how they treated her. Where is there any respect for humanity among people who would treat a human being that way? And take advantage that way, for an end, to get Leonard Peltier and bring him back here.
The other concealments that they went through are unbelievable. The FBI laboratory, is the subject of a whole series of reports that condemn it for fabricating evidence, for falsifying evidence, for incompetence in evaluation of evidence. Yet the extenuated nature of the only evidence against Leonard Peltier is so absurd that if it were a good laboratory, it wouldn't be worth anything.
They covered up lab reports that said they could not connect the one bullet - it wasn't the bullet but the casing - an expended casing - they could not connect it with what I was called the "Wichita AR-15." It's an adaptation of the standard Army M-16 rifle. They said they could not match it with the Wichita gun or rifle, which was the gun they were trying to place in Leonard Peltier's hands, except it was found in the van that blew up just outside of Wichita, as it was driving down there
And Leonard Peltier wasn't within 1,500 miles of it. So how does that get to be his rifle in the first place? Well, they had a plan for that. The FBI said there was only one AR-15 rifle on the reservation. But that was absolutely false. And the courts have now declared, without question, that there were multiple numbers of AR-15s there, and M-16s as well, which fire the same 223 cartridge, which is a high velocity cartridge that killed these FBI agents.
They reenacted a scene for which they had no evidence whatsoever, in which Lynn Crooks, the main prosecutor who is still with the case, stood up in front of the jury and said one agent was suffering from having been hit at a distance and he put his hand in front of his head and pleaded not to be shot and was shot through the hand and killed by Leonard Peltier who then whirled and shot the other agent and killed him, both at point lank range.
The only problem was there was absolutely no evidence of that, no witness testified to anything like that.
And you know what he said, across the river here in St. Paul, on Nov. 12, 1993, from the man who was on the case as a prosecutor from the beginning, and is still on it, "We do not know who shot the two agents." That's a quote.. "We do not know who shot the two agents." Leonard Peltier is in prison, and has been there 22 years. He's there, convicted on two counts of murder, and he's serving two life sentences
And the government has said, "We do not know who did it," and he went beyond that and said, "We did not prove who did it." And he went beyond that and said, "All we proved was that he participated."
Well, Leonard was on the compound, there is no doubt about that. And he was down at Tent City when the shooting started. And he pulled on his boots and grabbed a rifle and ran up there as fast as he could. He went straight to Harry Jumping Bulls house. Because those are the people he's trying to protect.. They weren't there He could hear children in another house and he ran over there, people shooting at him the whole way.
When he got there he realized, he was drawing fire. The best thing he could do to protect the kids was 'how's he going to get them out of there,' you can't even tell where all the shooting's coming from. So he took a chance on getting out by himself again, telling the kids to get under the bed and stay there, because he wasn't going to draw fire to that house. They were shooting at the house, once they saw him run in there. You know you could go on like that for a long time, with all of the evidence that wasn't there.
They have nothing except hatred and the desire to maintain the domination of the federal government that's existed over the Indian people for these too many dishonorable centuries now. To hold Leonard Peltier.
And the government itself, let me say one thing about their statement that they do not know who killed the agents. It's not a mistake. And it's not a confession. It was a necessity. Because in that appellate argument, if they had maintained that they had proven who the assassin of those two FBI agents was, there would have to be a reversal because there was no evidence of it.
So they had to maintain the argument that he was convicted for aiding and abetting. Which means he was aiding them, like 'can I hold your coat,' or 'your shoes are dusty. Let me brush them off.'
It was a legal necessity, but you can't have it both ways. And the fact is, they didn't have to tell us they didn't know who shot the agents. The whole record shows they don't know who shot the agents. And they don't want anybody else to know. Because they want the world to believe that Leonard Peltier is guilty. Because they have staked their reputation on it.
If we can't rise up and free him, what are we worth and what is the future of the country?
The Indians of Mexico are incredible, like the Zapotec's, with their art. Leonard is a wonderful artist. He is a great human spirit. When I look at his paintings of 'Big Mountain Lady' as he calls her, you can see the nobility of his soul. Here is this elder woman, tears streaming down her face, as the US is opening the spiritual land of Big Mountain to mining. Come in there and rape the land, you know, for gravel, or whatever it is you want. Don't worry about nature or nature's people.
Leonard's paintings are on four continents to my knowledge. I bet they're on six, but I'm not sure. It's takes time to catch up with people trading them.
It's part of his power. He is able to communicate through his art, his painting - the truth and life and the spirituality of the Indian people. And he is in prison.
And sadly, I have to comment as his lawyer, that his health is not good. He needs surgery and he doesn't want it, because when he first when in for this same surgery, he nearly died. He had to have six transfusions. Unbelievable. Other problems, he's been in much too long. It's not that he ought to be out now' he should never have been in in the first place. Never.
And every day is a new crime, every dawn is a new crime, every dusk is a new crime against the dignity of the Indian peoples. Because while Leonard Peltier is in prison, we all are.
The President of the United States can commute that sentence in the name of justice any moment he wants to. He has the power, complete and absolute, under the Constitution.
Leonard really wants the commutation, because that conviction is just a trial, an acquittal is just a trial. Release from a pardon board after a conviction is just what some bureaucrats decide to do with your life. But a commutation is a statement from the Head of State, that this person should be free.
It's a political statement from the highest office of our government that this person should be free, and we have to demand that it happens and we have to demand that it happens this year. It can happen this year, if we organize and work. It will happen this year. It's imperative that we do it.
And while we don't, we ought to remember back to Veneto Juarez,, a full-blooded Zapotec Indian, who twice became the president of Mexico, and whose words are inscribed just outside the general assembly of the United Nations chamber's auditorium, inside the UN building. Juarez found the wisdom and understanding in a few words the story of violence in our history. He said, "A respect for the rights of others is peace."
It's true. Until Leonard Peltier's rights are respected, there can be no peace in our hearts and our minds, or if we have courage, in our bodies.
For the good of indigenous people everywhere, and all those who depend on them, which is everybody else, it is imperative that we, you and I, secure the freedom of Leonard Peltier. Thank you.