Hundreds of FBI agents are marching in front of the White House today to protest against the possibility of President Clinton granting clemency to Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of killing two federal agents.
Carrying a “Never Forget” banner lettered in red, a line of agents stood two-by-two and marched to the White House gate with a petition signed by 8,000 current and former agents.
Secret Service agents at the White House gate rejected the envelope initially, telling their fellow federal officers that no packages or documents could be accepted for security reasons. Later a White House staff member came out and received the petitions.
Susan Lloyd, an FBI field office spokeswoman who joined the protesters, said the vast majority of those in the demonstration were active agents who applied for the day off.
“None of this is on government time,” she said. The officers were escorted by about 30 District of Columbia police on motorcycles.
Agents said they knew of no similar public display by active agents in the past.
Clinton Considering Pardon
Clinton drew the ire of FBI agents last month when it appeared he may join the group of Peltier supporters. During a “Get-Out-The-Vote” phone call with New York radio station WBAI, he told listeners he would review Peltier’s request for a pardon.
Peltier, former leader of the American Indian Movement, has been serving a life sentence since his murder conviction for the slayings of two FBI agents at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Peltier has maintained his innocence and argued that he was framed and did not receive a fair trial.
“I know it’s important to a lot of people, maybe both sides of this issue. And I think I owe it to them to give it an honest look-see,” Clinton said. “I will see what the merits dictate, based on the evidence.”
Since his conviction, a huge contingency of world leaders, lawmakers, and entertainers have supported Peltier in his quest for clemency. They include: Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Amnesty International, Robert Redford, Willie Nelson and Winona Ryder.
Clinton’s comments drew a renewed plea for Peltier’s clemency from Amnesty International and the outrage of FBI Director Louis Freeh and law enforcement agents nationwide.
“Leonard Peltier is the last person in this country who is a worthy candidate for presidential clemency,” FBI special agent John Sennett said this morning on Good Morning America. “He has been remorseless. He has refused to take accountability for his actions. We just feel he should remain in prison for the rest of this life.”
Defenders: The Time Has Come
Jennifer Harbury, Peltier’s longtime attorney, said this morning on GMA that it is time for Peltier to be freed.
“Mr. Peltier has been in prison for 25 years. He is way overdue for parole,” Harbury said. “He has been receiving human rights awards for the good deeds he has done behind bars, for his massive humanitarian efforts, and he is in failing health.”
Harbury also said FBI agents should not be protesting.
“It is very disturbing in any democracy for armed police officers to march through the streets of the capital,” Harbury told GMA’s Charlie Gibson. “But it is especially true in the context of this case, which raises one of the ugliest chapters of FBI civil rights violations against Native Americans in recent American history,” she said, referring to the period before the shooting.
Harbury called on Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno to open an investigation into the case.
Renewed Pleas, FBI Ire Fueled
But an investigation is unlikely. In a letter protesting the president’s comments to WBAI, Freeh stressed that slain agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler were ambushed and shot to death at point-blank range. Williams, he said, was trying to shield his face just before he was killed.
“It is not a characteristic way for FBI employees to be expressing ourselves,” Sennett said, but he pointed out that the agents involved suffered a merciless death.
“Agents Coler and Williams were defenseless,” Sennett said. “They were ambushed, they were gravely wounded and when they were on the ground they were dispatched at point-blank range with rifle fire from Leonard Peltier as if they were nothing more than wounded animals.”
But Harbury said even some law enforcement officials have major doubts over Peltier’s guilt and there is evidence that the FBI interfered with the investigation.
“Even the United States attorney admits no one knows who killed that FBI agent, who fired those fatal shots,” Harbury said. “The woman who claims to have witnessed the killing later admitted she signed those affidavits only after the FBI threatened to take away her children. The FBI ballistics tests showing that the bullet could not have come from Mr. Peltier’s gun was concealed from the jury and also from the defense.”
Harbury also said that two other people charged in the shooting were not convicted for lack of evidence.
Since Clinton’s comments to WBAI, White House officials have refused to say whether he will grant Peltier clemency. They have only said that Clinton is reviewing the case and can grant pardons to anyone at any time.ABCNEWS’ Beverley Lumpkin contributed to this report.