(I didn’t write this one — I only helped with the editing — but since one of Ed’s frequent topics here is miscarriages of justice, I thought it would be a good piece to post while I’m filling in. It was written by my friend Preston Randolph, the founder of Cactus Productions, and Dan Battaglia, the lead researcher for the company’s current project, the film “Wind Chases the Sun: The Leonard Peltier Story.”)
The 8th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution prohibits, among other
things, cruel and unusual punishment towards prisoners. This was the
grounds for a lawsuit filed by Federal Inmate #89637-132, Leonard
Peltier, who is considered by many worldwide as a political prisoner.
In 1977, Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life terms for the
deaths of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota,
and remains incarcerated to this day despite the fact that all evidence
in his conviction has been debunked
and proven fabricated.
Peltier has endured many hardships while incarcerated, but perhaps
the most shocking and cruel would be the inadequate medical treatment
he has received at the hands of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
The origins of medical mistreatment concerning Mr. Peltier took
shape in the 1990s. He had suffered from tetanus, which resulted in him
experiencing one of its known side effects — lockjaw.
It wasn’t until 1995 that Peltier was referred to an oral surgeon by
a dentist in the Leavenworth, KS US Penitentiary. Not soon thereafter,
Peltier was transferred to a medical facility in Missouri where in the
first months of 1996 he was finally treated. It would take more than
three surgeries to get Peltier to be able to chew and open his mouth to
a certain extent. At one point, Peltier’s mouth was frozen open by
thirteen millimeters. Peltier’s medical records clearly show that he
was not supposed to return to Leavenworth until he was able to chew.
Peltier, in fact, was returned before he could successfully open and
close his mouth. This resulted in an enormous public outcry by his
supporters worldwide. In addition, Peltier himself filed a lawsuit
claiming the BOP had violated his right to not be subject to cruel and
unusual punishment. This was dismissed along with his subsequent appeal.
Another instance of the mistreatment Peltier has faced was in
regards to his diabetes. It is common knowledge in the medical field
that, with regard to electronic diabetes test kits, if more than one
person uses the same test kit the results can be somewhat inaccurate.
Peltier, now in his sixties, asked for permission to get his own
testing kit. He was denied his request. This denial resulted in a
massive outcry by Peltier supporters. Many, including myself, called
the prison (Lewisburg USP) where Peltier was and still is incarcerated,
demanding that he be allowed to have his own testing kit. We went as
far as to offer to buy it for him, but this was also denied. After time
had gone by, calls to the Warden and numerous other pro-active actions,
the BOP finally permitted Peltier to have his own private testing kit.
Last year, Peltier began experiencing symptoms synonymous with
prostate cancer. Due to his family’s medical history, this became an
immediate cause for concern. After being urged by his attorneys to
address these symptoms, the BOP finally agreed to perform a standard
blood test in June of 2010. The results took four months to get back to
Peltier. As it stands now, there is a chance he may have prostate
cancer. The cure rate is known to be high only if the patient in
question was diagnosed early in the stages of the cancer itself. Since
Peltier experienced these symptoms just over a year ago, but it has
taken the "powers that be” over a year to fully look into it, his
health may now be in serious jeopardy. This, combined with the extreme
medical neglect he has experienced in the past, only furthers the
position that this six-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee should be
According to Dr. Norma Bowe of Kean University, who holds a Ph.D. in
community health policy and has worked for many years teaching college
level health education courses to inmates in New Jersey’s state
prisons, "There are standards of practice for care, and waiting a year
when a person is symptomatic does not meet those standards. A delay of
four months in the processing of lab tests in cases of prostate cancer
can result in an increased chance of metastasis. Delaying these tests
is nothing short of negligence."
On the other hand, it should be noted that not all within the BOP
have spited Leonard Peltier. Through the immense research being done on
our current film, Wind
Chases the Sun, we were able to contact various prison
officials who in the past thirty years have known Peltier and have
witnessed the mistreatment behind prison walls toward inmates, first
hand. Retired BOP official Bruce Smith acknowledges the wrongdoings
toward Peltier within the correctional system. "There is no doubt that
Leonard has received inadequate health care in Prison. I’ve witnessed
it,” said Smith, "I have seen inmates let die because they have not
been properly treated.” Ultimately, the root of Peltier’s health
problems, according to medical professionals within the BOP, stems from
the lack of treatment he has received.
Bruce Smith worked at Leavenworth Federal Prison for a near twenty
years, and speaks extremely fondly about Peltier. "It’s a crime that
this guy’s in prison. He could be doing so much more for his people on
the outside,” said Smith. A notable memory that Smith recalls is the
case of Peltier abruptly stopping a prison riot in the makings between
the Native American and African American Inmates. This, according to
Smith is one of the many admirable and noble actions Peltier frequently
would carry out. "I think the world of Leonard and pray he gets out,”
Another BOP official, now retired, who asked that his name be
withheld, also concurred with Smith’s position. In furtherance, he also
suggested with regard to Peltier’s incarceration, "The FBI is out for
blood because their agents were killed. If he ever does get out they’ll
never leave him alone.” The retired officer added, "I’ve had the
opportunity to view Peltier’s case files and I too think he was set up.
He doesn’t deserve to be in prison.” This is a reality Peltier has
learned to accept but, despite its grim outlook, Peltier and his
millions of supporters worldwide refuse to stop fighting for his
freedom. This battle, however, will be extremely difficult and may seem
even unobtainable by some. In addition, Peltier’s situation is now
further complicated is his current health status.
Former BOP Officer Smith concludes, "What’s wrong is wrong and
what’s right is right. What is happening to Leonard is wrong!”
For all those who believe in justice it is time to stand up and let
your voices be heard.
To take action and make a difference, please call the White House at
202-456-1111 or 202-456 -1112. If you have trouble getting through,
call the main switchboard at 202-456-1414 and ask to be connected to
the comment line.
Learn more about
the case of Leonard Peltier.
press release by the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee.
Learn more about the current film production please at Wind Chases the Sun: The
Leonard Peltier Story.