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From: hansenhouse 
Posted at 09:45 p.m. PST; Sunday, November 28, 1999
Mark Trahant / Times Staff Columnist
-Native American inmate as president not a far-fetched idea-



A few months ago I was in Yelm visiting with an American Indian elder. We chatted 
about the twists and turns that one day become our future. Who knows what's coming, 
Janet McCloud said with a laugh: "Perhaps Leonard will even be president."

As far-fetched as that may sound at home, across the globe it is a notion that makes 
sense. If South African prisoner Nelson Mandela could move from a cell to the world 
stage, why not Leonard Peltier, one of America's most famous inmates?

"I am distressed, saddened and outraged that so many Americans have forgotten, or 
perhaps never known, who he is and what he represents," writes former U.S. Attorney 
General Ramsey Clark in the introduction to Peltier's new book, "Prison Writings: My 
Life is a Sundance."

Peltier may be better known outside the United States. "Enlightened people around the 
world see in him the struggle for all indigenous people for their lives, their 
dignity, their sovereignty and their future," Clark writes. Peltier's cause has been 
championed by dozens of world leaders, including Mandela. And as delegates arrive for 
this week's World Trade Organization conference, the Peltier case is a reminder the 
world has different perceptions of U.S. justice than most of us hold at home.

This chapter of our nation's story began a quarter-century ago on the Pine Ridge 
Reservation in South Dakota. On June 26, 1975, FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack 
Coler chased a robbery suspect onto the reservation. Shots were exchanged between the 
FBI and members of the American Indian Movement. The agents were surrounded, wounded 
and shot fatally in the head.

But the atmosphere at Pine Ridge then was one of war, not law enforcement. Confusion 
ran so deep that the government could not win convictions against three suspects.

The case against Peltier proceeded on a different track. He was arrested in Canada, 
then tried in Fargo, N.D., and convicted of murder by a jury that had no sense of 
context about the events on Pine Ridge. Ever since, the White House has been flooded 
with petitions to grant Peltier clemency - prompting an equally intense response from 
those who believe in his guilt. A recent letter from former FBI agents calls Peltier a 
"thug." It argues that he was fairly convicted and that two appellate courts rightly 
refused to rehear his case.

"Mr. President, since Leonard Peltier couldn't fool the federal courts, he is now 
trying to fool you and the public," said the agents, who have run newspaper ads across 
America. "Don't let him get away with it. Sympathy is appropriate only for the dead 
heroes and their surviving families." But what if the trial evidence was wrong? What 
if the first trial was unfair? Then is justice still served?

Earlier this month a Canadian official posed those same questions. "I don't know 
whether or not Peltier fired those fatal shots," wrote Warren Allmand, Canada's 
minister of Indian affairs. "But I am convinced that there was fraud and misconduct at 
both the extradition and trial - and the benefit of doubt should favor a new trial."

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that FBI testimony misled 
the jury. Tougher critics, including Clark, say the government "suborned our whole 
system of justice."

Peltier, now 55, is serving two life sentences at a federal prison in Kansas. He 
writes in his book that Mandela is "living proof that the edict of the people 
outweighs the verdict of the government."

But as I watch the world twist and turn, I again hear McCloud's laugh. Who knows 
what's coming next?


Mark Trahant's column appears Sunday and Thursday on Page A2 of The Times.
Copyright  1999 The Seattle Times Company
Reprinted under the Fair Use http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html doctrine 
of international copyright law.
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