(FinalCall.com) – Defenders of Native American activist Leonard Peltier, 64, are turning their attention to President Barack Obama hoping that the new administration will move the issue of his incarceration to the front burner.
Supporters from around the nation gathered Feb. 6 in Denver, Colo., to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of Mr. Peltier’s 1977 conviction in the murder of two FBI agents during a shootout on a South Dakota Indian reservation.
Over the years Mr. Peltier has garnered worldwide support from political leaders, organizations such as Amnesty International, the Dalai Lama and various celebrities. Observers say the underlying themes of whether he received a fair trial–and acknowledgement of historical abuses against Native Americans, huge poverty on reservations, horrifying suicide rates and high unemployment–fuel Mr. Peltier’s support base.
David Hill, 65, of Oklahoma, national coordinator for the Leonard Peltier Defense-Offense Committee joined the American Indian Movement with Mr. Peltier in the 1970s. He explained to The Final Call that Mr. Peltier’s supporters are turning to President Obama for executive clemency.
“We believe now more than ever in Leonard’s innocence and he has been a model prisoner. So why not free him?” Mr. Hill asked.
Former 2008 Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney in a letter to President Obama said, pardoning Mr. Peltier “is but a down payment on the path of justice and reconciliation our country so sorely needs. Peltier should be released. He has become a global symbol of injustice and prison abuse; a man who was never given a fair trial,” Ms. McKinney stated in her letter.
Amnesty International acknowledged Mr. Peltier’s status as a political prisoner in actions before the United Nations in 1992 and in a statement commemorating the 33rd anniversary of his incarceration noted that they recognize a retrial is no longer a feasible option. “Leonard Peltier should be irrevocably and unconditionally released,” Amnesty International said.
Attorney Michael Kuzma of Buffalo, N.Y., has become Mr. Peltier’s lead counsel and he informed The Final Call that he just visited his client at the Lewisburg Federal Facility on Feb. 21. “He is in good spirits, and he wants to thank all of his supporters for standing with him during those difficult days when he had been transferred out of Lewisburg to the Canaan facility. He wants to get support for a transfer closer to his South Dakota home, where he believes the atmosphere would be more conducive to possible parole after his December hearing,” Mr. Kuzma said.
Mr. Kuzma also said supporters believe they have a friendly ear in the White House now.
President Obama on Feb. 10 appointed Jodi Archambault Gillette, a member of the Sioux Nation, as deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which was held by a non-Native American during the days of the Bush administration.
First lady Michelle Obama made an historical visit to the Interior Dept. on Feb 10, saying, “Barack has pledged to honor the unique government to government relationship between tribes and the federal government.”
But developments have also occurred with other political prisoners. News concerning Mumia Abu Jamal’s case came in an e-mail message from his San Francisco-based attorney, Robert R. Bryan. “On Feb. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court docketed and accepted for filing the ‘Petition for Writ of Certiorari’ that had been submitted on Dec. 19, 2008,” Mr. Bryan said.
Mr. Abu Jamal was sent to death row in 1983 for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer during a traffic stop. Mr. Abu Jamal was well known as an activist with the Black Panther Party and for his hard-hitting investigative community journalism.
“The central issue in this case is racism in jury selection. The prosecutor systematically removed people from sitting on the trial jury because of the color of their skin,” said Mr. Bryan.
Mr. Bryan warned that the city prosecutor was attempting to overturn the ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that the death penalty ruling was incorrect and ordered a new trial on the question of the death sentence. The attorney said that he had filed a brief of opposition with the Supreme Court on Feb. 13.
“Now what occurs in the Supreme Court will determine whether Mumia will have a new trial or die,” Mr. Bryan stressed.
Another important hearing concerning a political prisoner will take place March 3 before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Albert Woodfox, one of the Angola 3 inmates in Louisiana. Herman Wallace, Robert King and Mr. Woodfox were convicted of killing a prison guard in 1973 at the 18,000 acre former slave plantation known as Angola state prison. The men were held for 36 years in solitary confinement and in 2001, Mr. King was freed. The three had become outspoken critics of the conditions at Angola, which began to receive attention from Black Louisiana politicians and prison activists. In July 2008, a federal judge over turned Mr. Woodfox’s conviction after a state judicial magistrate ruled his trial was unfair due to inadequate legal representation, prosecutorial misconduct, suppression of exculpatory evidence and racial discrimination in the grand jury selection process.
Each side will argue on March 3 for 20 minutes after which the court could take from one to six months to render a decision. If the jurists uphold the ruling, the state has 120 days to decide to re-try Mr. Woodfox or release him, according to his supporters.
The trials and tribulations of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin continue and Karimah Al-Amin, his attorney and wife, reported that towards the end of 2008 her husband was transferred from a Georgia state prison to a supermax facility in Florence, Colo. “This stems from a March 1990 agreement between Georgia and the federal prison system that people they cannot handle could be sent to a federal facility, and Georgia would pay for it,” Ms. Al-Amin explained to The Final Call.
She said the imam was recently “stripped searched and placed into a cell with no bed, no shower and no control over the lights. They have also taken his Qur’an,” Ms. Al-Amin said. “When he asked a guard when he could make a phone call, the guard told him in 90 days.”
Imam Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, was a founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was convicted in 2002 of killing a Georgia sheriff’s deputy and wounding another while they attempted to serve a warrant for a traffic ticket.
“The continued harassment of the imam is a continuation of the government’s COINTEL program,” Ms. Al-Amin said. The government is also angry that he continues to preach Islam whenever he enters the prison population, she said. “It’s just the way they have treated him over the past 40 years,” Ms. Al-Amin said.
In 2001, neo-conservative columnist, Daniel Pipes wrote concerning the imam: “Even as he sits in a Georgia jail, the Washington-based American Muslim Council hails him as a leader in the American Muslim community.”
To support Imam Al-Amin’s release from solitary confinement please write: Warden Ron Wiley, USP Florence ADMAX, U.S. Penitentiary, P.O. Box 8500, Florence, Colo. 81226. The imam’s prison ID number is 99974-555.