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Barry Bachrach Speaks out about the Trial and Conviction
of Arlo Looking Cloud in the Murder of Anna Mae
February 7, 2004
Ladies and Gentleman of the Press,
A major occurrence in Rapid City last week. A trial, if that's what you want
to call it. Many of you covered the murder trial of Arlo Looking Cloud. A
10-minute defense? Pretty sensational stuff.
You didn't find what you were witnessing at all strange? I did. I mean, who
was on trial?
The majority of the testimony presented had nothing whatsoever to do with
Arlo Looking Cloud, but prominent members of the American Indian Movement
(AIM) and my client, Leonard Peltier, in particular. Leonard Peltier or the
AIM leadership, I would remind you, are not on trial for the 1975 murder of
Annie Mae Aquash. They have not been charged with the crime, either, simply
because there is no evidence against them. Only rumor, conjecture, and
And that's all you were treated to in that courtroom this week. There was
not one iota of proof presented to support many witnesses' "beliefs". And
for every witness presented, there are any number of other individuals who
could be called to appear and who would tell very different stories - that
Annie Mae wasn't afraid of AIM, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI); she had stated this to various individuals on numerous occasions; and
she had actually put such fears
in writing. In 1975, she said she'd been told by investigators that she
would be dead within the year if she didn't cooperate with FBI agents in
framing AIM leaders and Leonard Peltier.
How credible are the witnesses in this case? Paid informants, for example,
must immediately be called into question, as must others who have long been
accused of fabricating evidence in the Peltier case and/or of playing some
part in the murder of Ms. Aquash.
Ask yourself, too, what didn't come out at this trial.
During the 1970s, the AIM leadership was targeted by the FBI much like, as
we have seen this week, they are targeted now. The Bureau's documented
intent was to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise
neutralize" the AIM organization. The FBI had decided that Native Americans
who were committed to uniting all Native Peoples in an effort to uplift
their communities and promote cultural pride and sovereignty were "enemies
of the State". Fact, not fiction.
Virtually every known AIM leader in the United States was incarcerated in
either state or federal prisons since (or even before) the organization's
formal emergence in 1968, some repeatedly. After the 1973 siege of Wounded
Knee (SD), for example, the FBI caused 542 separate charges to be filed
against those it identified as "key AIM leaders". This resulted in only 15
convictions, all on such petty or contrived offenses as "interfering with a
federal officer in the performance of his duty". Organization members often
languished in jail for months as the cumulative bail required to free them
outstripped resource capabilities of AIM and supporting groups. Fact, not
After Wounded Knee, AIM activities were forbidden on the Pine Ridge Indian
reservation by the then Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson. Traditionalists were
not allowed to meet or attend traditional ceremonies. Wilson hired
vigilantes who called themselves Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs) to
enforce his rules. Fact, not fiction.
The three years following Wounded Knee are often referred to as the Pine
Ridge "Reign of Terror" because anyone associated with AIM was targeted for
violence. Their homes were burned and their cars were run off the road. They
were struck by cars, shot in drive-by shootings, and beaten. Between 1973
and 1976, over 60 traditionalists were murdered. Pine Ridge had the highest
murder rate in the United States, people! Fact, not fiction.
And now we're supposed to believe, I take it, that the lives of these 60 or
more human beings are somehow less significant than that of Anna Mae Aquash?
Yes, we want justice for Anna Mae, but what about the many others? Don't
they deserve justice, too?
In almost every case of violence, witness accounts indicated GOON
responsibility, but nothing was done to stop these bloody events. On the
contrary the FBI, the agency responsible for investigating such violence,
supplied the GOONs with weaponry and intelligence on AIM. The FBI, in fact,
looked the other way as the GOONs committed crime after crime against
members as well as supporters of AIM. Fact, not fiction.
Yet, there was no mention of these facts during last week's trial. That
means only part of the story was told. A very small part.
The public didn't hear about the shoddy investigation the FBI conducted into
the death of Anna Mae Aquash, either. It took them 28 years to bring someone
- anyone - to trial? The FBI is better than that. Everybody knows it.
Why did the FBI not find the bullet hole in the back of Anna Mae's head, or
the blood on the back of her jacket? These things were immediately
discovered by means of an independent autopsy. Fact, not fiction.
