By Jack Healey, Human Rights Action Center
Not many blog posts start off with a listing of the deceased, but in Leonard Peltier’s clemency request to President Obama, he will say the following:
After 40 years in prison, it is with sadness that I write the names of some of my dearest friends and strongest supporters who have passed on: My friend, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii who was my great champion is one. My dear friend, writer Peter Matthiessen along with Bill and Rose Styron, and Kurt Vonnegut were some of the writers who cared about me and stayed in contact with me. Marlon Brando and Steve Allen were my friends. Looking back so many members of my family and so many friends and many of my lawyers have gone on. I miss them all.
Today on YouTube we are releasing a second request for citizens to join the long list of Nobel laureates, civil and human rights leaders, religious and political leaders and scholars calling for clemency for Leonard Peltier. Bonnie Raitt and Robbie Robertson are featured in the new edition of our PSA.
Is it not time for you to join this effort? Clemency is a request any citizen can make of our government, and all our voices need to be heard. We just want Leonard to go to his home on the northern plains and be able to spend what remains of his life with his family and be able to rest and be at ease with his people of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, his relatives in Indian country, and with us.
Pope Francis recently said that “long prison sentences are death sentences.” We believe Peltier is innocent, but we are not arguing that anymore. What happened on that bitter day in 1975 was part of an ongoing conflict, and we may never know what really happened. Forty years is long enough, in any case. Another life has been taken for all practical purposes.
Today, with the passage of four decades, Peltier’s supporters have included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Pete Seeger. The late Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa spoke and wrote for him. Civil rights giants Coretta Scott King, Congressman John Lewis and many members of the Congressional Black Caucus stood up for him in very meaningful ways that included helping him get some badly needed medical care. The late, wrongly convicted boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter spoke strongly for Peltier’s release and shared his own story of years behind bars without the benefit of a fair trial.
Sixty members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed an amicus brief calling for a new trial. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for his release, as did 55 members of Canada’s Parliament.
Nobel laureates including Rigaberta Menchu Tum of Guatamala, Mairaid Maguire and Betty Williams of Northern Ireland, Jose Ramos Horta and others have come to his aid. Yet he still wastes away in a super-max prison 2,000 miles from his home on the northern plains.
On human rights day of last year, Leonard’s supporters called for his release. Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Carlos Santana, Harry Belafonte, Robbie Robertson, Pam Anderson, UK’s Peter Gabriel, Michael Moore, Wes Studie, Irene Bedard, the National Congress of American Indians (representing 566 tribes), The Assembly of First Nations Chiefs of Canada, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge (South Dakota) and more then 500 other tribes in the U.S. and Canada, award-winning Native American film director Chris Eyre and many Native actors and musicians are part of his support groups. Human Rights Action Center, the UN Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International have all called for clemency.
Names like Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte and Steve Allen seem from a long-ago era. Only Mr. Belafonte survives to this day. As a longtime singer, actor, artist and human rights activist, Belafonte received a special lifetime Humanitarian Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. He has supported the efforts to secure the freedom of Leonard Peltier from the beginning and calls it one of the most important issues of his time.