As we look into the New Year, it is also time to look back and see which governments might free a prisoner or two due to the decline of age or ill health. With honoring the traditions that are represented by a holiday that celebrates a religious figure who focused on forgiveness, love, and redemption, it seems a perfect time to look inward to the United States and outward to another country and to make a single recommendation for each one.
My suggestions for the USA is to finally let Leonard Peltier, who after thirty six years in jail, go home. Convicted in a trial with more procedural and witness issues than would possibly be permitted today, he has served more than enough time to reckon with any sentiment of justice. Multiple murderers have been released more quickly than Peltier and numerous human rights groups internationally have called for his release for two decades. His health is currently frail and the circumstances of his extradition to the United States and prosecution here was, charitably put, questionable. His history brings to mind the wars against the American Indians by white settlers bent on enforcing the delusion of Manifest Destiny even at the price of genocide. Peltier was(is) and Indian traditionalist. He helped defend those ways in a showdown where two FBI against were unquestionably killed, though likely not by him.
Shaky evidence helped convict Peltier for the shooting deaths, but he has always maintained his innocence. He was a member of the American Indian Movement(AIM), a group who believed that standing up for the past as well as the present was important. Not all American Indians joined or supported this movement but AIM was firm in their ways of keeping their own authority with regard to maintaining their cultures and their languages. In the early 70's , many of us in positions to do so gave both material and political support to this movement. Now regardless of how either side of this debate has felt in the past, it is time to say enough already. 36 years suffices for any one with suspicious trial circumstances. His health is failing. He should not die in jail. Our newly re-elected President can free him at this time. It would be gracious and uplifting to all Indian people throughout the Americas, North Central and South. It would be an overdue step to reconciling the indigenous peoples of this land with this nation that claims freedom and liberty for all. Isn't this the time for reconciliation and forgiveness?
Internationally, I'd plead for a commuted sentence for Chen Shui-bian, the former democratically elected two-term President of Taiwan. For four years, his health needs were systematically neglected by the present government of Ma Ying-jeou. Confined to a tiny cell for twenty three hours a day with another cellmate (who had other options to be outside of the cell). He was confined to a cell without a bed, table, shower, or flush toilet. Complaining frequently of illness to the prison authority, he was ignored or dismissed as having "only the flu." Ignoring for a moment the fact that flu viruses are worthy of treatment when one is incarcerated in close quarters, the fact of the matter is that his treatment and appropriate diagnosis wasn't taken seriously even with ten consecutive days of 180+ systolic blood pressure measurements. With medical care limited to flash visits and incredibly quickly rushed tests outside of the prison, but never adhered to modern neutral medical standards of care. After delay and deferral, Mr. Chen's physical and mental health collapsed significantly to the point that he had a number of mini-strokes to his once prodigious wit. He entered a phase of severe depression, slurred speech, and several identified brain blockages.
Finally receiving limited treatment, all bills are being passed on to his already burdened family as prisoners are exempted from coverage by national health insurance (in spite of international standards making medical care for prisoners being the real and financial responsibility of the state for those is incarcerates). There is still a constant menace of being subject to a return to his prison cell regardless of physician recommendations and his years of poor medical care have put him in a condition of permanently damaged health and well-being. The use of a penal system to kill prisoners is an old and tired line of action by desperate regimes. With massive political divides existing between the Green-Blue divide, Chen's DPP (Green) is the only non-KMT government in Taiwan's post-colonial history and Ma's KMT seems to be backsliding towards an only-nominally multiparty system with punitive extractions of all-but-the-KMT (Blue). President Ma's abysmal approval ratings would likely get a substantive lift to move towards reconciliation across this bridge if he would show the courage and honor of commuting a sentence or allowing a real medical parole.
Both American and Taiwanese Presidents would go a long step to restoring the respective national honor of their countries to the world, or themselves to their people, and to honoring the sense that redemption, forgiveness, and having things get better. In this season that the light is beginning to return to the Northern Hemisphere, where people around the world gather to celebrate the birth of a man who preached such things as essential elements of humanity's potential and promise, can't we take a decisive step forward to a better world. Can't we recognize when justice has been served and move forward together?