Home Interview June 26, 2006 of Bruce Ellison, former Lawyer to Leonard Peltier  

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Interview June 26, 2006 by Daniel Gautreau (www.danieltv.com) of Bruce Ellison, Leonard Pelletier’s first lawyer, at the World Peace Forum, Vancouver, B.C., Canada. About 25 minutes in length.

The video is downloadable, or viewable on-line, in QuickTime format (35.4 MB) in Canada at: www.danieltv.com/movies/interview_bruce_ellison.mov. To view the video in Flash format see: www.danieltv.com. To order a copy on CD contact info@grahamdefense.org.

[Video of John Graham walking into the Vancouver court house June 23, 2006.]

Terry LaLiberte (John Graham’s lawyer): If he is extradited, based on what happened to Arlo Looking Cloud, his co-accused, he will not get a fair trial. It was a four-day joke, the effort against Mr. Looking Cloud, he didn’t stand a chance. If that same thing was to happen, the same type of approach, he’ll be going to jail if he goes to the States.

[Video of Bruce Ellison speaking.]

Bruce Ellison (BE): My name is Bruce Ellison. I’ve been asked to talk about the United States Government’s war against the Indigenous civil and human rights movement, particularly the American Indian Movement and parallels with what is going on today in America.

Daniel Gautreau (DG): How is it going on today?

BE: The current state of domestic security operations and climate within the United States - I believe this has been 30 years at least in the making, and a lot of what was done to the American Indian Movement in an effort to destroy it as a movement, to eliminate dissent by Indigenous peoples, was in many ways practiced, it was in many ways a precursor and forerunner to the situation today in the United States. In fact, some of the architects of the philosophies of when the government brands someone a threat to the national security, both today and 30 years ago, those architects included Donald Rumsfeld and Cheney who were White House people back in the early-mid 70s. Their plan, their program, and that of others, to basically say that people who stand up and say that something is wrong should have no rights, but of course not couching it in those terms, couching it in the terms of if someone is considered a domestic security threat then the constitution should not apply to them, the basic fundamental protections of due process should not be afforded to them. This has been a long time in the running and against the Indigenous movement there were many programs that were instituted that were carried out in an effort to how can..., and Indigenous people being politically powerless. In South Dakota, for example, the Pine Ridge Indian reservation being a place of political vacuum in terms of influencing national policy, the government felt that it could do whatever it wanted to people, and in fact did. And so it was able to, in fact, to carry out very extreme policies that even went so far as state sponsorship of a para-military group that called itself the GOON* squad that understood its mission was in fact to destroy the American Indian Movement, and actually engaged in acts of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of scores of men, woman, and children on Pine Ridge who were from traditional families, whether they were active members of the American Indian Movement or not, as well as the violent assaults, including rapes of men and women, on the reservation in an effort to create a climate of fear and terror, which in fact they did. And this led to a confrontation after Wounded Knee outside the community of Oglala in which three young men were tragically killed. All three were shot in the head. As was typical with the United States they only considered that really two people died, two FBI agents. The position taken of the people who were attacked that day was that three people died tragically. And I think that really says it all in terms of the differences in attitudes of the respective sides.

DG: And during this time there were 60 Indians killed?

BE: There were as many as 60 plus men, women and children, Indian men, women and children that were killed. And the FBI even, say within the last five or six years, issued a white paper about that in which they, for the first time, investigated many of those deaths. And you would find things like “well so and so was stabbed multiple times but they were examined by our forensic pathologist who said they died of exposure.” So really there has never been any investigation into many of these deaths.

DG: My next question is, of all these deaths how many of them have been solved?

BE: There were probably less than half a dozen solved. Whenever a GOON squad member or someone connected with the BIA police was implicated in the murders, usually if they were prosecuted as murders, they were resolved as something else. For example, there was a BIA criminal investigator by the name of Paul Herman who was implicated in the torture murder of a 14 year old girl by the name of Sandra Wounded Foot. She was raped, she was tortured, her body was found tied to a barbed wire fence. He was allowed to plead guilty to a manslaughter charge and did about three and a half years in prison. So it’s that kind of a situation, and of course his prosecution was years after the murder took place and really was no justice at all. So many of those situations just simply went unresolved or where the government prosecutors in fact allowed cases to be turned into going after the victims rather than who was responsible for the murders and trying to therefore interfere with the ability of justice to happen in those particular cases. So many of those cases therefore remain unsolved. Calls for congressional investigations and other investigations into the FBI's complicity with the murders on Pine Ridge have continuously fallen on deaf ears. Any time an inquiry seemed to be started, and there were times when that did seem like it might happen, where there would be a public congressional hearing in front of a committee with subpoena power, it was very quickly quashed before any hearings took place.

