Clinton Gives Clemency to Activists
Clinton Gives Clemency to Activists
Aug. 11, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton offered on Wednesday to commute the sentences of 16 members of a Puerto Rican independence group if they sign agreements renouncing the use of violence. Their group staged some 130 bomb attacks on political and military targets in the United States from 1974 to 1983.
One administration official, who spoke on condition anonymity, said the prisoners were not involved in any deaths.
Eleven members of the group would be released immediately from prison if they agreed to Clinton's conditions; two others would have to serve additional prison time before release; and three would have the unpaid balance of their criminal fines canceled, according to a Justice Department announcement.
One of the two who would have to serve additional time also would have the unpaid balance of his fine waived. Of the three whose only clemency offer was a reduction in fine, two already completed their prison sentences in 1994 and the third remains in prison with no reduction in his 15-year sentence.
The president also conditioned the clemency offer on the independence advocates signing written statements requesting the commutation and agreeing to abide by all conditions of release set by law or the Parole Commission.
Justice Department spokeswoman Chris Watney declined to explain Clinton's reasons for the decision. She did say the Justice Department, as is customary, submitted a report and recommendation to Clinton, but declined to describe it.
The 13 original prison sentences for which Clinton offered reductions ranged from 35 years to 90 years. He offered to reduce them to a range of four years to 44 years. Watney could not immediately supply the amount of fines being waived.
Clinton's action was in response to a campaign by human rights advocates who have argued that members of the group known as FALN _ the Spanish initials for Armed Forces of National Liberation _ were punished too harshly in light of their crimes. He acted on the recommendation of Charles F.C. Ruff, the chief counsel who left his White House post last Friday.
``What the president did, based on the recommendation of counsel, was grant clemency to individuals on a case-by-case basis that recognized the serious nature of the crimes that they were convicted of but also took into account the excessive nature of the sentences that were imposed upon them 20 years ago,'' said the administration official.
``The persons here were not convicted in cases involving death or serious injury,'' the official said. They were convicted, in some cases, of armed robbery and supplying resources for FALN activities.
Prosecutors branded those convicted for FALN activities as terrorists. But in recent months, Puerto Rican and U.S. church leaders, politicians and citizens have sent 75,000 signatures to the White House to demand the prisoners' freedom. South Africa's retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader; and three members of Congress are among them.
Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War in 1898. It is a U.S. commonwealth that enjoys local autonomy but has no vote in Congress or for president. The FALN was committed to independence for the island.
Bombings attributed to the FALN killed six people and wounded dozens, but the 11 offered clemency were not directly involved the deaths and injuries, officials said. The 13 didn't defend themselves at trial, saying they didn't recognize U.S. legal jurisdiction over them.
Two other prisoners for whom human rights activists have sought pardons were convicted in a $7.5 million armored truck robbery in West Hartford, Conn. The 1983 robbery was to finance the separatist group Los Macheteros, which has attacked U.S. government installations in Puerto Rico.
There is precedent for pardons. In 1977 and 1979, President Carter pardoned four Puerto Rican nationalists who were convicted in a 1954 shooting attack on Congress that wounded five lawmakers. Carter also pardoned a fifth nationalist who was convicted of plotting to kill President Truman in 1950.