The walls of Abu Ghraib Prison creep almost invisibly around your neighbourhood. The gates open onto Venables Street. The agents stay in the Hyatt.
In the summer of 1969, fifteen-year-old John Graham from the Southern Tuchone in the Yukon came to Vancouver for a Rolling Stones concert. He helped organize urban First Nations communities, and in 1974 joined a “Native Caravan” to Ottawa to redress his people’s aboriginal rights. A year later, he was on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, helping protect traditional Lakota leaders from vigilantes.
I’ve been there and seen the bullet holes in the walls from the drive by shootings. It’s not like your neighbourhood at all. US Marshals carried sidearms and the goon squads packed hunting rifles. State governor William Janklow had been banned from practicing law on the reservation after being charged with raping his fifteen year-old baby sitter at gunpoint. “The way to deal with the Indian problem in South Dakota,” Janklow said, “us to put a gun to AIM leaders’ heads and pull the trigger.”
Uranium and coal deposits were at the root of all this, like the oil in Iraq. After 381 unsolved murders of Lakota people who had demanded their treaty rights, FBI, SWAT teams, and Indian Affairs police crawled over the reservation. Violence rose with the sun. On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ron Williams, cruised Pine Ridge with automatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Before the day was out, Coler, Williams, and native man Joseph Stuntz were dead. The body count now stood at 382 local citizens, and 2 FBI agents.
John Graham drove into Pine Ridge with fellow Canadian, Anna Mae Aquash, a Mi’qmak from Nova Scotia, who had become a trusted leader in the native rights movement. Graham found himself protecting Aquash, elders, and children, as US Army helicopters combed the ravines with heat sensors, looking for suspects.
That winter, Graham became confidante and body guard for Aquash. In a basement suite in Denver, Aquash told him she was terrified of FBI agent David Price, who had cajoled her to sign phony accusations against AIM leaders. When she had refused, Price warned her, “You won’t live out the year.” A few weeks later, Graham dropped her off at a safe house at Pine Ridge, the last time he ever saw her.
Aquash was found dead by farmer, a bullet hole in the back of her head. David Price showed pictures of the slain Aquash to another native woman – unstable, single-mother Myrtle Poor Bear – and convinced her to sign a phoney affidavit claiming AIM leader Leonard Peltier had killed the FBI agents. They used these spurious affidavits to extradite Peltier from Canada in December 1976. Poor Bear recanted all of this later, admitted she had never met Peltier, and described in court the abuse and terror she had suffered at the hands of Price. But it was too late. Peltier remains in a US federal prison, although his conviction has been decried by Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. The Canadian justice system let it happen.
John Graham returned to the Yukon, but the FBI followed him and offered him their standard deal: Give us an AIM leader for the murder of Aquash or we’ll charge you with killing her. “The FBI is covering up their own murder of Aquash,” says Graham. “I declined their offer.” True to their word, the FBI has now charged Graham with the murder of his friend. As with Myrtle Poor Bear, they dragged a poor, alcoholic, homeless man, Arlo Looking Cloud, off the streets of Denver to testify against Graham. They paid off a few others to make bogus claims and fill out their indictment. “It’s a re-run,” says Graham from his house arrest on Venables Street.
Bob Newbrook, the former police officer who arrested Peltier in Alberta in 1976 says, "I'm haunted by the fact that we seized an innocent man, with no valid Canadian arrest warrant, based on false evidence from the US. My fear now is that the US will use the same trumped-up evidence to justify the extradition of John Graham.”
I first met John Graham thirty years ago. I’ve never heard him even raise his voice to anyone. No one could be more gentle, generous, and gracious. It’s inconceivable that he could have been involved in Anna Mae’s death. It’s not inconceivable, however, that US agents would use terror to manufacture “witnesses,” as they are doing now in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Graham’s extradition hearing is set for December. “It’s all so tragic,” says his lawyer Lyn Crompton, “John risked his life to protect Anna Mae. He was one of her closest friends. This is all about US Home Security and world domination. The FBI message is: ‘If you don’t cooperate, we’ll mess up your life.’ The Canadian attorney in the courtroom will be representing the US, not Canada, not the Canadian people. They’ll hijack our justice system if we let them.”
Who knows? The Canadian people might stand up for themselves. One way would be to write to Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and insist that he not allow another FBI swindle in Canadian courts. You can find information at grahamdefense.org.
Or, as Leonard Peltier said from jail last month, "If you avoid breaking laws and do what you're told and ignore the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden - you probably won't be bothered.”
By Rex Weyler