DG: Now with that said and the amount of murders that took place and how few of them, you said have been prosecuted, why is there such a political interest around the Anna Mae Pictou Aquash murder?

BE: Well, because the government is not seriously interested in solving the murder of Anna Mae Aquash Pictou. What the government is trying to do is to utilize her murder, currently, in an effort to paint the American Indian Movement as a terrorist, violent organization rather than being so many of the victims. One of the questions that many people have had for 30 years has been why has there been no interest in all of the murders, including Anna Mae’s, on the Pine Ridge reservation? To select her murder out alone is to suggest, and in fact has shown to be, a politically motivated manipulation of both her family and of the community in an effort to ignore the other murders that the government was so directly complicit in.

DG: Are you still in contact with Leonard Peltier? You are not his lawyer any more but...

BE: No, I’m not his lawyer any more and we actually haven’t spoken in a few years.

DG: So are you not on good terms with him at this point or are you just...

BE: At this point I am not his lawyer. He is currently in Louisburg, Pennsylvania. The government is doing what it can to isolate him and has been trying to isolate him in all ways ever since they picked him up in Canada.

DG: And also my next question is, do you think that Arlo Looking Cloud was given a fair trial and a fair hearing?

BE: Well you know, the purpose of Arlo Looking Cloud's trial was basically to present the paid for testimony of a former associate to claim falsely that Leonard Peltier had confessed to killing the agents. The real purpose, one of the purposes at trial, was to have testimony under oath that Leonard Peltier had said that he had killed the agents so as to forever deny him parole. The government has, in every parole hearing - and Leonard Peltier has been eligible for parole since 1986 - in every parole hearing they have said to him: we will not consider you seriously for parole until you say that you killed the agents. And so what that testimony did was it provided a factual basis upon which to deny relief consistent with that theme. That was one of the aspects of it, to suggest that Leonard Peltier had anything to do with Anna Mae’s death is an outrage and yet it was also designed by that trial to try and create a further schism within the Indian community, with people who support Leonard Peltier, with the people who have been striving to get an investigation of all of the murders that occurred on Pine Ridge during that period of time in which Anna Mae was murdered. And what is very clear, from documents that have been obtained even within recent years, was that the FBI knew who she was and knew that she had been murdered, and yet still put out that she had died of exposure.

DG: In the first autopsy?

BE: In the first autopsy report. The FBI interviewed medical personnel who examined her body after it was found prior to the first autopsy and all of the medical people said, without question, that she had been shot in the back of the head. How could a supposedly trained forensic pathologist, how could a trained criminal investigator with the FBI named William Wood be at the first autopsy and not see what was obvious to everyone? To then bury her under an assumed name, to mutilate her body by cutting off her hands, is inexcusable and the government’s contention that now they are interested in justice for Anna Mae is belied by the history of their efforts to cover up her murder from the very beginning. And it was only when we pushed for a second autopsy, because at that time I was a staff attorney with the Wounded Knee Defense Committee, they knew that we were going to get another autopsy, they knew that we were going to in fact find out that she had been murdered, that they come out publicly and begin their public orchestration that she had been murdered because people thought that she was an informant. You know one of the things that is very interesting is the government had a program also, and I guess the Black Panther Party shortly before this time period, and part of their program was called “snitch jacket program.” And they were successful in killing, according to attorneys who represented people within the Black Panthers, at least one and possibly two people within the Party who were falsely branded as government informants, as an effort to disrupt the movement, and do what they did similarly in Anna Mae’s situation.

DG: And now we have got a full turnaround. Years later they are trying to extradite a fellow Canadian named John Graham and the only evidence it appears is questionable testimony from Arlo Looking Cloud, and he is facing extradition and he feels, and so does his lawyer here in Canada, that he will not get a fair trial in the United States.

