[sixties-l] Healing The Wounds Of The '60s

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/11/00

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    Salim Muwakkis. Salim Muwakkis is a senior editor at In These Times.
    E-mail: salim4x@aol.com
    December 11, 2000
    As his presidential days dwindle down to a precious few, Bill Clinton is 
    scrambling to produce a legacy he can leave to history. His frantic effort 
    to push a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians has so far 
    failed to bear fruit. His welfare-reform policy, once touted as an 
    unqualified success, is being re-evaluated. Studies now find it has added 
    tens of thousands of Americans to the rolls of the working poor without the 
    kind of social safety net that would help them to get out of poverty.
    But it seems to me that the president is sitting on a legacy that, were it 
    accentuated, would easily add distinction to his eight-year tenure. Almost 
    single-handedly, Clinton has managed to sooth the ragged edges of the 
    culture wars that erupted in the 1960s and 1970s.
    His canny triangulation strategies and personal charisma have served to 
    calm the clash of tradition and innovation that polarized the nation during 
    that tumultuous era. By doing so, he also managed to slow down the 
    rightward backlash that had been gaining momentum until his 1992 election.
    To highlight that unheralded accomplishment, Clinton, with considerable 
    fanfare, should grant executive clemency to Leonard Peltier, the American 
    Indian Movement activist jailed 24 years ago for killing two FBI agents. 
    The war between the FBI and political activists during that period was a 
    violent expression of the country's polarization and a grant of clemency to 
    one of its most celebrated victims would do much to focus history on 
    Clinton's true legacy of reconciliation.
    Peltier was convicted of killing agents Ray Williams and Jack Coler during 
    a shootout on June 26, 1975, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near 
    Wounded Knee, S.D. But information revealed subsequent to his 1977 trial 
    seriously indicts the judicial process that convicted him and casts doubt 
    about his guilt.
    In fact, the prosecution has conceded that it could not prove Peltier's 
    role in the agents' deaths. Peter Matthiessen's 1983 book "In The Spirit of 
    Crazy Horse" is an exhaustive account of the circumstances surrounding the 
    1975 shootout and makes a very credible case for Peltier's innocence. A 
    growing international chorus, including Amnesty International, is calling 
    for Peltier's freedom.
    According to the November 1992 ruling of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of 
    Appeals, Peltier's trial and previous appeals were riddled with FBI 
    misconduct and judicial impropriety, including: coercion of witnesses, 
    perjury, fabrication of evidence and the suppression of exculpatory 
    evidence. Those kinds of violations now sound familiar.
    The public first was alerted to that kind of illegal FBI activity during a 
    1975 Senate hearing that revealed the existence of a covert FBI operation 
    known as COINTELPRO. The goal of COINTELPRO was to disrupt, discredit and 
    neutralize black nationalist and radical movements, of which Peltier's 
    American Indian Movement was one. Many activists imprisoned during this era 
    later were found to be victims of overzealous law enforcement 
    officials.  Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, for example, recently settled a false 
    imprisonment lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the FBI for 
    keeping him locked up 27 years for a crime they knew he didn't commit.
    Because two of the victims in the Pine Ridge shootout were agents of the 
    FBI, and because the agency actively opposes Peltier's release, the 
    judicial system appears to have been reluctant to review his case. His 
    appeals, meanwhile, have been exhausted. Peltier's supporters insist the 
    FBI is withholding information that could acquit him, but he'll never get 
    another hearing. Were Clinton to shortcircuit this unfair dynamic by 
    freeing the 54-year-old Peltier, Clinton would make explicit his subtle 
    role as the national conciliator.
    Those on the left criticize Clinton for his centrist policies, but the man 
    from Hope, Ark., utilized a political Jiu-Jitsu to thwart the Republican 
    ascendancy.  By wooing enough "Reagan Democrats," he helped stem what had 
    seemed an unstoppable GOP tide.
    It hasn't been easy, of course; Clinton's impeachment and the hatred he 
    still inspires among some make it clear that the war continues. The 
    president will never win over those who think of him as "Slick Willie." 
    But, he can argue, that very quality of "slickness" has served the nation 
    well by salving our national wounds. By freeing Leonard Peltier he would 
    add substance to his slickness and firm up his legacy.

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