In all the hand-wringing about George Bush's ghastly commutation for Scooter Libby, the name that should resonate most is that of Leonard Peltier.
While the junta's henchmen walk free, this great Native American activist sits in a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania, still a prisoner after thirty-one years.
In 1977, Leonard was wrongly convicted in the killing of two FBI agents. The case is so laden with fraud and illegalities as to tear at the fabric of our entire criminal justice system. Any president since Jimmy Carter -- including Bill Clinton -- could at least have granted him a fair trial.
Evidence weighed by Amnesty International and a very wide range of other powerful and prestigious global observers confirms that the FBI intimidated witnesses, withheld evidence, falsified affidavits and did every other dirty trick in the book to get Peltier convicted. Thirty-one years later, the FBI is still withholding over 140,000 pages of critical documents about this case, in violation of a wide range of federal laws. Peltier's sentence has been wrongfully extended. And his repeated requests for a retrial have been routinely denied.
Peltier's persecution clearly stems from his effectiveness as a powerful activist for a series of just causes. From prison he's worked to bring critical resources to the desperately poor native society from which he came. Among other things, his efforts through the Native American Energy Group have helped bring 4,000 energy efficient homes to the Pine Ridge Reservation. For all this essential patriotism, he's been nominated for a Nobel Prize.In response, the prison system has denied Peltier his religious freedoms. He's been thrown into solitary confinement for no sane or just reason. His Constitutional right to communicate fully and fairly with the outside world has been restricted. His medical needs have been ignored.
Yet he has survived thirty-one years in jail with determination and clarity. For all that, Leonard Peltier has become a critical pillar of what remains of our national conscience.
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By contrast, the Bush-Cheney-Libby axis has given new definition to the word treason. First and foremost, to protect the interests of their oil industry sponsors, they have committed the worst form of betrayal: lying to the American public to sell a war that has brought death, defeat, corruption, shame and bankruptcy to us all.
It's no small accident that Libby did legal work for Mark Rich, who was pardoned by Bill Clinton in his final days. Clinton was briefed thoroughly, throughout his presidency, about the Peltier case. Rich had nothing to recommend him except his money. Clinton's choice of who to pardon remains unforgivable.
Bush now says Libby's sentence for the lies he told in service of the Iraqi slaughter was "excessive." But as governor of Texas, Bush executed some 150 prisoners. Despite numerous cases involving incompetent counsel and other grounds for clemency, he issued not a single commutation. Bush did meet with Karla Faye Tucker, a death row prisoner who converted to fundamentalist Christianity. He responded by mocking her in public and having her killed, a punishment he deemed less "excessive" than Libby's jail time.
So the aptly named Rich and his treasonous lawyer now walk free while Leonard Peltier remains behind bars, still having never received a fair trial, or access to the FBI's evidence, kept secret in the interest of "national security."
Peltier now has great-grandchildren he's never met. We can only be grateful for his astonishing personal strength. If this obscene gift to Scooter Libby serves any function at all, it should remind us that we cannot save our national soul without winning justice for Leonard Peltier.
To learn more about Leonard Peltier, see http://www.leonardpeltier.net/. Harvey Wasserman is senior editor of http://www.freepress.org/, where this article first appeared. His HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is at http://www.solartopia.org/.