From: Els Date: 12 Mar 2008, 09:59 AM
He wants court to see FBI’s papers
Peltier appealing his conviction for killing two agents
By Emily Gurnon
Article Launched: 03/12/2008 12:01:00 AM CDT
American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier’s 30-year battle against government charges he killed two FBI agents landed Tuesday in Minneapolis.
Oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealt with Peltier’s attempt to get the FBI to release thousands of pages of documents about him that it has withheld.
Peltier was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. But his supporters, including some human rights groups, believe that he is innocent and that he was targeted because of his political activism.
About 3,500 pages were turned over for Peltier’s original trial in 1977. But his attorneys have discovered over the years that the actual number of documents the FBI has on Peltier is 142,579, said attorney Michael Kuzma.
Peltier has tried for nearly seven years to use the federal Freedom of Information Act to get the tens of thousands of pages still being withheld.
"I just think this thing stinks to high heaven," Kuzma said after the hearing. He told the court, "We still don’t know the truth about what happened back then."
Judge Lavenski R. Smith asked Kuzma what the remedy would be for Peltier.
Kuzma said the court should conduct "a full in-camera review of the documents." When Smith expressed some disbelief at that idea, Kuzma added that, if that were too burdensome, the court could focus on the documents from 1977, of which Peltier has received none.
Tom Byron, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., argued that "there’s no support" for an in-camera inspection of the records.
The agency has said it properly withheld documents based on exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act. Those include documents kept secret for national security reasons and information that would reveal funds spent on undercover operations.
He also said there was no evidence the U.S. District Court abused its discretion in ruling that the FBI could withhold certain documents.
Kuzma said the documents compiled by the FBI’s Minneapolis field office could contain information about FBI informants who were privy to attorney-client conversations involving Peltier, and who could have turned around and reported valuable information to the FBI. Peltier has filed similar lawsuits elsewhere in the country.
Peltier, 63, is serving two life sentences at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. The federal courts have rejected all of his challenges to his conviction, according to the government.
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