The No Parole Peltier Association was recently contacted by a reporter from South Dakota Public Broadcasting requesting an interview regarding Leonard Peltier’s pending clemency petition.
Several emails were exchanged providing Peltier background and answering some questions. A date was arranged and there were no qualifications or restrictions on the questions to be asked by the reporter. The reporter advised that he had already interviewed Peltier’s attorney(s).
What follows is the transcript of Ed Woods’ portion of the interview (Part 1). Part 2, responding to the comments made by Peltier’s attorney(s), will be the subject of a subsequent blog.
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Interviewer: Can you give me your name again, title in relation to the Leonard Peltier case?
Ed Woods: It’s Ed Woods and I’m the founder and creator of the No Parole Peltier Association and the associated website that was launched on April 30, 2000.
Interviewer: And can you give me your thoughts on a potential clemency
/compassionate release, push for Mr. Peltier?
EW: Well based on the past sixteen and a half years of reviewing the Peltier matter in great detail, Leonard Peltier isn’t qualified for any compassion under the President’s current program and I agree with the President’s program that the war on drugs and the sentencing guidelines back in the eighty’s were very extreme, so I recognize that. His program does not include cold-blooded convicted murderers, unrepentant convicted murderers, for commutation.
As far as a compassionate release because of his health, I’d say that I would be 100% accurate thinking that Jack Coler and Ron Williams wouldn’t mind being seventy years old today and facing whatever life brings them in terms of health, and of course, being robbed of the opportunity to spend the rest of their lives with their family and grandchildren. So, from the health perspective that’s just a matter of the aging process, and whether Leonard Peltier was in USP Coleman or out in the street. If you read his book he wanted to become an artist and he’s been doing that in prison. Maybe he would have been successful doing something else, but the fact of the matter remains that we all get old, we all have to face those issues. He has to face them where he is.
Interviewer: The last time this sort of came up was during the Clinton administration and 500 FBI agents marched around the White House, as that was being contemplated do you foresee anything like this happening if Obama would consider a Peltier release?
EW: Quite frankly, as a matter of fact it was closer to 700 agents and I was there that day, December 15, 2000, and it wasn’t a march around the White House. We gathered at the law enforcement memorial, we had a collective prayer, we read the names of those who were killed in the line of duty and it was a very dignified. I wouldn’t call it a march, a procession to the White House to express our collective request of the President that he not consider clemency or commutation for Peltier. And the president of the FBI Agent’s Association was allowed into the White House, and gave them well over 10,000 signed petitions. Now, to answer your question, no, I don’t believe there would be another gathering like that this time.
Interviewer: Certainly, certainly, I have one more question, just based on a lot of things I’ve heard, I’ve been down to Pine Ridge and stuff like that, Amnesty International has called Leonard Peltier a political prisoner, I think various other groups have as well, and they say he’s been in prison for longer than Nelson Mandela, and that he should be let go, and that he is no longer a harm to society and that sort of thing. Could you, could you, respond to some of those statements that people are saying around here?
EW: Well, they’re entitled to their, their opinions obviously, but, and I’ve been through this many times, I would throw back, or offer back to them, look at the record. Look at what’s happened. I’ve read every word of testimony, all the appeals. If a man was truly innocent, he’s not a political prisoner. He was captured and convicted, went through dozens of appeals for the cold-blooded murder of two already wounded FBI agents. So, they’re entitled to their opinion. Peltier isn’t a political prisoner, although that’s the route that he’s gone down and quite frankly that’s his only defense. And a truly innocent person wouldn’t change his story about what happened that day a half a dozen times. He wouldn’t also, for the better part of twenty years, claim his only alibi was Mr. X. That somebody else who was delivering dynamite to the AIM camp that day, was followed by the agents, shot the agents, killed them and drove off. That was proven to be a lie, and yet, if you look at Redford’s movie where Robert Robideau goes on for six and half minutes and describes this elaborate chase and the shooting, and Mr. X drives off into the distance. And in the very next frame, Leonard Peltier says, “This story is true.” Well, it wasn’t true and we know it wasn’t true because Dino Butler, one of the other AIM members, came out publicly in 1995, I believe, and said it was a lie.
So there’s no politics involved here. It was a straight up criminal conviction of somebody who, I wouldn’t call it an ambush; I think Peltier just over-reacted because he knew he was wanted for the attempted murder of a Milwaukee police officer and at that moment probably felt, and he shouldn’t have, that the agents were coming for him when they were actually looking for Jimmy Eagle. So, and then you come down to the final part of that, you have two wounded agents, and the final killing shots, I would say, I would almost call that an assassination. I’ve taken the position that maybe in Peltier’s mind, maybe he panicked, I don’t know, but certainly he may have thought that dead men make poor witnesses.
And to go back to the actual events of that day, we know what happened. There was no, there was no secret because there was an eye witness that was telling everybody on the radio, that was Ron Williams, exactly what was about to happen before any of the shooting started. And I’ve been through Peltier’s 44 page petition for clemency and I’m still shocked to this day that Martin Garbus, Cynthia Dunne and Carl Nadler would actually put this stuff in writing, things that have been totally disproven over the years. So I know that’s a long answer to your question, but no, this is a criminal case. Peltier was—even Judge Heaney, said that Peltier got a fair trial, not a perfect trial, because those kinds of trials are very difficult, you don’t have DNA evidence, you don’t have video, but even Judge Heaney said—and Judge Heaney never even implied for a moment that Peltier was innocent in that letter. But he did in that 60-Minutes interview say that Peltier got a fair trial, not a perfect trial, but a fair trial. And he’s where he belongs.
From where I stand, Peltier should finish out the remainder of his two consecutive life sentences, which, if you go back historically, were averaging 30 years each, plus the seven consecutive years he got for the armed escape from Lompoc Penitentiary where guards were shot at. So, there was no politics involved here, it’s a straight adulteration of an otherwise proud Native culture where Leonard Peltier and the American Indian Movement did absolutely nothing to help their own people.
Interviewer: Ed, thank you very much for answering my questions. And I know you’re really busy, but I did, I was wondering out of curiosity what got you involved in this, on the Peltier case?
EW: There is only one place on the website that I talk about myself and it’s an editorial essay called Pilgrimage to Pine Ridge and I just give my background and what prompted this was I just coincidentally met Jack Coler’s youngest son. Jack had two sons when he was murdered, one was three the other was one and a half. And in—on April 1st 2000, I just happened to meet Jack Coler’s youngest son.[i] And based on that meeting I did a search of the Internet that night, saw what was out there, and quite frankly—and I was in the FBI for 29 years, and I had no idea the kind of stuff that was out there. I read through it all, I downloaded every page in the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee website. I read it, they said “read the book,” I mean, “watch the film” Incident at Oglala, I rented it; they said “read the book,” In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, by Peter Matthiessen, I also got Peltier’s book, Prison Writings, and I went through all of it. And as I went through it I saw all the lies, the myths and the folklore that have been following Peltier and that’s what prompted me launching, 27 days, 29 days later, the website.
Interviewer: Very nice. Well, I don’t want to keep you or anything, and I wish you a happy retirement.
EW: All right, thank you, and best for the holidays and if you have any other follow-up please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Interviewer: That email would be the best?
Interviewer: OK, perfect, thank you very much.
EW: Have a good day.
Interviewer: OK, you too.
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“In the Spirit of Coler and Williams”