On Thursday, Tuchone-Canadian John Graham, from the Yukon, enters a Vancouver courtroom to appeal his extradition to the United States on the charge of killing fellow activist Anna Mae Aquash 31 years ago. Graham says he has been framed by the U.S. to cover the government's own complicity in the murder.
Meanwhile, a week ago, a former UBC professor and Amnesty International veteran, Dr. Jennifer Wade, received a chilling letter from U.S. prisoner Leonard Peltier that lends credibility to Graham's story. In April, former American Indian Movement (AIM) member Bob Robideau toured B.C., claiming to represent Peltier and accusing Graham of the murder. The Peltier letter casts doubt on Robideau's claims.
Background in Indian Country
In the 1970s, Graham from Yukon and Aquash from Nova Scotia traveled independently to South Dakota, where vigilantes had killed literally hundreds of traditional native leaders. Some 300 murders of native people in and around South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, during a "reign of terror" in the 1970s, remain unsolved. The FBI arrested Aquash many times and urged her to become an informant. She later told AIM lawyers that agent David Price threatened that if she did not cooperate "you won't live out the year." A South Dakota rancher found her body on February 24, 1976.
Although she had been shot with .32 calibre bullet in the back of the head, an FBI pathologist reported that she died of exposure. FBI agent Price claimed not to recognize her, and the government buried her in a nameless pauper's grave after severing her hands. When the body was later exhumed, the FBI story unraveled. Now, 31 years later, they claim AIM ordered the murder and that Graham pulled the trigger. Naturally, many native leaders suspect dirty tricks.
Dark forces or goofballs?
In March and April 2007, Bob Robideau toured British Columbia. He claimed to represent the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, but his public events appeared designed to denounce John Graham. Robideau repeatedly accused Graham of murder, claimed to know who "ordered the execution" and created unrest among local native groups. Robideau avoided established Peltier supporters and local First Nations groups. His tour was sponsored by the "Indigenous Rights Action Project" (IRAP), which has few, if any, actual indigenous members, and is linked to "Fire this Time" (FTT), a group with its own history of disrupting B.C. progressive organizations.
I attended a UBC "forum" staged by IRAP on March 30, 2007. Lyn Highway -- from the Vancouver Native Youth Movement and Anishnabeg Outreach program, which helps secure education and employment for aboriginal youth -- confronted Robideau and IRAP representative Aaron Mercredi. She accused Mercredi of being a "dupe," and accused Robideau of being a "traitor to his people" and "a rat." She told Robideau: "You are a collaborator. You are working with the FBI. You are spreading divisiveness, suspicion and demoralization." Robideau shoved Ms. Highway against a wall, and Mercredi called the police, who arrested Ms. Highway for disrupting the forum.
I asked Robideau to explain on what evidence he accused Mr. Graham of murder. Robideau called me a "white man," true, and a "pig." He offered no evidence and ordered me to leave. I stayed and asked several more questions about his claims concerning Graham. Later, in an e-mail, I asked Robideau what he would say in his defence against Ms. Highway's accusations that he was a "rat." Robideau wrote that those "like you" at the forum, including Ms. Highway, "cast the shadow of guilt in your community over Graham. With individuals such as yourself I simply need to appear on the scene, and all of the work you accuse me of doing will be assured by you and the other screaming women."
Dr. Jennifer Wade attended the forum and reported, "Robideau had nothing new or interesting to say about Leonard Peltier. Rather, he seemed determined to prejudice Canadian opinion against John Graham, whose life hangs in the balance." Wade suspected Robideau of "misrepresenting his role within the Peltier defense team." She wrote to Peltier in his U.S. prison to ask him about Robideau.
Peltier's response, written on April 18 and received by Wade on May 10 is unequivocal: "Do I support Bob [Robideau] in his efforts to get John [Graham] railroaded into prison? Hell No! . . . if the truth be known he did not even know her. . . . You will notice Bob does not go and make these statements on Pine Ridge or anywhere in Indian Country. He would get his ass beat down bad! A dry snitch is just as bad as a snitch! And that is what he is doing, dry snitching, saying shit he has no proof of." In prison jargon, a "dry snitch" refers to someone who is misguided, has been duped, or is serving the government's prosecutorial interests out of ignorance.
I phoned Aaron Mercredi of IRAP, who hosted the tour, and asked him about his relationship with Robideau. "I won't talk to you about this," he said and hung up. Wade believes Robideau's tour was intended to prejudice the Canadian court case this week in Vancouver. Wade speaks from experience. She attended the extradition hearing of Leonard Peltier 31 years ago in Vancouver and raised the same concerns.
