Home » commentary » Obama Officially Denies Clemency to Leonard Peltier

Obama Officially Denies Clemency to Leonard Peltier


Leonard Peltier,
Growing old, he lives another year
Inside his prison cell.
We wish you very well.

The above lines are from a song I wrote in 1991 or ’92, I think, back in the days when I had illusions of becoming a singer/songwriter. Peltier at the time had been in prison for something like 18 years, which seemed like an awfully long time.

Today his incarceration in the US federal prison system has run into 40 years.

Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement,  was convicted of murdering two FBI agents during a shootout that occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in June of 1975. There has been enormous controversy over the case, with charges that the government suppressed evidence and with witnesses coming forward claiming they were forced to give statements under duress.

The story of Peltier, and of what happened that day in 1975, is told in In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, by Peter Matthiessen, a book that the FBI and the former governor of South Dakota attempted to have banned from bookstores, and was also addressed in the Robert Redford film, “Incident at Oglala.”

Also worth noting is that the AIM leader has received support over the years from a number of high-profile figures, including Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Even the Belgian and Italian parliaments have come out with statements in his support, and you can go here to access an interview that actor Peter Coyote did with Democracy Now in 2012 in which he discussed Peltier’s case at length and called for his release.

Former President Bill Clinton once hinted at a possible pardon for Peltier, but he backed off of it, reportedly after a protest of 500 FBI agents in front of the White House and a letter opposing clemency from then-FBI director Louis Freeh.

And now it looks like Obama has done the same.

Leonard Peltier Officially Denied Clemency by Obama

By Telesur

The U.S. Office of the Pardon Attorney announced Wednesday night that President Barack Obama has denied clemency to imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who has been in prison for more than 40 years on charges that have been proven false.

Peltier is a former member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. He has long maintained his innocence.

“I think it’s fair to say that if he doesn’t get commuted by President Obama, he’ll die in jail. He’s a very sick man,” Peltier’s attorney Martin Garbus told Democracy Now! Earlier on Wednesday.

“So, Obama’s not granting him clemency is like a sentence of death. Trump ain’t going to do it. And he’s very sick, and he’s not going to live past that time. I don’t want to be negative, but that’s the reality. He’s very sick, and he’s been in prison over 40 years, hard years, six years of solitary.”

The Obama administration has made it official that it will not be letting the Native American activist go home despite his poor health and his apparent innocence.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that President Obama will not let Leonard go home,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Many activists have been calling on Obama to release Peltier including Pope Francis. Garbus told reporters that the pontiff sent the White House a last-minute appeal Tuesday to plead for clemency in Peltier’s case.

More commutations are expected from President Obama on his last day in office Thursday, the New York Daily News reported.

Calls for clemency for the Indigenous leader intensified Tuesday when Chelsea Manning, the former ex-U.S. soldier who leaked secret military documents, and the Puerto Rican independence fighter were included in commutations by the outgoing president.

Many activists have been calling on Obama to release Peltier including Pope Francis. Garbus told reporters that the pontiff sent the White House a last-minute appeal Tuesday to plead for clemency in Peltier’s case.

Last May, when the New York Daily News reporter visited him at the super-max prison, Peltier predicted that he would die in prison.

“I am prepared to die here. I would prefer it be back at my home, but I’m realistic about my chances,” he told the newspaper from the prison visiting room. “I have my funeral all planned, I want a full ceremonial burial, with drumming, everything. Traditionally, it should be about three days.”


Peter Matthiessen was the author of the best-selling book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, first published in 1983. The book gives a detailed account of the events of June 26, 1975 and the trial afterward. In the book’s introduction, Matthiessen writes as follows:

“My travels with Indians began some years ago with the discovery that most traditional communities in North America know of a messenger who appears in evil times as a warning from the Creator that man’s disrespect of His sacred instructions has upset the harmony and balance of existence; some say that the messenger comes in sign of a great destroying fire that will purify the world of the disruption and pollution of earth, air, water, and all living things. He has storng spirit powers and sometimes takes the form of a huge hairy man; in recent years this primordial being has appeared near Indian communities from the northern Plains states to far northern Alberta and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“In 1976, an Indian in spiritual training took me to Hopi, where traditional leaders told us more about this being. Over several years, we visited the elders in  many remote canyons of the West, and eventually I traveled on my own, from the Everglades and the Blue Ridge Mountains north to Hudson Bay and from the St. Lawrence westward to Vancouver Island. Along the way I learned a little of the Indians’ identity with land and life (very different from our “environmental” understanding) and shared a little of their long sadness about the theft and ruin of ancestral lands–one reason, they felt, why That-One-You-Are-Speaking-About had reappeared. From these journeys came a series of essays attacking the continuing transgressions against these lands by corporate interests and their willing allies in state and federal government.”

Matthiessen was diagnosed with leukemia in late 2012. He died at his home in Sagaponack, New York in 2014 at the age of 86.


trudell2John Trudell was a member of the American Indian Movement in 1975 at the time of the events at Pine Ridge and was interviewed in the film, “Incident at Oglala.” He was also a talented poet. In 1979, his wife and three children died in a mysterious fire at their home in Nevada. Trudell at the time was attending a protest in Washington.

Trudell got his first taste of activism while participating in an occupation of Alcatraz Island, the former site of a federal prison located off the coast of California. The occupation lasted for more than a year, during which time Trudell ran a radio station on the island called Radio Free Alcatraz discussing Native American issues and and playing tribal music.

It was after the deaths of his wife and children that he began writing poetry. Reportedly he “began to hear words and lines, and he realized his wife wanted him to write these down,” and in the 1980s, after meeting artist Jackson Browne, he launched a musical career in which he converted his spoken word poems to music.

The following video is one of his songs, “Crazy Horse.”

In 2005, Trudell became the subject of a documentary himself. Entitled simply, “Trudell,” the film was made by Heather Rae and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

John Trudell died of cancer on December 8, 2015.

4 thoughts on “Obama Officially Denies Clemency to Leonard Peltier

  1. It’s really rather amazing. Trump’s supporters run the gamut from David Horowitz, to Paul Craig Roberts, to Mark Glenn at The Ugly Truth. No politician in my lifetime has ever accomplished such. To say that Trump is a “genius” as a politician probably goes without saying. I guess before too much longer, however, we’ll start to see his true colors emerge.

  2. Peltier is 72 years old and in poor health. He obviously represents no threat to anyone. A pardon on humanitarian grounds could have been justified and defended. Obama’s failure to issue one falls in line with his eight-year-long pattern of manifesting little to no political courage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s