Why did the FBI rule the cause of death instead as "exposure"? Fact, not
Why did the FBI find it necessary to sever Anna Mae's hands, when the agents
on the scene - in particular, David Price, who testified this week - should
have been able to identify the body of a woman with whom they were well
acquainted? Anna Mae's body lay frozen in a gully when found. Winter in
South Dakota. The body was too decomposed, they say. "Unidentifiable." Fact,
And why then was a photo of Anna Mae's severed hands later used to frighten
another Indian woman into signing several false affidavits against Leonard
Peltier? Why was Myrtle Poor Bear told that the same would happen to her if
she failed to cooperate with the FBI and the federal prosecutors? Fact, not
On the basis of these fabricated affidavits, a Canadian court was convinced
to extradite Peltier to the U.S. for trial. Bob Newbrook, a retired police
officer who arrested Peltier in Alberta in 1976 recently stated, "Canada
should have learned from the Peltier case that it cannot trust U.S. evidence
presented against American Indian activists." Newbrook said he has
thoroughly investigated the Peltier and Aquash cases and has come to regret
his role. "I'm haunted by the fact that I now think we seized an innocent
man, with no valid Canadian arrest warrant, based on false evidence from the
U.S.," he said.
Warren Allmand, a former Canadian justice minister, and the judge who later
extradited Peltier said they would never have agreed to his extradition had
they known affidavits and evidence presented by the U.S. were false.
Despite its carefully contrived image as the nation's premier crime fighting
agency, the FBI then as now (and you have only to look at the U.S. Patriot
Act to know this is true) functioned primarily as America's political
police. This role includes not only the collection of intelligence on the
activities of political dissidents and groups, but often counterintelligence
operations to thwart those activities. At its most extreme dimension,
political dissidents have been eliminated outright or sent to prison for the
rest of their lives. These activities are well documented. Fact, not
Many activists were "neutralized" by intimidation, harassment, discrediting,
and a whole assortment of tactics, including "snitch jacketing" where the
FBI made the target look like a police informant or a federal agent. This
served the dual purposes of isolating and alienating important leaders, as
well as increasing the general level of fear and factionalism in the group.
Just like the fear described in that courtroom last week. Yet, you heard
agents of the FBI, deny there ever
was such a thing as snitch jacketing, didn't you? This and other tactics
used by the FBI also are well-documented. Fact, not fiction.
The trial was well-orchestrated - not to convict the man on trial, but to
convict AIM activists and prosecute Leonard Peltier all over again (another
violation of his constitutional rights, I would argue) in the court of
The style and content of the articles being published last week
(machine-gun-toting Indians?) focused on Peltier, specifically, who is due
for a full parole hearing in 2008. These articles were reminiscent of
articles published at the request of particular FBI agents during the
campaign in 2001 to convince President Clinton to grant Mr. Peltier's
petition for Executive Clemency. This is why Leonard Peltier has filed a
civil suit against the FBI, naming former director Louis Freeh, current
director Robert S. Mueller, and a dozen or so active and retired agents of
the Bureau. Allegations contained in the suit include providing to the media
as fact "numerous [...] knowingly false and unsupported accusations [...]
against the Plaintiff designed solely to deny him the right to due process
both before the [U.S.] Parole Commission and in
petitions for Executive Clemency".
Nothing has changed, it seems. The only difference now is that the FBI and
federal prosecutors are using a court of law to advance these false and
unsupported accusations - when they know and have admitted twice before the
appellate bench that they can't prove Peltier's guilt. They believe they're
not culpable now because they are only indirectly providing false
information to the press.
In our system of justice, trials are open and public. This is, in part, to
guard against official misconduct and to ensure that only justice is done.
In our mature society, this means that the print and electronic media are
the witnesses to due process - the public's eyes and ears, so to speak. This
means that you have the responsibility to tell the truth, the whole truth.
This means you must remain independent observers and guard against
manipulation by the FBI and government prosecutors who fight only to win,
not for the sake of justice. Might does not make right, ladies and
gentlemen. And the end does not justify the means.
Attorney at Law
© Copyright 2004
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee