Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years

Freedom and medical care for Leonard Peltier!

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

For 40 years, former American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier has been in the clutches of the U.S. prison system –The Iron House of the whites, as indigenous people call them – on trumped up murder charges. Now, as he suffers poor health and an abdominal aortic aneurism, time is no longer on his side.

The aneurism, diagnosed just weeks ago, threatens his very life, so supporters of Leonard are demanding his freedom, so he doesn’t perish in the Iron House.

March-on-Albuquerque’s-first-Indigenous-People’s-Day-fna-Columbus-Day-to-free-Leonard-Peltier-etc-101215-by-Steve-Ranieri-web-300x200, Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years, Abolition Now!
Comanches, Apaches, Pueblo, Dine (Navajo) and members of many more Native nations marched on Oct. 12, 2015, Albuquerque’s first official Indigenous People’s Day, formerly Columbus Day, to free Leonard Peltier and right all the wrongs done to Native people. – Photo: Steve Ranieri

Decades ago, when Bill Clinton was president, he visited Pine Ridge, South Dakota – once Peltier’s home – and told people there, “Tell Leonard I won’t forget about him.”

A promise from Clinton proved as empty as any politician’s promise: gas, air, wind. (He musta forgot, huh?)

So Peltier languished in the Iron House as decades passed. He wrote. He painted – and he awaited white justice.

He’s still waiting.

His supporters want people to write to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), demanding his health care and release. The International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee needs you to write and call on Leonard’s behalf. Contact

Refer to Leonard Peltier, 89637-132, and his home jail, USP Coleman I.

And while you’re at it, contact the White House and demand Leonard’s executive clemency.

Leonard Peltier needs freedom now; and Native Peoples need him to return home.

© Copyright 2016 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Keep updated at His new book is “Writing on the Wall,” edited by Joanna Hernandez. For Mumia’s commentaries, visit Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews. Send our brotha some love and light: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932.

40th anniversary statement of Leonard Peltier

Greetings friends, supporters and all Native Peoples.

Jahahara-with-Mumia-Abu-Jamal-and-Leonard-Peltier-at-Super-Bowl-50-Levi-Stadium-020716-300x189, Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years, Abolition Now!
Baba Jahahara took Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier to Super Bowl 50 at Levi Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016.

What can I say that I have not said before? I guess I can start by saying see you later to all of those who have passed in the last year. We Natives don’t like to mention their names. We believe that if we speak their names it disrupts their journey. They may lose their way and their spirits wander forever. If too many call out to them, they will try to come back. But their spirits know we are thinking about them, so all I will say is safe journey and I hope to see you soon.

On Feb. 6, I have been imprisoned for 40 years! I’m 71 years old and still in a maximum security penitentiary. At my age, I’m not sure I have much time left.

I have earned about four to five years good time that no one seems to want to recognize. It doesn’t count, I guess? And when I was indicted, the average time served on a life sentence before being given parole was seven years. So that means I’ve served nearly six life sentences and I should have been released on parole a very long time ago.

Then there’s mandatory release after serving 30 years. I’m 10 years past that. The government isn’t supposed to change the laws to keep you in prison – EXCEPT if you’re Leonard Peltier, it seems.

John-Lennon-Free-Peltier, Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years, Abolition Now!
John Lennon of the Beatles makes his demand. That’s how long people have been pushing for Leonard’s release.

Now, I’m told I’ll be kept at USP Coleman I until 2017, when they’ll decide if I can go to a medium security facility – or NOT. But, check this out: I have been classified as a medium security prisoner now for at least 15 years, and BOP regulations say elders shall be kept in a less dangerous facility and environment. But NOT if you’re Leonard Peltier, I guess.

As you’ll remember, the history of my bid for clemency is long. My first app was with Jimmy Carter. He denied it. Ronald Reagan promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that he would release me if the Soviet Union released a prisoner, but Reagan reneged. George H.W. Bush did nothing.

The next app was with Bill Clinton. He left office without taking action even though the pardon attorney did an 11-month investigation – it usually takes nine months – and we were told she had recommended clemency. George W. Bush denied that petition in 2009. And in all of the applications for clemency, the FBI has interfered with an executive order. That’s illegal as hell!

Today, I’m facing another dilemma – an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). It’s the size of an AAA battery. The doctor told me if it bursts, I can bleed to death. It’s also close to my spine and I could end up paralyzed. The good news is that it’s treatable and the operation has a 96-98 percent success rate. BUT I’m in a max security prison. We don’t get sent for treatment until it is terminal.

As President Obama completes the final year of his term, I hope that he will continue to fight to fulfill his promises, and further the progress his administration has made towards working in partnership with First Peoples. It gives me hope that this president has worked hard to affirm the trust relationship with the Tribal Nations. With YOUR encouragement, I believe Obama will have the courage and conviction to commute my sentence and send me home to my family.

Looking back on the 40 years of efforts on my behalf, I am overwhelmed and humbled. I would like to say thank you to all the supporters who have believed in me over the years. Some of you have been supporters since the beginning. You made sure I had books to read and commissary funds to buy what I may need to be as comfortable as one can be in this place. You made donations to the defense committee so we could continue fighting for my freedom, too.

Hundreds-of-Natives-march-to-commemorate-1973-Wounded-Knee-occupation-demand-Leonard-Peltier’s-freedom-022714-300x182, Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years, Abolition Now!
To the sounds of prayers, drumbeats and gunfire, hundreds of Native Americans marched Feb. 27, 2014, AIM Liberation Day, to pay homage to the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee and demand freedom for Leonard Peltier.

You all worked hard – are still working hard – to spread the word about what is now being called the most outrageous conviction in U.S. history. There are good-hearted people in this world, and you’re among them. I’m sorry I cannot keep up with answering all of your letters. But thanks for the love you have shown me. Without it, I could never have made it this long. I’m sure of it.

I believe that my incarceration, the constitutional violations in my case, and the government misconduct in prosecuting my case are issues far more important than just my life or freedom. I feel that each of you who have fought for my freedom has been a part of the greater struggle of Native Peoples – for treaty rights, sovereignty and our very survival. If I should be called home, please don’t give up on our struggle.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse …


Leonard Peltier

Send our brother some love and light: Leonard Peltier, 89637-132, USP Coleman I, P.O. Box 1033, Coleman FL 33521.

After 40 years, it’s long past time to free Leonard Peltier

by Leah Todd

Leonard-Peltier-1992-by-c-Jeffry-Scott-200x300, Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years, Abolition Now!
Leonard Peltier in 1992 – Photo: ©Jeffry Scott

This Saturday will mark 40 years since political prisoner Leonard Peltier was arrested and charged with the deaths of two federal agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Since that time, new information has come to light about improprieties in the government’s handling of the case, and the movement for Native American rights has made great gains in fighting discrimination and building recognition of the long U.S. history of colonial violence. Yet Leonard Peltier remains in jail, now 71 years old and experiencing multiple serious health issues, most recently an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Eight years before Peltier’s arrest, activists formed the American Indian Movement (AIM) to promote Native American treaty rights and sovereignty and oppose discrimination, racism and government violence. The government’s response to AIM was brutal.

Agents ended the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by AIM and other Native American activists in 1973 with a full-on military assault, killing two people. While the U.S. government never accounted for its actions that day, CCR defended AIM activists Dennis Banks and Russell Means against charges of conspiracy and assault arising from the incident, successfully winning a dismissal. The case was marked by prosecutorial misconduct – the judge remarked that “the waters of justice have been polluted” – which would prove to be a recurring trend in government cases against AIM political activists.

AIM’s activities occurred amidst the height of the FBI’s since-discredited COINTELPRO program targeting political activists from a wide array of civil rights and leftist groups. They also took place in the context of large-scale militarization, and harassment and intimidation of Native American activists by the FBI and government-supported paramilitaries who called themselves the “GOON squad.”

