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CLEMENCY AT HAND?
By PETER WORTHINGTON, TORONTO SUN, 15 November
Czech translation of the article
On election day,
Nov. 7, U.S. President Bill Clinton pledged to
personally review the case of Leonard Peltier for possible executive clemency
"in the last 10 weeks of office after the election."
He made the promise to Amy Goodman on the radio show, Democracy Now, which is
syndicated to stations across America.
It is the most encouraging signal yet that Peltier might get executive clemency
after being found guilty in the deaths of two FBI agents in 1975, during a
violent range war on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reserve, near Wounded Knee. While
urging support for Al Gore, Clinton told Goodman he didn't have a position on
clemency for Peltier "that I can announce yet," but did say he'll
review the case "and will try to do what I think the right thing to do
He said the case was important to a lot of people "and I owe it to them to
give it an honest look-see." He said he'd also review what those who oppose
clemency have to say, and "decide one way or the other" before the
Interpret that as you will, but the fact that Clinton is commenting at all gives
optimism to Peltier supporters -- and makes the FBI nervous.
Prior to the election there was growing euphoria among Leonard Peltier Defence
Committees (LPDC) around the world that "something big, something
good" is likely to happen in the hiatus between the election of a new
president and his inauguration in January.
A couple of weeks before the U.S. vote, there was no significant development:
Myrtle Poor Bear, the Indian woman whose sworn affidavits got Peltier extradited
from Canada to stand trial in the U.S., came to Toronto and not only recanted
her affidavits before a Canadian judge, but swore that the FBI held her
incommunicado for nine months after the deaths of the FBI agents.
She testified agents threatened and intimidated her into signing (but not
reading) three different and often contradictory affidavits that she was
Peltier's girlfriend and that she'd witnessed him kill agents Ron Williams and
Jack Coler on June 25, 1975 at Wounded Knee.
It turns out she'd never been to that area in her life, was at home 75 km away
washing clothes at the time (her sister Elaine's sworn testimony) and that she
wasn't Peltier's girlfriend and had never laid eyes on him in her life.
She swore the FBI agents wrote the affidavits, wouldn't let her read them, and
said she'd be killed unless she signed.
She had recanted the affidavits during Peltier's trial, but the judge wouldn't
let the jury hear her evidence. In fact, no jury has ever heard her testimony.
She's never spoken for the record until now.
At age 22, Poor Bear had mental and drinking problems, and was used by the FBI
only to get Peltier extradited from Canada. Then she was dumped. Earlier this
year, Justice Minister Anne McClellan insisted the extradition, based on the
perjured affidavit, was fair and proper -- contrary to a review by former
Solicitor-General Warren Allmand, who found that the system was abused and
Back in the 1970s I thought Peltier guilty, and wrote editorials to this effect.
I've since looked into his case and believe he was framed. I've visited the
Ojibwa-Sioux Indian three times in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan., now
in his 25th year of two consecutive life sentences.
During the troubles at Pine Ridge, there were some 200 shootings, and 60
unsolved shooting deaths of Indians over a three-year period.
To many, Peltier is a fall guy -- a North American Nelson Mandela, serene and
dignified. Even the FBI has since admitted they don't know who actually killed
the two agents.
From the start, Peltier's case was grotesquely mishandled. Just about every
deceit a justice system can perpetrate has been used against him. Various judges
have determined that justice (not to mention law) was abused.
Two Indians initially charged with the murder of the FBI agents were acquitted
on grounds of self-defence.
Poor Bear and her sister Elaine testified under oath before former Quebec Court
of Appeal Judge Fred Kaufman during the extradition hearings. She was examined
by Michael Code, former assistant deputy attorney-general of Ontario, and former
federal prosecutor Scott Stanton. The videotape of her testimony (and possibly
Judge Kaufman's assessment) will be forwarded to President Clinton as part of an
amnesty submission, as well as to the Canadian government.
The unusual hearing was coordinated by Dianne Martin, a professor at the Osgoode
Hall law school and a member of the LPDC, which is headed in Toronto by Frank
and Anne Dreaver.
In sometimes halting and emotional testimony, Poor Bear told how FBI agents Dave
Price and Bill Wood kept her isolated for close to nine months, taking her to
the scene of the shootings, coaching her and insisting witnesses saw her at the
Myrtle was told she'd be killed by the American Indian Movement (AIM) unless
they protected her, and that if she didn't cooperate she might be charged with
conspiracy and get 15 years if she didn't sign the affidavits.
Myrtle signed a series of three affidavits compiled by the FBI, the first saying
she wasn't at the scene but that Leonard told her, the others saying she
witnessed the murders. All were false. No action was ever taken against the
Before Peltier's trial was over, Myrtle recanted her perjury, but no jury ever
Myrtle Poor Bear says she's testifying for clemency to atone for the harm she
did to Peltier, and hopes he can forgive her: "I was frightened, the FBI
scared me, for years I've wanted for years to undo damage I did. I was weak, but
I felt I had no choice. I feared for my life."
Peltier has repeatedly told me he holds no animosity towards Poor Bear.
"She's an unfortunate woman caught in a trap by those determined to find
someone guilty -- even someone they know in their hearts didn't do it."
Myrtle testified that Agent Price wrote the stuff she had to memorize in a
notebook. She was coached until she got it right.
In the mid-'70s, AIM was demonized by the FBI as a communist terrorist group
instead of an Indian rights group -- complicated by the fact that Moscow and
Cuba used AIM for propaganda purposes.
As an oddity, the FBI had Myrtle sign another affidavit that she was the girl
friend of one Dick Marshall, and that he'd confessed to her that he shot and
killed another Indian, Martin Montileaux, in 1975. Myrtle's false affidavit was
almost a carbon copy of the one she signed about Peltier, and helped get
During her testimony in Toronto, she insisted she'd never taken a lie detector
test that the FBI claimed she'd passed. Over the years, the Poor Bear affidavits
remain infamous examples of FBI deceit and fabrication -- acts more
inconceivable 25 years ago than today, when many examples have American justice
being corrupted have emerged.
A succession of U.S. judges have blasted the FBI's abuses, causing the FBI and
its supporters to close ranks, attack critics and oppose clemency -- even though
Peltier has been a model prisoner.
At age 60, Peltier has had a stroke, is partially blind and is a symbol for
major Indian organizations in Canada and the U.S., who have joined forces to
If clemency is finally granted, as some think (hope) is now inevitable, it won't
reflect credit on Canada where a succession of governments have not only ignored
Peltier's case, but have been collaborators and conspirators in fabrication and
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse