Peltier defense scouring evidence

Advocates hope FBI documents contain proof of Indian's innocence

It’s a busy weekend for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.

The Lawrence-based team is combing 30,000 pages of recently released FBI documents relating to the imprisoned American Indian’s case.

They’re hoping to uncover in the piles of papers even the tiniest shred of evidence that will help set Peltier free.

“Hopefully, we’ll find something that will give us the ability to get a new trial for a man they (the U.S. government) know they cannot go to trial against,” attorney Bruce Ellison told about 50 people at a Saturday night forum to bring the community up to speed on the committee’s efforts.

Peltier is serving two life sentences in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth for the 1975 execution-style murders of two FBI agents during a siege at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Advocates for Peltier’s release claim the U.S. government falsified evidence leading to Peltier’s arrest and coerced false testimony or hid exonerating evidence to obtain his conviction.

Scott Berry, a spokesman for the FBI in Washington, D.C., has recently disputed the assertion that the government had participated in any wrongdoing.

“Obviously, we’re not hiding anything if we released all of this,” he said.

Michael Kuzma, a Buffalo, N.Y., attorney who has directed Freedom of Information Act efforts on Peltier’s behalf, said Saturday that 60,000 to 100,000 more documents on the Peltier case exist at FBI field offices across the country. Attempts to retrieve those files have been stalled by claims that the records requests are too large and would take too much time and money to fulfill, Kuzma said.

The committee currently is waiting on summaries of those files from which it hopes to narrow its request. Kuzma said he had been told to expect the summaries by the end of June but was now hoping to get them by the end of this month.

“In the coming weeks, we will continue to battle with letter-writing and probably end up in court over this,” Kuzma said. “Why should (the documents) continue to be locked in filing cabinets after three decades? It’s outlandish.”

Ellison, a founding member of the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense committee, said measures taken by the U.S. government after Sept. 11 in the name of national security tapping phones, reading e-mails, etc. were the same kinds of invasive maneuvers it claimed were necessary back in the 1970s to suppress the American Indian Movement, with which Peltier was associated.

Ironically, however, “The FBI actually sponsored terrorism in the United States to suppress the movement,” Ellison said, referring to allegations that the FBI supported the so-called GOON squads that terrorized Lakotas sympathetic to AIM and created the air of tension that culminated in the gunfight at Pine Ridge.

“To me, Leonard Peltier’s case is really all about us as a country,” Ellison said.

Jennifer Harbury, a human rights attorney, also spoke at the forum.

“This is our government,” she said, “and this is how it’s going to treat all of us if we give it the green light.”