KEYWORDS: Leonard Peltier Arlo Looking Cloud Annie Mae Pictou-Aquash Anna May Pictou AIM FBI AIM leadership Federal Bureau of Investigation Wounded Knee of 1973 GOONs Pineridge Reservation Indian activist Leonard Peltier activists Myrtle Poor Bear Barry Bachrach Attorney at Law Leonard Peltier defense
A major occurrence in Rapid City last week. A trial, if that’s what you want to call it. Many of you covered the murder trial of Arlo Looking Cloud. A 10-minute defense? Pretty sensational stuff.
You didn’t find what you were witnessing at all strange? I did. I mean, who was on trial?
The majority of the testimony presented had nothing whatsoever to do with Arlo Looking Cloud, but prominent members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and my client, Leonard Peltier, in particular. Leonard Peltier or the AIM leadership, I would remind you, are not on trial for the 1975 murder of Annie Mae Aquash. They have not been charged with the crime, either, simply because there is no evidence against them. Only rumor, conjecture, and innuendo.
And that’s all you were treated to in that courtroom this week. There was not one iota of proof presented to support many witnesses’ “beliefs”. And for every witness presented, there are any number of other individuals who could be called to appear and who would tell very different stories – that Annie Mae wasn’t afraid of AIM, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); she had stated this to various individuals on numerous occasions; and she had actually put such fears in writing. In 1975, she said she’d been told by investigators that she would be dead within the year if she didn’t cooperate with FBI agents in framing AIM leaders and Leonard Peltier.
How credible are the witnesses in this case? Paid informants, for example, must immediately be called into question, as must others who have long been accused of fabricating evidence in the Peltier case and/or of playing some part in the murder of Ms. Aquash.
Ask yourself, too, what didn’t come out at this trial.
During the 1970s, the AIM leadership was targeted by the FBI much like, as we have seen this week, they are targeted now. The Bureau’s documented intent was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the AIM organization. The FBI had decided that Native Americans who were committed to uniting all Native Peoples in an effort to uplift their communities and promote cultural pride and sovereignty were “enemies of the State”. Fact, not fiction.
Virtually every known AIM leader in the United States was incarcerated in either state or federal prisons since (or even before) the organization’s formal emergence in 1968, some repeatedly. After the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee (SD), for example, the FBI caused 542 separate charges to be filed against those it identified as “key AIM leaders”. This resulted in only 15 convictions, all on such petty or contrived offenses as “interfering with a federal officer in the performance of his duty”. Organization members often languished in jail for months as the cumulative bail required to free them outstripped resource capabilities of AIM and supporting groups. Fact, not fiction.
After Wounded Knee, AIM activities were forbidden on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation by the then Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson. Traditionalists were not allowed to meet or attend traditional ceremonies. Wilson hired vigilantes who called themselves Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs) to enforce his rules. Fact, not fiction.
The three years following Wounded Knee are often referred to as the Pine Ridge “Reign of Terror” because anyone associated with AIM was targeted for violence. Their homes were burned and their cars were run off the road. They were struck by cars, shot in drive-by shootings, and beaten. Between 1973 and 1976, over 60 traditionalists were murdered. Pine Ridge had the highest murder rate in the United States, people! Fact, not fiction.
And now we’re supposed to believe, I take it, that the lives of these 60 or more human beings are somehow less significant than that of Anna Mae Aquash? Yes, we want justice for Anna Mae, but what about the many others? Don’t they deserve justice, too?
In almost every case of violence, witness accounts indicated GOON responsibility, but nothing was done to stop these bloody events. On the contrary the FBI, the agency responsible for investigating such violence, supplied the GOONs with weaponry and intelligence on AIM. The FBI, in fact, looked the other way as the GOONs committed crime after crime against members as well as supporters of AIM. Fact, not fiction.
Yet, there was no mention of these facts during last week’s trial. That means only part of the story was told. A very small part.
The public didn’t hear about the shoddy investigation the FBI conducted into the death of Anna Mae Aquash, either. It took them 28 years to bring someone – anyone – to trial? The FBI is better than that. Everybody knows it.
