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FBI releases documents in Leonard Peltier case

The FBI has released nearly 800 pages of material in the case of the American Indian activist charged with the slaying of two FBI agents.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The FBI has released nearly 800 pages of material sought by attorneys for Leonard Peltier, the American Indian activist is serving two life sentences in the 1975 slayings of two FBI agents on a reservation in South Dakota.

The documents outline agents’ work as they checked with informants, including sources within the Seneca Indian Nation, and followed up on suspected Peltier sightings before his arrest, attorney Michael Kuzma said.

Under to a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI turned over 797 of the 812 pages collected by the Buffalo field office in the Peltier case. It withheld 15 pages, citing exemptions for national security concerns and to protect the privacy of agents, according to court documents.

Peltier’s attorneys said Monday they would fight to see the withheld material. “We’re going to argue that the exemptions are being improperly invoked,” Kuzma said.

Peltier supporters are seeking tens of thousands of pages of FBI documents from field offices nationwide as they fight to overturn his conviction.

“I believe the sheer volume of material that wasn’t released or turned over to Leonard’s defense attorneys warrants Leonard’s immediate release from prison,” Kuzma said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.”

A Nov. 14, 1975, memo outlines an unidentified source’s claim that he saw Peltier at an Indian convention at a Buffalo hotel in October 1975, four months after the shooting. Another source believed he spotted Peltier in Steamburg, near the Senecas’ Allegany reservation, teaching Indian dances, Kuzma said.

Paul Moskal, an FBI spokesman in Buffalo, said he was unfamiliar with the content of the documents, released through the agency’s Washington headquarters March 16, and could not comment.

Peltier, 59, was convicted in 1977 of killing the two FBI agents during a standoff on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Both agents, who the FBI said were searching for robbery suspects, were shot in the head.

Peltier was charged with taking part in the slayings, but whether he fired the fatal shots was never proved.

The case has become a rallying point for American Indian and human rights activists, who believe Peltier is a political prisoner. He was the subject of several documentary films and the best-selling novel “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” by Peter Matthiessen.