Indians Can Sue Haig, Other Officials, Court Rules
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A federal appeals court ruled today that retired Gen. Alexander Haig and others can be sued by Indians who claim the military illegally intervened to end the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D.
In a 5-4 decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling last November by a three-judge panel of the same court. The panel reversed a lower court’s dismissal of complaints by the Indians that their constitutional rights had been violated.
The 70-day armed occupation of the Pine Ridge Reservation town began on Feb. 27, 1973, as a protest to draw attention to complaints by Indians of poor treatment by the federal government. Two Indians were killed during the siege and two federal officials were wounded, one seriously. Up to 300 Indians were involved in the occupation, which lasted until a surrender was worked out on May 8, 1973.
In today’s opinion, Judge Richard S. Arnold of Little Rock, Ark., said the majority agreed with the conclusions of the three-judge panel.
In the earlier opinion, the court ruled that military personnel should have been used at Wounded Knee in 1973 only with specific authorization by Congress or President Richard M. Nixon. At the time Haig was vice chief of staff of the Army.
″The use of military forces to seize civilians can expose civilian government to the threat of military rule and the suspension of constitutional liberties,″ the panel said. ″On a lesser scale, military enforcement of the civil law leaves the protection of vital Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights in the hands of persons who are not trained to uphold these rights.″
In his dissenting opinion, Judge George Fagg of Des Moines, Iowa, said he believed that the actions of Haig and other government officials did not violate the constitutional rights of the Indians.
″Here, it is truly ironic that military officials who responded to requests for assistance by civilan authorities and who in the face of an armed uprising acted not to subvert but to preserve and protect the Constitution and restore civilian rule now face substantial monetary liability,″ Fagg wrote.
″In fact, the entire purpose behind the actions taken was to ensure and restore domestic tranquility, a goal pointedly identified by the Founding Fathers in the Preamble of the Constitution,″ he said.