Peltier transfer a minor victory
BY JEFF ARMSTRONG
A prolonged campaign by international human rights activists and indigenous organisations to secure medical care for imprisoned American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier has resulted in the Lakota man's transfer on Monday to a federal medical center in Rochester.
Convicted of two counts of murder in the 26 June 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation which ended in the deaths of two FBI agents and one indigenous activist, the 55-year-old Peltier suffers from what he says is an excruciating pain in his jaw which prevents him from being able to chew his food. Blaming the activist's condition in part on treatment he received at the Springfield prison medical facility in 1996, Peltier and his supporters had arranged for his treatment by a doctor at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. But the US Bureau of Prisons (BoP) denied such a move for well over a year, sparking protests and fasts across the world.
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee co-coordinator Gina Chiala has expressed cautious optimism that the activist would at last receive treatment for what the committee had warned was a potentially life-threatening ailment.
``It's definitely a step in the direction we needed to go,'' Chiala said. ``It shows we are starting to have an effect, we're starting to be taken seriously.''
Chiala extended credit to grassroots activists around the world, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who recently made a special appeal on Peltier's behalf, supporters in the US Congress, and human rights organizations for the federal government's apparent reversal on the humanitarian medical issue. She said opinion is split among Peltier's lawyers on whether the government is moving towards clemency or is simply preparing for the long haul.
On 4 June 1999, Peltier filed a petition for writ of Habeas Corpus in the federal district court of Topeka, Kansas, alleging in part that the application of stricter parole standards enacted after his conviction amounts to an unconstitutional, ex-post-facto law serving to deprive him of his liberty.
The National Congress of American Indians and the Canada-based Assembly of First Nations passed a unanimous resolution supporting Peltier, while Amnesty International called for Peltier's ``immediate and unconditional release'' on 16 April 1999. Shortly afterwards, Amnesty directed its appeal to President Clinton.
In a stetement last July, the human rights group said:
``Amnesty International has for some years been calling for the federal government to institute an executive review of the case but there is no evidence of any such action being taken. In view of Amnesty International's continuing concerns about this case and the fact that available remedies have been exhausted, Amnesty International is now calling for Leonard Peltier to be released from prison through an act of presidential pardon.''