News & Politics

Wrongfully Convicted, Leonard Peltier Is Turning 70 in Prison

Peltier is enduring beatings, starvation and failing health behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

This September, Leonard Peltier will spend his 70th birthday in pain and isolation. Prisoner # 89637-132 is exactly where the FBI wants him: locked up in one of America's largest federal supermaximum prisons in Coleman, Florida.

One of America's longest-suffering political prisoners, Peltier is an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American who has wrongfully spent nearly 40 years in prison for the alleged murder of two, armed FBI agents in a shoot-out on the impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975.  Peltier was brought up on murder charges on the word of a young Indian woman whom he had never met. That woman, Myrtle Poor Bear, retracted her testimony in 2000, issuing a public statement to explain that her testimony was forced after months of abuse and intimidation at the hands of FBI agents.

Despite international outcry and an abundance of evidence that the FBI coerced, harassed, and manipulated testimony as well as ballistics evidence at Peltier's trial in 1977—and the FBI's subsequent admission that they have no idea who was actually responsible for the deaths--Peltier has been denied parole repeatedly. 

In prison, Peltier has endured beatings, deprivation of medical care, inadequate nutrition, and a callous disregard for his failing health. Peltier is dying a slow, isolated death, over 2,000 miles away from his family. He has already suffered a stroke that left him nearly blind in one eye. He has had a heart attack, has a severely inflamed prostate condition, and diabetes. He is barely able to walk because of untreated bone spurs in his feet, has difficulty eating because of an ever-worsening jaw condition that began after a prison beating.

Because he is not eligible for parole again until the year 2024, Amnesty International and numerous human and civil rights organizations have called for President Obama to release Peltier on medical and humanitarian grounds.

But like the presidents before him, Obama is wedded to the U.S. intelligence empire. 

The FBI has exerted tremendous political pressure, year after year, to make sure that Peltier stays in prison as a symbol of its victory over the American Indian Movement. In essence, Peltier represents everything that the FBI has tried to repress and silence for decades on end. Throughout the 1960s and early 70s, the FBI's COINTELPRO program specifically targeted the American Indian Movement-- among many other political organizations--for annihilation. 

Peltier is a direct casualty of the ongoing American war on political dissidents. Despite his circumstances, he has transcended hopelessness by becoming a prolific poet, author, painter and peace activist. His resilience and grace in the face of such suffering is an inspiration to us all.

We cannot let Peltier die in prison. This victory cannot be handed over to the forces of darkness that want to extinguish his spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

Silja J.A. Talvi is an investigative journalist, essayist and author of several books and book anthology contributions. Talvi received 18 national and regional journalism awards in the U.S., including a national PASS literary award for "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System (Seal Press/Perseus 2007). Talvi was forced to flee her home in Jan. 2010 after repeated civil rights violations and police abuse while researching a book on supermaximum prisons, torture in American detention facilities, as well as the existence of secretive prison units in the U.S. She now lives in Finland.

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