By Dave Lindorff
Leonard Peltier, indian activist and political prisoner for 40 years
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If, as reported in the Washington Post , President Obama decided to grant clemency to military whistleblower Chelsea Manning because he felt that the 35-year sentence handed down by a military judge was "nuts," then what does he think of the life sentence that Native American activist Leonard Peltier is serving?
Yesterday evening, the US Justice Department announced that a clemency petition from Peltier's attorney Martin Garbus addressed to the president had been denied. In cold language, the letter read: "The application for commutation of sentence of your client, Mr. Leonard Peltier, was carefully considered in this Department and the White House, and the decision was reached that favorable action is not warranted."
Peltier, an American Indian Movement activist, is serving two life terms after having been convicted in 1977 at a trial that critics say included false statements by federal witnesses, false affidavits, coerced testimony and the withholding of ballistics evidence that could have thrown doubt on the prosecution's case.
For a good account of the history of his case, and an explanation for why he should unquestionably be released by the president, read this article by Native American writer Kelly Hayes.
Federal prosecutors at trial conceded that they could not prove who shot two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 during a shoot-out that also left a native American dead, but they insisted that Peltier had "aided and abetted" their shootings.
Now one of the senior federal prosecutors in that case, James Reynolds, in a letter to the outgoing president calling for him to grant clemency to release Peltier, who has already been in jail for 40 years following since his conviction, says, clemency for Peltier, who is sick and 72, would be "in the best interest of justice in considering the totality of all matters involved."
Reynolds was appointed US attorney in 1976 and in that position supervised the government's defense of the sentence during Peltier's long and unsuccessful effort to appeal his conviction, when defense efforts uncovered much of the evidence that showed government misconduct during the original trial.