Questionable evidence and tainted testimony are nothing new whenever U.S. justice clashes with the American Indian Movement (AIM).
But the bomb dropped last week by the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee smack dab in the middle of former AIM member John Graham's attempts to fight extradition to the U.S. has to rank among the most shocking elements in this tortured tale. Graham is charged with the 1975 murder of Canadian activist Anna Mae Aquash in South Dakota.
Citing "compelling evidence that has recently come to our attention regarding John Graham," the LPDC, the group behind jailed native activist Leonard Peltier, issued a statement last Wednesday (February 2) disassociating itself from the John Graham Defense Committee and demanding that it remove all Peltier's "support letters, expressions, Web site and support Web sites" from its Web site.
The three-paragraph statement, signed by LPDC national spokesperson Robert Robideau and Peltier legal adviser Barry Bachrach, goes on to say that "Leonard wants to make it very clear he wants justice to run its course, and he wants to also make it clear that he had no involvement in this matter and hence cannot associate himself with those alleged to have committed this crime against Indian people." Reached in Spain, Robideau declined to elaborate on the nature of the "compelling evidence" referred to in the LPDC statement "until we have a meeting with Leonard."
Graham, a Yukon native and former AIM foot soldier, has been fighting extradition to the U.S. and pleaded not guilty to the murder. A Vancouver court is scheduled to make a decision on his extradition February 21. Another former AIM member, Arlo Looking Cloud, was convicted for Aquash's murder last February and is now serving a life sentence.
Matthew Lien, spokesperson for the John Graham Defense Committee, says in an e-mail response to LPDC's statement that his group's "position remains the same, in that we are committed to protecting John Graham from the malicious prosecution of the United States, and in allowing this process to cast more light on the unjust imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. Any change of position within the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee does not affect how we view and respect Leonard's situation."
During Peltier's own controversial 1976 Vancouver extradition hearing, U.S. authorities presented evidence that was later found to be coerced. Peltier was nevertheless extradited and subsequently convicted for the murder of two FBI agents on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation. He is currently serving two life sentences.
Last week, Graham's lawyers presented an affidavit from Peltier claiming that a man visited him in prison in 1998 with a proposed deal to have him released in exchange for providing false evidence against Graham.
Graham's Canadian lawyer has indicated that any decision to extradite Graham will be appealed.