This resulted in the deaths of dozens of activists in the three years following the occupation of Wounded Knee, known as the “Reign of Terror.” For decades, these deaths, including one that occurred at the same time as the shooting of the agents at Pine Ridge, remained unresolved.

San-Francisco-rally-for-DOJ-investigation-of-1973-6-Pine-Ridge-‘Reign-of-Terror’-Leonard-Peltier’s-freedom-022714-AIM-Liberation-Day, Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years, Abolition Now!
A San Francisco rally on AIM Liberation Day, Feb. 27, 2014, called for a Department of Justice investigation into the 1973-1976 “Reign of Terror” on the Pine Ridge reservation and for freedom for Leonard Peltier.

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents in unmarked vehicles traveled onto Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Both were killed in a shoot-out involving a group of people on the reservation. No one suspected of participation in the shoot-out was apprehended that day, but the FBI began a resource-intensive, invasive and heavily-critiqued investigation to achieve a resolution of the case.

At their trial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, CCR co-founder William Kunstler defended Darrell Butler and Robert Robideau, who were accused of the shooting alongside Peltier. They were acquitted due to the government’s failure to prove they had fired the fatal shots.

It was also determined that, in the context of the Reign of Terror on Pine Ridge, the exchange of gunfire with the agents constituted an act of self-defense. After Peltier was extradited from Canada, his case on the same charges was moved to Fargo, North Dakota, under a conservative judge who prevented him from introducing some of the same evidence of the climate on Pine Ridge that had freed Butler and Robideau.

Peltier’s 1977 conviction was fraught with misconduct, including suppression of potentially exculpatory evidence, recantation of witness affidavits, improper tactics in achieving his extradition and the use of undercover informants who had infiltrated AIM. The practices engaged in during the investigation have been broadly recognized as illegitimate: Several appeals court judges chastised the prosecution during argument or in written opinions for the FBI’s “improper conduct” and “clear abuse of the investigative process.”

Kunstler joined other attorneys in defending Peltier in his 1978-1993 criminal appeals, decrying the evidence suppression, coerced and false affidavits, witness intimidation and generally bungled FBI investigation that had led to Peltier’s arrest. Over the course of the appeals process, the prosecutor shifted from asserting that Peltier killed the agents single-handedly to admitting in court, “but we can’t prove who shot those agents.”

Demand-Freedom-and-Justice-for-Leonard-Peltier-poster, Free Leonard Peltier, wrongly imprisoned 40 years, Abolition Now! Still, Peltier’s appeals and new trials were unsuccessful in overturning his conviction. Because Peltier has always maintained that he did not kill the agents, he continues to be denied parole.

CCR sent a letter to President Obama on Feb. 2, 2016, arguing that he should consider principles of compassionate release and international human rights norms around “conditional release” (parole) in deciding on Peltier’s petition for executive clemency. The letter reminds President Obama of the commitments he has made to Native Americans; as a presidential candidate in 2008, he gave a speech at the Crow Indian Reservation and was adopted into the Crow Nation, and he later made his first visit to a reservation as president in 2014 at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, where he affirmed many of his promises to improve relations with Native Americans.

As Native Americans continue to experience staggering rates of police brutality, health issues, poverty and sexual and intimate partner violence; disproportionate discipline in schools; poisoning of land and natural resources with toxic materials; frequent failures of the government to prosecute crimes committed against them by non-Natives; and continuing trauma from the effects of cultural genocide through initiatives like boarding schools, a simple gesture Obama could make to promote healing and justice would be to release Leonard Peltier.

As numerous human rights defenders, Nobel laureates, members of Congress, international authorities, and even a judge who oversaw Peltier’s criminal appeals agree: It’s time to free Leonard Peltier.

If you would like to contact President Obama to encourage him to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, see the guidelines available on his support site and sign the public petition.

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights’ letter to President Obama requesting executive clemency for Leonard Peltier HERE.

As a legal worker and legal program associate at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Leah Todd supports CCR’s legal and advocacy work and manages CCR’s term-time internship and volunteer programs. She and CCR can be reached at This story first appeared at the Center for Constitutional Rights.