By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada on March 30, 2016
“For those of us who are jailed here nothing is more important than to be remembered”
Leonard Peltier, Leavenworth Prison, 9/1998
While Barack Obama proudly and without blushing expounds on the virtues of North American “democracy” and sermonizes on human rights, an innocent man languishes in his cell, totally isolated, awaiting only death or for something only the President of the United States can do, but Obama has not done.
Leonard Peltier, Sioux-Chippewa-Anishinabe-Lakota, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), writer and poet, recently completed forty years in prison. On the whole planet, he is one of the political prisoners who has been imprisoned the longest. When he was jailed, in February 1976, he was a young man struggling for the rights of the original peoples of the continent. He had already known repression and jail from a very early age. Now, almost blind and very ill, he endures cruel and totally unjustified captivity.
Condemned without proof in a process characterized by manipulation and illegalities, he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, (SIC), that he has been serving in maximum security prisons, subjected to particularly harsh conditions, defined by an inhumanity that considers neither his fragile health nor his advanced age.
In the decade of the nineteen-sixties, the repressive and racist North American regime unleashed its violence against those who opposed the Viet Nam War; and also against the Blacks, the Puerto Ricans and the Native Nations, that had been robbed of their lands and corralled into the so-called “reservations”. In 1973 the Wounded Knee massacre occurred, in the same place, truthfully, where in 1890 the biggest confrontation between the Native Nations and the White invaders took place. In both events, large numbers of “indians” were killed, including children, women and the elderly, and no one was brought to justice for those crimes.
The atrocity of Wounded Knee II and the growing presence of FBI agents and paramilitary groups created an environment of terror in an area where recent discoveries of uranium deposits and other minerals attracted Anglo-Saxon greed.
Solidarity spread to other sectors. Marlon Brando, a1973 Oscar winner for his memorable performance in The Godfather, turned the ceremony into a unique denunciation: instead of attending himself, he invited an Apache actress, Sacheen Littlefeather, and protested the treatment of the Native Peoples and the Wounded Knee massacre. “It seemed to me absurd to attend the Oscars ceremony. It seemed grotesque to celebrate an industry that had systematically slandered and misrepresented the Native Peoples of these lands for six long decades,” Brando proclaimed afterword.
Besieged in Ogalala, in the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota, the Elders asked AIM for protection. AIM sent several activists, Peltier among them. In June, 1975, a strange incident happened there, in which two FBI agents, and a number of unarmed civilians, Natives whose number and names remain unknown, lost their lives.
In any case, several facts were evident. The Native people were besieged, in their refuge, from which no one emerged to attack anyone. Those who entered, before the incident, were scores of FBI agents, very well armed, as were the paramilitaries at their service. If one Native had fired a shot, something that has not been proven, it was probably a desperate act of self-defense.
The authorities charged only Natives. Peltier sought refuge in Canada, where he was captured on February 6, 1976. Meanwhile, his comrades were set free for lack of evidence.
From the beginning, the charge against Peltier was fabricated by the FBI. Revelations, after the trial, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, following long struggles by his defenders, proved the fraudulent character of the whole process: false testimonies obtained through bribery and threats, the offering as “proof” of a weapon that was neither at the scene of the crime nor was ever used by Peltier; a weapon that had absolutely no relation to the incident. In a hearing at the Court of Appeals, in 1978, one of the prosecutors against Peltier had to admit: “We do not really know who fired the shot against the FBI agents.” The Court, however, upheld the conviction, and the sentence.
The trial against Peltier was a farce of monumental proportions. That fact was convincingly shown by another great North American actor, Robert Redford, in his documentary “Incident at Ogalala: the Leonard Peltier Story”, produced in 1992, but subjected to such severe censorship that it was reduced to something that few have been able to see. The reasons are obvious. According to the Washington Post, May 22, 1992: “It is very difficult to see ‹‹Incident at Oglala›› without concluding that Leonard Peltier is innocent…his trial was nothing but a farce concocted by the United States government. This direct and illuminating documentary shows how far reaching was the lack of scruples of the prosecutors and the FBI in order to convict this man”.
Among those asking for his liberation have been Nelson Mandela, the European Parliament and numerous world personalities. This demand has lasted more than four decades, so far, with no a solution. Some time ago, Ramsey Clark, former Attorney General of the United States warned: “Until this happens, each new day is a new crime, each sunrise is a new crime, each sunset is a new crime against the dignity of the Native people and against the honor of the United States of North America. Because as long as Leonard Peltier is in prison, we are all also in prison”.
When Leonard Peltier was arbitrarily jailed, Barak Obama was a teenager and was not responsible for that injustice. But now, for eight years he has been responsible because as President of the United States, he has done nothing to free Peltier. Obama knows that “Sí se puede”, but he prefers to be an accomplice to the crime.
Translated by Arysteides Turpana