One of the top 25 “censored” stories of 1985 was “Leonard Peltier: Murderer or America’s Andrei Sakharov?”. It revealed that since 1975, Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement (AIM) leader, has been imprisoned for the murder of two FBI agents killed during a “paramilitary” attack against suspected AIM supporters at the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. The 1975 battle with federal agents stemmed from the transfer of thousands of acres of the Pine Ridge Reservation, known to contain uranium and other minerals, to the federal government. Since Peltier’s conviction, evidence has surfaced to suggest that the trial was in violation of his due-process rights and was marked by intimidation of witnesses and distortion and suppression of evidence.
Currently, Peltier is in Leavenworth prison, in Kansas, suffering from a blood clot behind his left eye. The eye virtually has been left untreated because prison officials reportedly have denied his rights to a private physician and failed to treat his ailment which could result in blindness, brain damage or even death. His supporters continue to send a barrage of letters to prison officials, congressmen and the Reagan administration requesting immediate medical treatment and further investigation of his case.
Since 1985, Peltier’s status as an American political prisoner has continued to be ignored by the government and the major media. In frustration, Peltier’s legal staff and Indian activists have journeyed to Moscow to further educate the Soviets about his case and to plead for international attention. According to Elizabeth A. DiLauro, Coordinator of the Human Rights Office of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York, “the importance of the case has been consistently ignored amid all the diplomatic maneuvering.” U.S. State Department officials charge that the Soviets’ interest in this Native American political prisoner is just “a feeble attempt to get back at us.” Meanwhile, Peltier awaits his next parole hearing scheduled for sometime this year. All other previous requests for parole have been denied despite evidence suggesting FBI misconduct and questionable decision-making by the federal court. His conviction continues to be questioned by several congressmen, by U.S. civil liberties groups, and by religious leaders such as Bishop Desmond M. Tutu of Johannesburg, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Archbishop Edward W. Scott of Canada, the Very Rev. James Parks Morton of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, eight Episcopal bishops and Rabbi Balfour Brickner of New York.
It is ironic that U.S. citizens, frustrated by an unresponsive government and an disinterested press, find it necessary to go to the Soviet Union to draw attention to the Peltier case. It is even more ironic to note that Andrei Sakharov is no longer in exile in Russia while Leonard Peltier remains ill and imprisoned in a federal penitentiary in the United States.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1/20/86, “U.S. Must Look to its Own Rights Abuses,” by Elizabeth A. DiLauro, op ed article, Sec. II, p 5 (updated by phone conversation with J. D. Star, Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Kansas City, (816/531-5774), on 4/9/87; “10 Best Censored Stories of 1985.”