Why did the FBI not find the bullet hole in the back of Anna Mae’s head, or the blood on the back of her jacket? These things were immediately discovered by means of an independent autopsy. Fact, not fiction.
Why did the FBI rule the cause of death instead as “exposure”? Fact, not fiction.
Why did the FBI find it necessary to sever Anna Mae’s hands, when the agents on the scene – in particular, David Price, who testified this week – should have been able to identify the body of a woman with whom they were well acquainted? Anna Mae’s body lay frozen in a gully when found. Winter in South Dakota. The body was too decomposed, they say. “Unidentifiable.” Fact, not fiction.
And why then was a photo of Anna Mae’s severed hands later used to frighten another Indian woman into signing several false affidavits against Leonard Peltier? Why was Myrtle Poor Bear told that the same would happen to her if she failed to cooperate with the FBI and the federal prosecutors? Fact, not fiction.
On the basis of these fabricated affidavits, a Canadian court was convinced to extradite Peltier to the U.S. for trial. Bob Newbrook, a retired police officer who arrested Peltier in Alberta in 1976 recently stated, “Canada should have learned from the Peltier case that it cannot trust U.S. evidence presented against American Indian activists.” Newbrook said he has thoroughly investigated the Peltier and Aquash cases and has come to regret his role. “I’m haunted by the fact that I now think we seized an innocent man, with no valid Canadian arrest warrant, based on false evidence from the U.S.,” he said.
Warren Allmand, a former Canadian justice minister, and the judge who later extradited Peltier said they would never have agreed to his extradition had they known affidavits and evidence presented by the U.S. were false.
Despite its carefully contrived image as the nation’s premier crime fighting agency, the FBI then as now (and you have only to look at the U.S. Patriot Act to know this is true) functioned primarily as America’s political police. This role includes not only the collection of intelligence on the activities of political dissidents and groups, but often counterintelligence operations to thwart those activities. At its most extreme dimension, political dissidents have been eliminated outright or sent to prison for the rest of their lives. These activities are well documented. Fact, not fiction.
Many activists were “neutralized” by intimidation, harassment, discrediting, and a whole assortment of tactics, including “snitch jacketing” where the FBI made the target look like a police informant or a federal agent. This served the dual purposes of isolating and alienating important leaders, as well as increasing the general level of fear and factionalism in the group. Just like the fear described in that courtroom last week. Yet, you heard agents of the FBI, deny there ever was such a thing as snitch jacketing, didn’t you? This and other tactics used by the FBI also are well-documented. Fact, not fiction.
The trial was well-orchestrated – not to convict the man on trial, but to convict AIM activists and prosecute Leonard Peltier all over again (another violation of his constitutional rights, I would argue) in the court of public opinion.
The style and content of the articles being published last week (machine-gun-toting Indians?) focused on Peltier, specifically, who is due for a full parole hearing in 2008. These articles were reminiscent of articles published at the request of particular FBI agents during the campaign in 2001 to convince President Clinton to grant Mr. Peltier’s petition for Executive Clemency. This is why Leonard Peltier has filed a civil suit against the FBI, naming former director Louis Freeh, current director Robert S. Mueller, and a dozen or so active and retired agents of the Bureau. Allegations contained in the suit include providing to the media as fact “numerous [.] knowingly false and unsupported accusations [.] against the Plaintiff designed solely to deny him the right to due process both before the [U.S.] Parole Commission and in petitions for Executive Clemency”.
Nothing has changed, it seems. The only difference now is that the FBI and federal prosecutors are using a court of law to advance these false and unsupported accusations – when they know and have admitted twice before the appellate bench that they can’t prove Peltier’s guilt. They believe they’re not culpable now because they are only indirectly providing false information to the press.
In our system of justice, trials are open and public. This is, in part, to guard against official misconduct and to ensure that only justice is done. In our mature society, this means that the print and electronic media are the witnesses to due process – the public’s eyes and ears, so to speak. This means that you have the responsibility to tell the truth, the whole truth. This means you must remain independent observers and guard against manipulation by the FBI and government prosecutors who fight only to win, not for the sake of justice. Might does not make right, ladies and gentlemen. And the end does not justify the means.
Attorney at Law