In 1976 the U.S. successfully extradited Leonard Peltier from Canada using affidavits signed by one Myrtle Poor Bear from Pine Ridge. These affidavits were later proven, in a U.S. courtroom, to be fabricated. Poor Bear -- a destitute single mother, who suffered clinical psychosis and depression -- testified in court that FBI agent Price kidnapped her, held her in a hotel room, threatened her children, and intimidated her into signing three false and self-contradictory affidavits. She told the court that Price showed her pictures of the dead Aquash and told her, "if I didn't do what they said, I'd be dead like Anna Mae Aquash." Nevertheless, on this "evidence" Canada sent Peltier to the U.S.
Justice minister at the time, Ron Basford, signed the extradition order on December 18, 1976. His boss, former solicitor general Warren Allmand acknowledged later that the extradition was based on completely phony evidence and he formally apologized, first in Macleans magazine in 1979, and many times thereafter. Nevertheless, Peltier remains in a U.S. jail. He wrote in his letter to Wade, "It looks more and more every day that I will die in prison."
Due to similar phony evidence submitted by the U.S. in the Graham case, Wade wrote a letter to Warren Allmand this week. "Canada seems about to make another mistake by allowing John Graham to be extradited on May 17. Please do what you can to prevent this from happening to help make right the wrong that was done Peltier when you were Solicitor General for Canada in 1976."
Graham's attorney, Terry LaLiberte has already shown in a Canadian courtroom that U.S. Attorney Robert Mandel, who filed the U.S. request to extradite Graham, presented spurious evidence. In a letter dated January 26, 2004, Mandel assured Canada that "the evidence . . . is available for trial."
For witness number one, Mandel told Canada that spiritual leader and elder Al Gates would testify that Graham was present at the murder. This is false. Mr. Gates had been dead for nine months when Mr. Mandel put his name forward.
Arlo Looking Cloud, the only alleged witness to Aquash's murder, says the FBI induced him with heroin and alcohol to give a false statement. He now insists he will not testify against Graham. A third witness, Frank Dillon, has denied making any incriminating statements against Graham, and claims Mandel's letter misrepresented him.
LaLiberte and Graham have said they would welcome a trial in Canada, where the fake evidence could be exposed. LaLiberte says he wants Mandel to explain in court the gaps, misrepresentations, and flaws in the extradition request. "In Canada," says LaLiberte, "I could drive a truck through the holes in this case."
Leonard Peltier believes, as he states in his letter: "He [Mr. Graham] will not receive a fair trial if he is returned."
The extradition agreement with the US
In the Vancouver courtroom on Thursday, LaLiberte will ask the court for a new hearing, based on a Supreme Court of Canada decision that suggests our extradition treaty with the U.S. conflicts with the Charter of Rights and may put any Canadian at risk.
LaLiberte says that during Graham's first hearing, before Justice Elizabeth Bennett in December 2003, "Justice Bennett felt that the U.S. request for extradition was unsatisfactory, as we showed, but she also felt constrained by the extradition law since she had no authority to actually review the evidence."
Our extradition treaty gives the U.S. the authority to seize any Canadian citizen on the mere say-so of a U.S. Attorney. The U.S. is only required to deliver a summary of evidence, and case history has traditionally denied Canadian courts the right to investigate the evidence or confirm its accuracy.
"However," LaLiberte points out, "the case law has changed. The Canadian Supreme Court has broadened the scope. An extradition hearing is no longer just a rubber stamp process."
Supreme Court challenges extradition treaty
In July of 2006, Canada's Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin presiding, expressed concerns that the Extradition Law, as it stands, may violate the Charter of Rights. In a case brought to the court by attorney Edward Greenspan, the court established a new test for judges when deciding whether or not an accused should be sent to the U.S.
The court stated that evidence to extradite must amount to a case that could go to trial in Canada and potentially result in a guilty verdict. In common language: No dead witnesses, no intimidated witnesses, and no phony affidavits. The court ruled that "This may require the extradition judge to engage in limited weighing of the evidence."
Justice McLachlin also wrote that the extradition process must be "independent in appearance and in substance" and "must provide real protection against extradition in the absence of an adequate case against the person sought." John Graham and his attorney LaLiberte would welcome a new hearing under these conditions.
As Bertolt Brecht once remarked about the absurdity of the world: "In the contradiction lies the hope."
John Graham's appeal hearing is Thursday May 17th, 9 a.m., at the B.C. Law Courts, 800 Smithe Street, Vancouver.
More reading on this topic:
- "Who killed Anna Mae Aquash?"
by Rex Weyler, Vancouver Sun, January 8, 2005
- Noam Chomsky on John Graham's threatened extradition from Vancouver
- Bob Newbrook, attending officer at Leonard Peltier's arrest raises doubts about John Graham's arrest