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    Letters to the Editors

    Leonard Peltier should not be given clemency

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 8, 2001


    Re: Collective guilt, and the man who pays, by Louise Erdrich, Jan. 1.

    On April 18, 1977, after a five-week trial, Leonard Peltier was convicted by a jury of two counts of first-degree murder. His victims, FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler were cowardly ambushed and executed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While trying to defend themselves, these agents fired five shots. Their vehicle was found with 125 bullet holes, not including the shots that struck the agents at point blank range. When Peltier was sentenced, he was given two consecutive life terms by U.S. Judge Paul Benson. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals thoroughly examined Peltier's case and repeatedly rejected his appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice declined to hear his case.

    In her column, Erdrich claimed there were no witnesses to these killings, but Peltier himself has admitted to shooting at the agents in an interview with 60 Minutes. Further, Peltier was seen at the location of the agents' bodies carrying his AR-15 rifle. In fact, witness testimony established that Peltier was the only person carrying an AR-15 rifle at the time of the murders. Erdrich also alleges that no exact forensic evidence linked the AR-15 rifle to the crime. The facts are that a .223 shell casing found in the trunk of Agent Coler's vehicle positively matched marks produced by the extractor of Peltier's AR-15 rifle which fires a .223 caliber round.

    Erdrich depicts Peltier as a "person of true humility and gentle humor." The facts are that he has proven to be an extremely violent criminal, who, while trying to escape from justice fired on an Oregon state trooper and then fled, leaving a vehicle loaded with guns and ammunition. Finally, after being captured by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Peltier bragged he would have blown them out of their shoes if he knew they were coming. In 1977, Peltier was involved in an armed escape from Lompoc Penitentiary. During this escape another inmate was killed. He was convicted of escape and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The conviction was affirmed on appeal.

    As a Dec. 22 editorial in the Chicago Tribune stated, "the case of Leonard Peltier is not about righting societal wrongs. It is, instead about two carefully calculated murders." This case has nothing to do with the victimization of American Indians by the U.S. government. The case is centered on the cowardly assassination of two young FBI agents who will never see their wives and children again. There cannot and must not be any grant of clemency for Leonard Peltier. He has lost all appeals and ought to remain in jail for life if our system of laws is not undermined by a presidential pardon.
    -- Cyril P. Gamber, Southeast regional vice president, Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Inc., Tampa

    Anxiety abroad

    Re: America's image in Bush's hands, Dec. 23.

    Wilbur Landrey points out that our allies and opponents are fearful about George W. Bush's inexperience in foreign affairs but are "partly reassured by the fact that . . . he has surrounded himself by experienced advisers."

    While the Times and the American press have greeted the appointments of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice with hallelujahs, such responsible foreign journals as the Economist and the Guardian Weekly of England have expressed major doubts about these appointments. While not questioning the personal qualities these two, the Economist holds that they have not received the scrutiny they deserve. "The Powell Doctrine," the Economist observes, seems to contain remarkably narrow definitions of where American interests lie and when military action might be justified. The conclusion is that "Mr. Bush's foreign policy duo deserve to be treated with a wary respect rather than the hallelujahs that have so far welcomed them." The Guardian Weekly in an editorial declares: "In nominating . . . Powell . . . Bush has chosen a symbol, not a diplomat; a soldier, not a peacemaker; an ardent nationalist, not an internationalist. . . . Like his boss, he believes that the U.S. retains the right to threaten unfavoured regimes, dictate global business and trade terms, ignore environmental standards, defy international law, and build destabilising anti-missile systems in defiance of allies and adversaries."

    Surely the American public should be informed by our own media of this high level of anxiety being expressed by our allies in Europe?
    -- William C. Wilbur, St. Petersburg

    An important change in Russia

    Re: New Russian anthem praises "holy country," Dec. 31.

    The anthem, revived by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian legislature, which once praised the atheist Communist Party and dictator Josef Stalin, now celebrates Russia as a "holy country" that is "protected by God."

    Congratulations to President Putin and the legislators who brought this about. What a turn around from the era of Stalin, who not only made sure that the policy of official atheism was enforced, but also persecuted religious believers.

    Putin said, "The anthem is not simply a symbol. It is impossible to live without it."

    I truly believe we have a Russian leader who will bring Russia into the present. Thank you, President Putin and your legislators, for taking this huge step.

