Leonard Peltier Speaks Out from Prison on Denial of Medical
Care, Bid for Clemency
by Amy Goodman
December 19, 2012
Leonard Peltier, one of the nation's most well-known and
longest-incarcerated prisoners, speaks out from the U.S.
Penitentiary at Coleman, Florida, where he is currently
Peltier is the Native American activist and former member of
the American Indian Movement who was convicted of aiding in
the killing of two FBI agents during a shootout on South
Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Sentenced to
prison in 1977, Peltier is now 68 years old. Democracy Now!
host Amy Goodman spoke with Peltier on Saturday when he
called into a press conference organized by his supporters.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, after the Leonard Peltier concert
at the Beacon Theatre, I had a chance to speak directly with
Leonard Peltier, when he called into a news conference that
was organized by Native elders, his lawyers and Pete Seeger.
I conducted the interview in the front row of the press
conference by telephone as he spoke to me from the U.S.
Penitentiary at Coleman, Florida. Peltier was sentenced to
prison in 1977. He's now 68 years old.
AMY GOODMAN: Leonard, this is Amy Goodman from Democracy
Now! I was -
LEONARD PELTIER: Oh, hi, Amy. How are you?
AMY GOODMAN: Hi. I'm good. I was wondering if you have a
message for President Obama?
LEONARD PELTIER: Concerning what?
AMY GOODMAN: Your situation or the situation in the
world or your own situation.
LEONARD PELTIER: Stop all the wars. Stop all the wars.
Or what? What kind of message are you talking about?
AMY GOODMAN: You can share several messages.
LEONARD PELTIER: OK. Well, I just hope he can, you know,
stop the wars that are going on in this world, and stop
getting - killing all those people getting killed, and,
you know, give the Black Hills back to my people, and
turn me loose.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you share with people at the news
conference and with President Obama your case for why
you should be - your sentence should be commuted, why
you want clemency?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, I never got a fair trial, for
one. You know, my case has been throttled from the
moment they had grand jury hearings. They had somebody
on the grand jury hearing, at the hearing testifying
against me I've never met in my life. And from the
extradition from Canada, they violated international
laws. And then at the trial, they had admitted racists -
at the trial, they had admitted racists on the jury.
They wouldn't allow me to put up a defense, and
manufactured evidence, manufactured witnesses, tortured
witnesses. You know, the list is - just goes on. So I
think I'm a very good candidate for - after 37 years,
for clemency or house arrest, at least.
AMY GOODMAN: What would house arrest mean? And can you
describe your conditions in the prison in Florida where
you are right now?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, I'm in a United States
penitentiary with - a supermax penitentiary. And it's
like all the rest of the penitentiaries. And house
arrest would be that I'd be home on - I'd be home on
house arrest. I'd probably have to wear an anklet, a
bracelet on my ankle, but that would be a lot better
than this. At least I could get some medical treatment
then. You know, I got real bad prostate right now, and
it's just getting worse and worse. It ain't getting any
better. It isn't healing itself, so, you know, it just
continues to grow worse.
AMY GOODMAN: You were convicted of aiding and abetting
the killing of these two FBI agents. What is your
response to that?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, originally I was convicted of
first-degree murder, but after their case fell apart,
they confirmed the conviction on the most critical
evidence against me, the murder weapon. Then we filed a
Freedom of Information Act and found two documents where
they had done scientific tests from their firearms
laboratory, and it came out negative. So this was a
piece - another piece of manufactured evidence, besides
Myrtle Poor Bear, the witnesses and stuff like that.
But, so then there case fell apart.
And then, in '92 - in 1985, when the federal 8th
Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Judge Heaney, asked the
prosecutors just what was Mr. Peltier convicted of,
because we cannot find no evidence of first-degree
murder in the record, the prosecutor, Lynn Crooks,
stated that the government doesn't know who killed the
agents, nor does he know what participation Leonard
Peltier may have had in it. So, in 1992, I filed an
appeal, again asking, "What am I - what was I in prison
for if the government doesn't know what I'm in here
for?" So they changed it to aiding and abetting, which
is illegal, because I was never indicted for it, I was
never prosecuted for it, and it takes a whole different
defense in your trial. So I don't know what the hell I'm
in here for.
AMY GOODMAN: How is your health? And can you describe
the conditions at Coleman?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, it's a United States
penitentiary, you know, and they're getting worse and
worse every year. they're not - they're not like they
were 20, 30 years ago.