BE: Well there is a real question about whether Arlo Looking Cloud got a fair trial. The fact that his conviction was affirmed on appeal says nothing about the fairness of the prosecution of the trial which resulted in that conviction. As a criminal justice lawyer working within the criminal justice system for over 30 years I can state unequivocally that our system is broke. Our system often operates in politically motivated fashions and Arlo Looking Cloud’s trial had nothing to do with whether he was really involved in the death of Anna Mae Aquash and had more to do with a political agenda by the United States government and hopefully at some point he will get a fair trial and then whatever the results will be will be the results, but I think that with John Graham, there is a serious question about whether he would get a fair trial within the United States. I have heard that there are some irregularities that have been occurring up here with some of the evidence that has been presented. If the government has nothing to hide, if the government feels in the righteousness of their actions, then they shouldn’t be doing these things and so it certainly raises questions for John Graham, for any Indigenous person, for any person being brought to prosecution in the United States.

DG: Well I mean, it’s a fact that we find out later on that the FBI lied on some information when Leonard Peltier was extradited from Canada.

BE: Clearly. I mean they fabricated through coerced evidence, alleged eye witness testimony, and why would they have to do that if their position was righteous? It is inexcusable. The people who are responsible for that fabricated evidence were also involved in the initial cover-up in Anna Mae’s murder. William Wood was one of the agents. David Price. This is not just a pattern. These people were domestic security agents. They always tried to couch their actions in claiming that they were engaged in legitimate criminal prosecutions and that’s all they were doing. But there was a political agenda and unfortunately what the political agenda required was the use of fabricated evidence and that is not the way the American criminal justice system is supposed to work nor the Canadian criminal justice system nor should the United States government be extraditing people based on fabricated evidence. And we know that is for sure in Leonard Peltier’s case. He was denied relief here, he was denied relief in the United States and he remains in prison for something he didn’t do.

You know, when you look at the list of dead from that time period they were almost all AIM people and the fact that the government has decided to focus in on prosecutions where AIM people may have been involved and totally ignoring the overwhelming majority of those deaths where the GOON squad and by direct connection the FBI, because you know the former GOON squad in a published media interview acknowledged they knew their job working with the FBI, was to destroy AIM and they knew that they could do anything that they wanted to and would not be held accountable for it. So, you know, I would certainly be calling upon, as I have in the past and as others have, there should be a full congressional public hearing into the investigations of all of those deaths.

DG: Why isn’t there?

BE: Because it is not something that the American government is willing to do because of what it would reveal. The United States government doesn’t sponsor terrorism, it claims, the United States government doesn’t prosecute people for political reasons, it claims, the United States government doesn’t fabricate evidence to put people in prison for crimes they didn’t do because of their political activism, it claims. Because what we are talking about is the fundamentals of whether we have a free and democratic system in society within the United States and the illusion is more important than dealing with the reality.

I will give you another example of another incident of a lesser known person, one that I was involved in investigating. There was a young man by the name of Byron Desersa who lived on Pine Ridge, he was a Lakota. His father ran an underground newspaper that published a lot of articles about what the U.S. government sponsored administration on Pine Ridge, the Dick Wilson administration was doing. Byron also did some work for the Wounded Knee Defense Committee, which I was a member of at the time. Byron was on his way to a community to find out what had happened to a friend of his who had resisted an armed GOON attack against his family where the GOONS shot out the back windows of his car as he and his wife and infant child pulled into the driveway and he managed to get in the house, had a single shot 22 and was responding to semiautomatic weapons fire and the BIA SWAT team came and arrested him for disorderly conduct in his own home. So Byron Desersa was on his way to investigate the arrest of his friend when a caravan of GOONS pulled past his car and shot up his car. He was hit so badly that he bled to death although he was a quarter of a mile from an aid station. The government gave a deal to one of those GOONS who was involved because the two primary people involved in that murder was Dick Wilson’s son and another leading GOON squad member and the FBI worked out a deal that this guy would get five years if he would say that the GOONS acted in self defense and so Dick Wilson’s son and this other man were acquitted and that guy got five years. So, and then the GOONS had not only engaged over a day and a half in fire bombing homes and shooting homes within the community of Wanblee, outside of which Byron Desersa was murdered, but when the SWAT team came in from the Bureau of Indian Affairs they disarmed the community members and always stayed at least two blocks away from where the GOONS had taken over two homes and fortified them. I watched as, the following morning, because the elders in that community asked for the American Indian Movement to come in and gave the GOONS until noon the following day to leave or they were going to be taken out. Before noon the FBI, BIA SWAT team, drove up to that house where the GOONS were holed up for the first time, and escorted the GOONS out of town with automatic weapons, which were illegal, and semiautomatic weapons, and escorted them out. There were never any prosecutions for the fire bombings, never any prosecutions for the shooting up the homes. So that to me is another simply graphic example that I have personal knowledge of that occurred during that period of time.

