Amnesty International has started a new campaign urging Joe Biden to commute the sentence of Indigenous rights campaigner Leonard Peltier, whose health is declining after spending nearly five decades in a maximum security facility for crimes he has consistently denied.
Exactly 46 years after he was found guilty of killing two FBI agents in a trial rife with irregularities and due process violations, including evidence that the agency coerced witnesses and withheld and falsified evidence, an international human rights group is pleading with Biden to free Peltier on humanitarian grounds.
“No one should be imprisoned, much less for more than 40 years, when there are grave doubts about the impartiality of their trial. Zeke Johnson, national director of campaigns for Amnesty International US, argued that President Biden should make amends for this historic error by pardoning Leonard Peltier.
Peltier was found guilty of killing FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams in a gunfight on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. Peltier was an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe and was of Lakota and Dakota origin.
Peltier was a key figure in the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement (AIM), an Indigenous civil rights organization that the FBI infiltrated and suppressed.
At Coleman, Florida’s maximum security facility, where he is currently serving a sentence for having contracted Covid-19, Peltier, now 78, has seen a marked decline in his health and mobility.
Amnesty International, which sent observers to the original trial, is one of many groups that have called for Peltier’s release since his conviction in 1977. Others on the list include a team of UN experts on arbitrary detention and the US attorney James Reynolds, whose office handled Peltier’s prosecution and appeal.
Former agent Coleen Rowley, who said that the FBI’s steadfast resistance to Peltier’s release was motivated by vengeance, was the first FBI insider to ask for mercy earlier this year. His release and mercy have been consistently opposed by the agency in campaigns and demonstrations.
Peltier’s most recent clemency petition was submitted by his legal team in 2021, but it is still pending. Peltier won’t be eligible for parole again until 2024.
“Being free to me means being allowed to breathe freely away from the various risks I live under in maximum custody jail,” Peltier said in an exclusive email interview with the Guardian in February. I could walk for more than a mile straight if I were free. To be able to embrace my great-grandchildren and grandchildren would be wonderful.