And I have a - well, I have a bad prostate. I mean, you
know, the doctor said that one side is - one side looks
healthy, and the other side is not healthy, of my
prostate, when they gave me that scope test over a year
ago. But so far it hasn't shown any cancer. I mean, you
know, that's pretty - this is one of the biggest
killers of men. So, all they give me is a pill for it.
AMY GOODMAN: And diabetes?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, I got - well, yeah, I got all
the other stuff, too - diabetes, high blood pressure,
had a mild heart attack, had a mild stroke at one time.
I mean, I'm falling apart.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any hope that you will be
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, you know, according to the laws,
they have the 30-year mandatory release law. After 30
years, I was supposed to be released. Of course, that
went by. Come February, I'll have 37. But also, when I
was sentenced to prison, a life sentence was seven
years. I did not get life without parole; I got a life
sentence. So I've done actually about five, six life
sentences now. And, you know, that's really - you know,
they're in violation of their own laws again, just on
that. So, and I don't know. I'm fighting. I'm fighting
for it. I'm going to try to get out.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your -
LEONARD PELTIER: can't predict that. So far - so far,
it ain't looking very good, I'll tell you that much.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to the FBI that
campaigns against your release?
LEONARD PELTIER: Oh, they're full - they're full of
crap. You know, they're the ones that should be
investigated for all the murders they committed on Pine
Ridge. They supported that, those killings. They
financed it. They gave intelligence and armor-piercing
ammunition and sophisticated weaponry. This was all done
- this was all stated by Duane Brewer, who was one of
the leaders of the GOON squads on the reservation. So, I
mean, they're the ones who should be investigated,
which, by the way, some - I might add now, some of the
Indians and one state senator - state senators in South
Dakota are now calling for an investigation on that.
They are going to put it together. And the son of Tim
Johnson, who is an attorney in one of the - in the
attorney general's office in South Dakota - Tim Johnson
is a congressman over there. His son is going to lead
AMY GOODMAN: And what's the significance of that?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, to put the murderers in jail. I
mean, that's the way I look at it. I mean -
AMY GOODMAN: For people who don't know about your case,
especially young people, how would you like to be
described? How would you, Leonard Peltier, like to be
known to them?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, just somebody that stood up for
his people's rights and who tried to stop the
Termination Act and all the other crimes committed
against my people. That's the only reason I'm here. They
ain't got me - they ain't proved nothing about me. They
ain't proved I did anything, let alone kill somebody.
AMY GOODMAN: What would you do if you were free?
LEONARD PELTIER: Well, I'd probably go home on house
arrest. I mean, that's the only thing I can expect,
because I don't think Obama is going to give - he's
going to do what Bill Clinton did, and he ain't going to
give no clemencies until his last year. He's just not
going to - it's not going to happen. I really don't
believe it. So, I'm trying to - we're trying to -
George Bush signed the Second Chance Act, which is house
arrest, and so we're trying to push that, so I can get
over there, at least to maybe get some - if I do get
the house arrest, I can at least get some medical
treatment, you know, because they're not giving -
they're not giving it to me. they're just - you know,
they're not going to give it to me. That's all there is
to it. And, well, if I did, I'd go home to North Dakota.
I got about 10 seconds left. That buzzer just give me
about - well, about a minute, I think, I got left. But
AMY GOODMAN: What gives you - what gives you hope,
LEONARD PELTIER: Huh?
AMY GOODMAN: What gives you hope?
LEONARD PELTIER: People like you and all the other
supporters out there and people that are behind me, my
people. That's the only hope I got.
AMY GOODMAN: And the meaning of Harry Belafonte and Pete
Seeger and about a thousand other people who came out
last night to this event in your honor?
LEONARD PELTIER: I got to say this. I got to say this
really quick. I've got 10 seconds. Thank you all very,
very much. And I'm sorry I can't - my time is up. I've
got to get off this phone.
PELTIER SUPPORTERS: We love you, Leonard. Love you,
Leonard. Stay strong.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Leonard Peltier. I was speaking with
him at a news conference on Saturday on the telephone. He
was - he is in prison at the U.S. Penitentiary at Coleman in
Florida. He's been in prison for 37 years, is now asking
President Obama for clemency. On Friday, a major concert was
held here in New York calling for his release. Peltier is
one of America's most well-known and longest-incarcerated
prisoners. Go to our website at democracynow.org to see him
reading his own poetry
and to see Peter Coyote describing his case.
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