Friday, April 25, 2008

Could Peltier Be Freed in December?

Could Peltier Be Freed in December?
Kevin Abourezk

To this day, when I think of a good place, I think of that muddy creek meandering through cottonwoods and scrub grass.

In the summers, when the blistering sun dried to a crisp brown the grass on the slope leading to the creek, my cousins and I would race each other down to the creek. There, we'd take off our shoes and jump into the brown water. We'd swim for a while and then get bored and throw mud at each other.

We never knew the history of that place on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Not really. We knew shots had been fired there once. That two men, white men, government men, had died in the shootout. We could see the bullet holes in the white stucco of a house left standing on the land.

It wasn't until many years later, as a college student, that I learned the bloody history of the Jumping Bull ranch, the haven of my childhood.

I had heard Leonard Peltier's name as a child. He was a warrior. A man who had sacrificed himself for the people. Who sat in a jail cell for a crime he did not commit.

In college, I learned others knew his name as well. Archbishop Desmond Tutu knew him and believed he should be freed. Amnesty International called him a political prisoner.

To John Trudell, the explanation for Peltier's imprisonment is simple.

"The government could never allow the truth to come out," the former American Indian Movement chairman said recently in an interview. "Peltier's imprisonment ... is about the government using the conviction of Peltier as a cover-up."

Trudell believes the FBI inserted an operative into AIM's ranks and that the operative was responsible for starting the June 26, 1975, shootout on the Jumping Bull ranch near Oglala, S.D., that led to the deaths of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ron Williams, and AIM member Joe Stuntz.

The FBI deliberately attacked the AIM camp at the ranch, expecting reinforcements from a nearbly BIA swat team, Trudell said.

"But the BIA swat team didn't come," he said. "So the plan went wrong. That's why I think they lean this heavy on Leonard because they don't ever want to explain what happened there."

Of course, others take a different view of that tragic day's events.

FBI has long maintained Coler and Williams were chasing a dangerous robber named Jimmy Eagle onto the ranch when they came under fire from Peltier and other AIM members. The department believes its two agents were killed execution-style by an assault rifle-wielding Peltier.

What's certain is this — three men died at the Jumping Bull ranch that day.
And a fourth, a 63-year-old Anishinabe-Lakota man has spent the past 32 years and 86 days behind bars.

But in just a few months, Peltier will get a rare opportunity for freedom.
For the first time in 15 years, Peltier will get a full hearing before the
U.S. Parole Commission in December. However, Friends of Peltier believes his hearing is more likely to occur in early 2009 because of the commission's schedule for parole reviews that it plans to hold at the United States Pentitentiary in Lewisburg, Penn., where Peltier is currently imprisoned.

The hearing will lead to a full reassessment of Peltier's case, according to Friends of Peltier.

Of course, other avenues of release exist for Peltier, including a possible presidential pardon by exiting President George W. Bush at the end of the year.
What does Trudell think of the chances of Bush freeing Peltier?

"Every step of the way, they broke their own laws so I don't see them letting him out as an act of goodness because they've shown no acts of goodness the whole time through."

Regardless of whether Peltier is freed, there's one thing I know for certain: My memories of the place where his road to imprisonment began will never be the same.

I can never return to that meandering creek where I spent sweltering summers playing in the muddy water, blissfully ignorant of history, without thinking of the four men who lost their lives and freedom that terrible day.

Kevin Abourezk, Oglala Lakota, is a reporter and editor at the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star. He is a reznet assignment editor and teaches reporting at the Freedom Forum's American Indian Journalism Institute.

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[Blog Editor's Note: Leonard Peltier's first full parole hearing was held in 1993, at which time his case was continued for a 15-year reconsideration. He'll be eligible for another full parole hearing in December 2008. An application for parole will be filed at Mr. Peltier's discretion. The earliest that hearing is likely to occur is in January 2009 (according to the Parole Commission's schedule for in-person parole reviews to be held at USP-Lewisburg, where Peltier is currently imprisoned). Naturally, if Leonard Peltier were to be transferred to a different facility or if the Parole Commission were to add Lewisburg to its list of facilities where hearings are conducted by video-conference, the date of his parole hearing would likely change.

Scheduling of Leonard Peltier's parole hearing also may be disrupted by the 2008 presidential election (as the first available date for a parole hearing technically follows the inauguration). The post of parole commissioner is a political appointment made by the President of the United States. However, unlike cabinet posts, only vacancies tend to be addressed and commissioners may serve up to 12 years. All of the current five commissioners were appointed between 2001 and 2004. Such appointments do not affect the staff of about 100 persons at the U.S. Parole Commission, however, including the parole examiners. The Commission also may be affected by congressional efforts to reinstate federal parole and other measures. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, these factors will have on Leonard Peltier's parole hearing. When the hearing does occur, however, a full reassessment of the case will be conducted.]

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