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Peltier subject of documentary
OCTOBER 16, 2000

The case of imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier is the subject of a new documentary which premieres on the A&E cable network on October 17.

The one-hour program, part of the network's "American Justice" series, couldn't come at a more opportune time. The effort to have the Clinton administration grant Peltier clemency has stepped up in recent months, particularly with Peltier's failing health.

More importantly, the year 2000 marks the 25th anniversary of the shootout at the Jumping Bull Ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. And like then, the events surrounding the shootout, which resulted in the deaths of two FBI agents and one member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), are still debated.

But does the program offer anything new or revealing? For those in Indian Country who are already familiar with the Peltier case, even remotely, the documentary won't shed much light on the ongoing controversy.

However, for those who haven't studied the Peltier case and for those in the younger generation, the program will give them a quick and reliable overview of the

As expected, Dennis Banks of AIM, along with others who were present on the reservation during the FBI's undeclared war on Indian activism, are critical of the government's actions. As for Peltier himself, in an interview from prison, he repeats his assertion that he indeed shot back at the group of law enforcement officers, but didn't kill the agents in question.

Not surprisingly, the FBI representatives refute Peltier's claims and discount any suggestion of a conspiracy against him or AIM. "The sad theory that we would sacrifice the lives of two agents is just kind of, beyond absurd," says David Price, an FBI agent.

Peggy Coler, wife of killed agent Jack Coler, also appears on the program and is critical of AIM members' description of the shootout as self-defense. "These guys were killed at point blank range and yet they try to say its self defense," says Coler. "There's no way."

The descriptions of an anti-AIM atmosphere and assertions of self-defense are what helped set Peltier's two co-defendants free. The comparison of the trial of Peltier to the one for Dino Butler and Bob Robideau is probably the program's strongest point, because it raises the question many have considered since Peltier's conviction.

What if Peltier had not fled to Canada and instead testified along with Butler and Robideau?

As viewers soon find out, Peltier's trial was very different, which tipped the scales in favor of the government.

The program does explore some of the allegations of wrongdoing and holes in the government's case. Unfortunately, less than 15 minutes are dedicated to these issues, making it not quite as investigative as some would like.

The program also mentions the current Internet debates over Peltier, with supporters waged in a battle with an anti-Peltier site run by an FBI agent.

American Justice; Murder on a Reservation airs Tuesday, October 17, at 9PM Eastern Standard Time. It repeats on Wednesday, October 18, at 1:00 AM and Saturday , October 21, at 5:00 PM.

Relevant Links
American Justice, on A&E TV -
Free Leonard Peltier -
The Leonard Peltier File, FBI -
The No Parole Peltier Association -

Related Stories
FBI recalls Oglala shootout (The Talking Circle 06/26)
FBI: 'Brutal slaying' at Oglala (The Talking Circle 06/26)
Group seeks Peltier clemency (The Talking Circle 05/17)
FBI Promises to Prevent Peltier Pardon (The Talking Circle 04/21)
Peltier supporters respond (The Talking Circle 04/21)

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