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‘A case of injustice’: Members of Congress call for release of Leonard Peltier
Friday, October 6, 2023

Nearly three dozens members of the U.S. Congress are calling on President Joe Biden to release American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier from prison.

In a letter on Friday, the 33 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate assert that Peltier’s case is rife with “constitutional violations and prosecutorial misconduct” that occurred not only during his trial, but during the investigation into the deaths of two federal agents. The activist is serving two life sentences after being convicted for the murders.

“As Members of Congress, we sign this letter with a deep commitment to the crucial role we play in upholding justice for all Americans — and to also hold our government accountable when we see a case of injustice, as demonstrated by the long incarceration of Leonard Peltier,” the five-page letter to the president states. “We stand with the Tribal Nations of the United States, Indigenous voices worldwide, and leading voices on human rights and criminal justice around the globe in support of Mr. Peltier’s release.

Letter to President Biden [PDF]

“We applaud your commitment to criminal justice reform and your administration’s work to address inequities in the criminal justice system and rectify the past wrongs of our government’s treatment of Native Americans,” the lawmakers continued. “We urge you to take the next step by granting Mr. Peltier executive clemency or compassionate release.”

The letter was signed by 30 members of the House and three members of the Senate. Almost all signatories are Democrats — Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee) is the only Republican calling for Peltier’s release.

Peltier, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, turned 79 on September 11. Native activists rallied in front of the White House on that day to urge Biden, a Democrat, to take action.

Biden hasn’t publicly addressed Peltier’s case since taking office more than two years ago. The White House press office hasn’t commented directly either.

“Peltier is now 79 years-old and in deteriorating health, suffering from diabetes and hypertension, alongside other health issues,” Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources, led by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), said in a press release on Friday. “He has contracted COVID-19 several times throughout his incarceration.

The crimes for which Peltier was convicted occurred in June 1975 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation — Jack Coler and Ronald William — were killed during a shootout.

The FBI refers to the case as
RESMURS, for “Reservation Murders.” The agency has defended its handling of the investigation into Peltier and other AIM activists.

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