DG: If there is ever any example what they call divide and conquer this has got to be the biggest?

BE: Well…

DG: You’ve got people killing their own people.

BE: Well, that’s been the American way for a long time. I mean whether it be Vietnam or Iraq it is an old story that the government seems to feel largely works for them. And as it was as, and one might analogize in Iraq where our government can set up much like the BIA, where the Iraqis can do whatever they want to as long as the U.S. government approves and it’s all about oil there. While during the early 1970s in the areas of Western South Dakota it was about uranium and oil and gold and silver and natural gas and coal. There were 27 multinational corporations that had come into that area and leased or claimed the entire region for mining operations and it was the same period of time that, according to FBI documents, the FBI noted a change in AIM and its philosophies and its goals. And while calling AIM one of the most dangerous organizations in the country it talked about not only was it in favor of things like equal job opportunities, equal housing opportunities, justice within the criminal justice system, but it noted that AIM had shifted its emphasis towards stopping strip mining operations which were destroying the Earth. So you know the old adage of follow the money and it seems that in support of such activities the United States government is willing to go to whatever lengths it feels it needs to do in order to allow those operations to happen and not to allow dissent. You know in the U.S. Patriot Act you get investigated by the joint terrorism task force if you oppose any governmental policies or corporate policies within your community. We have a fulltime federal anti-terrorism prosecutor in Rapid City where the only incidents of terrorism that occurred were by the GOON squad and there has never been an interest in investigating them.

DG: So you don’t see things getting better any time soon do you?

BE: I don’t think that the darkness has fully enveloped us yet.

DG: When will we get the ending of this story? When will people start fessing up to what happened and who did what, especially with the Anna Mae murder, I mean when do you think this will ever resolve itself?

BE: I don’t know if it ever will because somewhere in the background of all of this, the FBI is dirty. It was FBI informants who first started the rumors within AIM that Anna Mae was an informant. It was FBI informants who perpetrated that rumor. And there are some of us who believe that there was an FBI operative who was ultimately behind and was responsible for the death of Anna Mae. So whether that will ever be exposed or not the government certainly is doing whatever it can no to allow that to happen.

DG: Who would you venture to think might have the answers to some of these questions?

BE: Well, there is an FBI agent by the name of David Price, we think he might know, there is an FBI agent by the name of William Wood, we think he might know, there are probably others but Price was the major liaison with the GOON squad, was the major liaison with the informants that had infiltrated the American Indian Movement.

DG: Well what about within the AIM movement?

BE: We don’t know. We’ll see, we’ll see what happens.

DG: Would that be something that would be within their realm, of kind of the revolution, that someone would call a hit on Anna Mae?

BE: I have no idea. I know what the allegations are, okay, and she may have been the victim of one of these snitch jacketing campaigns that the FBI launched. You know whether or not the people who were actually responsible for that, if that was the case, will be publicly exposed, that remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the government seems to be interested in silencing voices from back during that time period. We know that the FBI right now, and for the last number of years and during the context of which the Looking Cloud trial took place, the FBI has been going and hiring people and threatening people into working for them and going back and talking to people who they worked with 25 to 30 years ago, wiring up, calling them on the phone and talking to them in person, ostensibly to solve old murders but really seemingly to go after people who were voices back then and are still voices today. Whether or not they had anything to do with the deaths of the people, where deaths actually occurred, and that seems to be what’s going on here.

DG: I have one last question for you. How come when all this was going on and Arlo Looking Cloud’s and John Graham’s name was coming up and they were moving Anna Mae to the house and this and that, Theda Clark was named throughout this whole ordeal. How come she was never charged or investigated or whatever?

BE: You’ll have to ask the US attorney’s office.

DG: It’s a curious question.

BE: Absolutely. Maybe you don’t want a woman who is suffering from dementia and is virtually paralyzed sitting in a wheelchair in the courtroom.

DG: Thank you very much.

BE: You’re welcome.


* GOON = Guardians of the Oglala Nation, a term used by then Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson.

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