    I feel strongly that President Clinton should have a final summit with President Putin and pave the way for President-elect George W. Bush to meet with Putin. Bush should assure sure him that he has nothing to fear from us and that, if we can come up with the technology for a sound, secure missile defense system, it will be shared with Russia. If we are partners is space, then we should be partners in eliminating any threat from renegade missile attacks.
    -- James B. Mitchell, Largo

    Civilization's foundations

    Re: Taxes contradict family values, letter, Dec. 30.

    It is a very prevalent misconception that Judeo-Christianity forms the cornerstone of Western civilization. On the contrary, Christianity was brutally forced upon Europeans when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to it about 312 C.E.

    Western civilization was built upon the Roman Empire of antiquity, the Greek culture of antiquity and the subsequently brutally converted Northwestern Europeans. Actually, it took a thousand years before that conversion was completed, and much blood was spilled over it. One such example was Charlemagne's brutal murder of some 5,000 of our Teutonic ancestral chieftains in one day on the banks of the Aller River in Germany, with church dignitaries looking on. This earned Charlemagne, king of the Franks, the title of holy Roman emperor. As stated in Savitri Devi's book, "the Aller River ran red with blood" (1958).

    If God did this to Europe, it is a very different God than I have ever encountered or studied during my lifetime. My credentials for this correction of a very erroneous and debilitating idea are a degree in history and a lifetime of studying and reading in the fields of religion and history, as well as the professions of teaching, writing and librarianship.

    But I do agree that there should be no estate tax and that one's property belongs to his or her next of kin, not the state or the public. And the family goes back to the chimps in the trees and all the other of our animal kin; it did not begin with Christianity.
    -- Molly Gill, Largo

    Racial bias case is harmful

    Re: Florida lawyer to up ante in Microsoft suit, Jan. 4.

    News of a $5-billion dollar racial bias case against Microsoft will only widen the chasm between races because this suit is a complete foray into irrationality by people who have a total repugnance for truth and decency.

    As the founder of a leading international public relations and advertising agency in the high-tech sector, I can speak firsthand about the charge that those bringing suit "don't move up the ladder."

    Each high-tech company has a competitive requirement to seek the best employees possible, regardless of color. That explains why of all industries, the high-tech sector arguably has the highest percentage of ethnic employees, people from all over the world.

    Therefore, it's doubtful that intelligent, honest people could truly believe that only members of their race are subjected to workplace bias. The enormity of such paranoia would boggle the mind. However, it's probably more a case of certain people believing they can make an easy $5-billion from Bill Gates.

    As long as these frivolous lawsuits gain front-page coverage in major daily newspapers and aren't shouted down by people of all races, we will be subjected to such insults to our sensibilities. And the uniting of races will be slowed as a result of bitterness. This will hurt everyone.

    It's about time high-powered judges, newspapers such as the St. Petersburg Times and government figures said, "Enough is enough of this lunacy."
    -- Garrick Case, president, PR Plus International, Clearwater

    Bonus money was divisive

    Re: Good grades pay off for school employees, Dec. 26.

    I hope Gov. Jeb Bush and his cronies are well aware of how the grading system and, in particular, the school recognition money has divided our schools. As a parent of a child in elementary school, a PTA officer and SAC member, I saw some ugly things happen a month or so before Christmas vacation. If this was Bush's intention, then consider this program a success!

    We are midway through our forth year in a brand new school. Up until this controversy, we were a very cohesive, family-oriented group. Everyone got along with each other, both staff and parents. We all felt blessed to be a part of such a wonderful situation. Then somebody had to mess things up by throwing money into the equation.

    The bonus money really ripped us apart. It pitted teacher against teacher and support staff against teacher. Some very hurtful things were said and done, all of which cannot be taken back.

    Do we think that our teachers are underpaid and underappreciated? Absolutely. Are we grateful to our teachers for working under these conditions? Absolutely. Would any one of us like to be able to change all of this? Absolutely. However, we can't make those changes in this manner. Especially, when the money being used is a result of a grading system that we all oppose.

    These are the very same people who openly objected to the way that our schools were being graded. Yet, when they are offerred money for their grade, they're the first in line to claim it.

    Personally, I feel the money should be sent back to Tallahassee with a note saying, "Thanks, but no thanks!" Or at the very least, it should be sent to a school that is struggling.

    The bottom line is that NO ONE person is responsible for a school/student's success. It takes a number of factors; parents getting their kids to school on time, well rested and fed; students diligently working on their studies; support staff pulling their weight, etc. While teachers may be the bottom line, the accountability rests on everybody's shoulders.

    So, Mr. Bush, thanks for nothing. All of our schools in the state of Florida have gone through this horrible experience and we are now going to try to get on with the process of healing.
    Anne Kluga, Safety Harbor

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