The U.S. Department of Justice has once again made a mockery of its lofty and pretentious title.
After releasing a disciple of death cult leader Charles Manson who attempted to shoot President Gerald Ford, an admitted Croatian terrorist and another attempted assassin of President Ford under the mandatory 30-year parole law, the U.S. Parole Commission deemed that my release would “promote disrespect for the law.”
If only the federal government would have respected its laws, not to mention the treaties that are, under the U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of the land, I would never have been convicted nor forced to spend more than half my life in captivity. Not to mention the fact that every law in this country was created without the consent of Native peoples and is applied unequally at our expense. If nothing else, my experience should raise questions about the FBI’s supposed jurisdiction in Indian Country.
The parole commission’s phrase was lifted from soon-to-be former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, who hopes to ride with the FBI cavalry into the office of North Dakota governor. In this Wrigley is following in the footsteps of William Janklow, who built his political career on his reputation as an Indian fighter, moving on up from tribal attorney to state attorney general, South Dakota governor, and U.S. Congressman. Some might recall that Janklow claimed responsibility for dissuading President Clinton from pardoning me before he was convicted of manslaughter.
Unlike the barbarians that bay for my blood, however, Native people are true humanitarians who pray for our enemies. Yet we must be realistic enough to organize for our freedom and equality as nations. We constitute 5 percent of the population of North Dakota and 10 percent of South Dakota and we could utilize that influence to promote our own power on the reservations, where our focus should be. If we organized as a voting bloc, we could defeat the entire premise of the competition between the Dakotas as to which is the most racist. In the 1970s we took up arms to affirm our right to survival and self-defense, but today the war is one of ideas. We must stand up to armed oppression and colonization with our bodies and minds. International law is on our side. Given the complexion of the three recent federal parolees, it might seem that my greatest crime was being Indian. But the truth is that my gravest offense is my innocence. In Iran, political prisoners are occasionally released if they confess to the ridiculous charges on which they are dragged into court, in order to discredit and intimidate them and other like-minded citizens. The FBI and its mouthpieces have suggested the same, as did the parole commission in 1993, when it ruled that my refusal to confess was grounds for denial of parole. To claim innocence is to suggest that the government is wrong, if not guilty itself. The judicial system is set up so that the defendant is not punished for the crime, but for refusing to accept whatever plea arrangement is offered and for daring to compel the judicial system to grant the accused the right to rebut charges leveled by the state in a trial. Such insolence is punished with prosecution requests for the steepest sentence, if not an upward departure from sentencing guidelines that are being discarded, along with the possibility of parole.
As much as non-Natives might hate Indians, we are all in the same boat. To attempt to emulate this system in tribal government is pitiful, to say the least. It was only this year, in the Troy Davis, case, that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized innocence as a legitimate legal defense. Like the witnesses that were coerced into testifying against me, those that testified against Davis renounced their statements, yet Davis was nearly put to death. I might have been executed myself by now, had not the government of Canada required a waiver of the death penalty as a condition of extradition.
The old order is represented by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who stated in his dissenting opinion in the Davis case, “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.” The senator from North Dakota, Byron Dorgan, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, used much the same reasoning in writing that “our legal system has found Leonard Peltier guilty of the crime for which he was charged. I have reviewed the material from the trial, and I believe the verdict was fair and just.”
It is an incomprehensible statement to Natives, as well it should be, that innocence and guilt is a mere legal status, not necessarily rooted in fact. It is a truism that all political prisoners were convicted of the crimes for which they were charged.
The government wants me to falsely confess in order to validate a sloppy frame-up operation, one whose exposure would open the door to an investigation of the governement’s role in training and equipping goon squads to suppress a movement on Pine Ridge against a puppet dictatorship. In America, there can by definition be no political prisoners, only those judged guilty in cout. It is deemed too controversial to even publicly contemplate that the federal government might fabricate and suppress evidence to defeat those deemed political enemies. But it is a demonstrable fact at every stage of my case.
I am Barack Obama’s political prisoner now, and I pray that he will adhere to the ideals that impelled him to run for president. But as he would acknowledge, if we are expecting him to solve our problems, we missed the point of his campaign. Only by organizing in our communities and pressuring our leaders can we bring about the changes that we need.