No Good Reason To Offer Clemency To Puerto Rican Terrorists

10 September 1999

By Stentor Danielson

Slick Willy has done it again.

In early August, President Clinton quietly extended an offer of clemency to 16 jailed members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a military organization working toward Puerto Rican independence mostly through bombings and murders.

Clinton claimed that human rights and religious leaders had convinced him that the sentences given to the FALN members -- ranging from 35 to 90 years -- were too severe for their crimes. So, against the advice of the FBI, he allowed the 16 militiamen to go free, provided they sign a document renouncing violence. Earlier this week, 12 of them accepted the deal. Unfortunately, I fail to see what Clinton hoped to accomplish.

The FALN has not had a good record to date. Its members are believed to be responsible for over 130 bombings of political and military targets in the past quarter-century. It is hard to believe that members of an organization so dedicated to using violence and terror to push their message would suddenly give it up.

It is even harder to believe that we can accept a signed paper as proof of their new peaceful ways. A person who has no trouble plotting murder should have no trouble signing a document dishonestly.

As if it wasn't obvious enough that these people cannot be trusted, prison officials secretly taped jailed FALN members' conversations. According to officials, the tapes show that they have no intention of turning over a new leaf. Yet Clinton conveniently seems to be able to ignore that evidence.

This obliviousness to the evidence on Clinton's part suggests that there may be an ulterior motive. If all he was trying to do was allow people who had seen the error of their ways go free, the tapes should have set him straight. The clemency offer was contingent upon their renouncing violence, which they clearly have no intention of doing.

But for some reason Clinton chose to stand behind his decision as first the Justice Department, then the Republicans and finally even his own party turned against him. There is something beyond compassion behind Clinton's offer.

Three facts seem to fit too well into this picture. First, Clinton's wife, Hillary, is almost certainly going to be the top Democratic candidate for a New York Senate seat. Second, New York has a large population of Puerto Ricans, many of whom are, if not sympathetic to FALN, unhappy with the punishment dealt to their incarcerated brethren. And third, the Clintons have a history of wooing support from particular groups with specific concessions, For example, earlier this year, Hillary Clinton attempted to gain the backing of New York's significant Jewish population by expressing a commitment to one unified Jerusalem.

Put togetherm these seem to add up to a ploy by the President to win over New York'sn Puerto Rican vote. Hillary Clinton's opponent, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has loudly denounced the clemency offer.

Granted, there is no proof that the offer was an attempt by the President to help his wife's ambitious political career. Soon after Republicans voiced their suspicions, Hillary Clinton denied having any influence over the decision.

Still, she stopped short of denouncing it. She seemed willing to take advantage of it to garner votes. And it's hard to argue with a Senate seat being a nice "I'm sorry" gift after the Monica Lewinsky fiasco. Regardless, the motivation behind the offer still seems suspicious at best. We should all have learned not to take President Clinton at face value.

Even if the clemency offer was not made as a ploy to boost Hillary Clinton's standing in the polls -- and even if there was some reason to believe the FALN members might actually hold true to their world -- President Clinton's decision still seems foolish.

The human rights leaders and religious officials who suggested that he free these people base their case on the nature of the crimes committed by the jailed FALN members. Though the FALN has killed many people, those who have been offered clemency were charged only with conspiracy and illegal weapons possession.

That means that the real murderers are still at large,. Clinton has been told that these people are being pubished too heavily and that the 20 years they have already served is enough.

Their underlying crime, though, is something more serious than conspiracy. As members of the FALN, these people have targeted the security and sovereignty of the United States and of the ideals upon which our country was founded.

The United States was born from a revolution that was the 18th-century version of the FALN. But the reason our fledgling nation needed an armed uprising was that we had no other option.

Perhaps you have heard the expression "no taxation without representation." When our founding fathers drew up a plan for governing the new nation, they remembered how the Revoluationary War had come about. To prevent such and uprising, they created channels through which grievances could be addressed peacefully.

In the case of Puerto Rico, this takes its most dramatic form in the periodic referenda on changing the island's commonwealth status. A majority of Puerto Ricans have expressed no desire to give up the perks of commonwealth status, such as exemption from taxes.

The FALN, however, doesn't seem to like the "majority rule" concept. But whether they like it or not, the FALN is, for the time being, in America, and America's sovereignty is based on majority rule. And it is subject to American laws.

What this all boils down to is that Clinton wants to excuse the actions of 16 people whose actions directly challenged the most basic underpinnings of our form of government.

Given the high crime rates and widely recognized moral crisis of our day, it does not seem wise to suggest that our government -- the ultimate authority figure -- will tolerate insubordination. The FALN is a danger to the United States both by what it does and what it represents.

For whatever reason, Clinton has let the clemency offer stand, and it has been accepted by 12 of those to whom it was extended. I just jope that President Clinton thinks a senate seat for his wife -- or whatever unpalatable motive is behind the offer -- is worth a compromise of our national security, however small.

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