FBI Opposition to Revenge-Motivated Release of Leonard Peltier Says Former Agent | native americans

The FBI’s repeated opposition to Leonard Peltier’s release is motivated by revenge and misplaced loyalties, according to a former senior agent close to the case, who is the first FBI member to ask for leniency for the Indian rights activist who was held in custody. maximum prison in the US. security prisons for nearly five decades.

Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI special agent whose career included 14 years as a legal adviser in the Minneapolis division, where she worked with prosecutors and agents directly involved in the Peltier case, wrote to Joe Biden advocating for Peltier’s release.

“Retribution seems to have emerged as the main, if not the only, reason for continuing what appears from the outside to have become an emotion-driven vendetta by the ‘FBI Family,’” Rowley said in the letter sent to the US president in December and shared exclusively with the guardian.

Rowley added: “The focus of my two cents leading to my accession to the clemency plea is based on Peltier’s excessively long prison sentence and an increasingly pressing need for simple mercy given his advanced age and deteriorating health.”

“Enough is enough. Leonard Peltier should now be allowed to go home.

Peltier, a registered member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe and of Lakota and Dakota descent, was convicted of the murder of two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. Peltier was a leader in the Indian Movement Americano (AIM), a Native American civil rights movement founded in Minneapolis that was infiltrated and repressed by the FBI.

Rowley refers to the historical context in which the shooting took place as “…the long-standing horribly unfair oppressive treatment of Indians in the United States [which] played a key role in putting agents and Peltier in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The 1977 murder trial – and subsequent parole hearings – were riddled with irregularities and violations of due process, including evidence that the FBI coerced witnesses, withheld and falsified evidence.

Peltier, now 78, has been held in maximum security prisons for 46 of the last 47 years. He always denied shooting the agents. Last year, UN experts called for Peltier’s immediate release after concluding that his prolonged detention amounted to arbitrary detention.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian about his intervention, Rowley, who retired in 2004, said that for years new agents have been “indoctrinated” with the FBI’s version of events.

“The facts are murky and I won’t say that either narrative is correct. I was not there. But I know that if you really care about justice then the real issue now is mercy, truth and reconciliation. Keeping this going for nearly 50 years really shows the level of vengeance the organization has for Leonard Peltier.”

“The bottom line is that there are all kinds of problems in the intelligence service that are often never fixed for the same reasons: group conformity, pride, and an unwillingness to admit mistakes, so systemic problems are covered up and never corrected,” said Rowley, a 9/11 whistleblower who testified to the Senate about the FBI’s failures in the terrorist attacks.

Nick Estes, assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of Minnesota, said Rowley’s support of Peltier’s clemency was “historic.”

“She is trying to dispel a myth that is deeply ingrained in FBI culture… conveyed through the indoctrination of young recruits, like Rowley, about Peltier’s undisputed guilt and the FBI’s presumed innocence during the reign of terror on the Pine Indian Reservation. Ridge.” said Estes, a volunteer with the Leonard Peltier International Defense Committee.

Rowley wrote to Biden in response to a letter from the current intelligence agency director vehemently opposing Peltier’s release on behalf of “the entire FBI family” – which was recently posted online by the Society of Former FBI Special Agents.

Christopher Wray described Peltier as a “remorseless killer who brutally murdered two of our own – Special Agents Jack R Coler and Ronald A Williams”. Commuting Peltier’s sentence would be “destroying to the victims’ loved ones and an affront to the rule of law,” according to Wray’s letter to the Justice Department’s pardon attorney dated March 2022.

The FBI successfully opposed all clemency requests with emotional Op-Eds, letters, and marches on Washington.

But the time served on most murder sentences varies between 11 and 18 years, while Mark Putnam, the first FBI agent convicted of murder – for strangling his informant – was released after serving just 10 years of a 16-year sentence. Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, and a parole officer who recommended his release after acknowledging that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction, was demoted.

“The disparate nature of Peltier being held for nearly half a century behind bars is staggering,” said Rowley, who in the 1990s helped write an op-ed by the Minneapolis division chief opposing Peltier’s release. “Facts are everything, not loyalty to the FBI family, not them against us, not good guys against bad guys.”

Peltier supporters are hoping Rowley’s intervention will count.

“Rowley speaks with authority and is saying that nothing justifies him being in prison, only revenge, so ignoring her means turning a blind eye to what is happening,” said Kevin Sharp, Peltier’s attorney who filed the most recent clemency petition. 18 months ago. “Rowley knows the case. She knows the FBI and has supervised some of those involved directly. She knows Indian Country so she understands the context which is really important.”

Peltier is currently being held in a maximum security prison in Coleman, Florida, where his health has deteriorated significantly since contracting Covid-19, according to Sharp, who visited him in December. Several recommendations by the facility to lower Peltier’s rating so that he can be transferred to a less restrictive prison closer to his family have been rejected.

“This is a little old man with a walker. It’s not just the FBI that’s vindictive,” added Sharp, a former Obama-appointed federal judge who stepped down in protest of the mandatory minimum sentence. He took up the Peltier case in 2018 after winning a pardon from Donald Trump for a young black man he was forced to jail.

According to Sharp, Peltier’s clemency was still on the table until Trump’s last day in office, but it did not make it onto the final list of presidential pardons, which was mostly made up of former associates and white-collar criminals.

He added: “This is not about a 10-minute firefight. It’s about hundreds of years of what happened before and decades of what happened after. That’s why Leonard Peltier was convicted and that’s why he’s still in prison.”

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