FBI data sought in bid to free Indian activist
Buffalo News

Leonard Peltier's nearly 30-year quest for freedom brought his defense team
to a Buffalo courtroom Monday seeking FBI documents it believes could lead
to a new trial for the nationally known Indian activist convicted of murder.

Peltier, sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment in the 1975 shooting
deaths of two FBI agents in South Dakota, wants a local judge to order the
release of 15 pages of documents, part of a nationwide effort aimed at
proving that he was railroaded by the FBI.

Long championed as a "political prisoner" by groups such as Amnesty
International, Peltier is a member of the American Indian Movement. In the
eyes of the federal government, he is a brutal killer who should never go

"The FBI is hellbent on blocking the disclosure of this information and
keeping Leonard Peltier in jail for the rest of his natural life," Michael
Kuzma, a Buffalo lawyer and a member of Peltier's defense team, said in
court Monday.

At issue before U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, who reserved
decision Monday, are 15 pages of documents the FBI has withheld since 1975
on grounds of national security and protection of confidential sources.

Peltier was not in court Monday, but his attorney argued that the FBI is
withholding documents in order to cover up its misconduct, an allegation
the government denies.

"The FBI has acted in good faith in the processing of all these requests,"
Preeya M. Noronha, a U.S. Justice Department attorney, told Skretny.
"There's no evidence that anything improper was done."

Skretny took issue with Noronha's contention, reminding her that two
federal appeals courts have criticized the FBI's conduct in the Peltier
case. One panel of judges said the government's decision to withhold and
intimidate witnesses should be "condemned."

Peltier, who contends that he was framed by the government, has spent the
last several years seeking FBI documents through the Freedom of Information
Act. Earlier this year, the government acknowledged that more than 142,000
pages of documents pertaining to his case were never turned over to his

The catalyst for the Buffalo case is a heavily excised 1975 Teletype
message from the Buffalo office of the FBI to then-FBI Director Clarence M.

Kuzma said the Teletype message indicates that a New York informant was
trying to infiltrate Peltier's defense effort. Kelley later testified that
the government used informants against the American Indian Movement, or AIM.

Peltier's attorneys learned of the Teletype message after a FOIA request
and a subsequent lawsuit against the FBI's Buffalo office pried loose 797
pages of documents - some partially blacked out - containing telex
messages, articles, letters and other memorandums.

"It appears a Buffalo source was trying to infiltrate the defense team in
1975," Kuzma said during an interview before the trial. "If we can show
that had a destructive role or impact on the defense or the attorney-client
relationship, it could blow the case open."

The FBI tells a far different story.

Nearly 30 years after FBI Special Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A.
Williams were killed at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota,
the agency insists that Peltier is guilty.

"I stand behind the review of the (U.S.) Supreme Court that he is a
convicted murderer," said Peter J. Ahearn, special agent in charge of the
FBI's Buffalo office.

Ahearn said he has continued to review material on the case through the
years and has found no reason to believe that Peltier was innocent.

Among FBI agents, it is a case that evokes great passion. Four years ago,
about 500 active and retired agents held a march outside the White House to
dissuade President Bill Clinton from granting clemency to Peltier. That
view was echoed by then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh in a public letter to
the president.

Despite the FBI's strong stance against a new trial, Peltier's lead
attorney said the information they seek could have a potentially explosive
impact on the case.

"It would be grounds for a new trial, one which we'd relish because we know
they couldn't prove Leonard did it," said Barry Bachrach. "It could even be
grounds for an outright reversal."

Allan Jamieson, a Cayuga Indian who lives in Buffalo and has tried to raise
public awareness about Peltier, agrees. He sees the case as a symbol of the
injustices committed by the U.S. government against Native Americans.

He also wonders why information regarding Peltier can still be considered a
matter of national security nearly 30 years later.

"I don't understand how this information can be perceived as a threat at
this point in time," Jamieson said.

Peltier, 60, is serving his two terms of life in prison at Leavenworth
Federal Penitentiary in Kansas.

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