FALN prisoners set free
In all, 11 to be released today
September 10, 1999
(CNN) -- The 11 Puerto Rican nationalists who accepted President Clinton's clemency offer and agreed to renounce violence were released from prison on Friday.
Alejandrina Torres was released from the federal prison at Danbury, Connecticut. Family members said she was accompanied by her two daughters. "I am ecstatic. I am so happy," said another daughter, Norma Torres, about her mother's release.
Edwin Cortes left the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. "It was tough sometimes. It was tough for me. It was tough for him. It was tough for my kids. But we made it," Cortes' wife, Alva, said as she waited outside for him.
Ricardo Jimenez rode out of an Indiana prison, near Terre Haute, in a gold Mercedes, accompanied by his sister and others. "I'm elated that I'm free, here with my family," he told reporters.
Clinton made the clemency offer last week to a total of 16 convicted Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) members. Two rejected it and two others -- who are already out of prison -- accepted the deal on Friday, just hours before a White House deadline. By agreeing to Clinton's offer, their fines are reduced.
Another prisoner who accepted clemency still must serve five more years at a federal prison in Florida before he is eligible for release.
'Deplorable concession to terrorists'
Granting clemency is a presidential prerogative that cannot be overruled by Congress, but lawmakers formally criticized Clinton on Thursday for being soft on terrorism.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 311-41 against Clinton's clemency offer. The group opposing the president included 93 Democrats.
The Senate will vote on a similar resolution Monday. A draft text condemns the president for a "deplorable concession to terrorists" that has "undermined national security."
"There is a feeling of outrage in this country against this action," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said lawmakers had an obligation to vote for the resolution condemning Clinton's action.
"... When he elevates terrorists over other people who may well deserve pardons much more, or having their sentence cut much more, he has abused his power and abused his office," Sessions said.
"And it is a duty, the responsibility of this Congress to do the only thing we can. And that is to adopt a resolution that speaks clearly that we don't accept it," he said.
Anti-Clinton motivations alleged
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, called the House resolution a "travesty" and said it interferes in the criminal justice system.
"Why is this being rushed through? To embarrass the president and the first lady, who is considering running for the Senate in New York," Nadler said.
The White House faces a continued political uproar next week when two Senate committees and one in the House plan to hold hearings on the clemency offer.
Leading Democrats, such as presidential candidate Bill Bradley, opposed the clemency offer -- as did Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose New York Senate seat Hillary Rodham Clinton hopes to win.
Many critics accused Clinton of taking the action to help his wife gain support among New York's Puerto Rican and larger Hispanic community.
The controversy then took an even more dramatic turn over last weekend when the first lady said the offer should be rescinded -- comments that drew criticism of her from leading New York Hispanic politicians.
President says he did not discuss clemency with wife
Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn Thursday afternoon, the president stood by his decision to free the prisoners -- and defended his wife, even though her opinion differs.
"It was up to her and entirely appropriate for her to say whatever she wanted to about it. But I did what I thought was right," the president said.
He also said he didn't discuss the matter with the first lady. "I haven't discussed other clemency issues with her and I didn't think I should discuss this one," Clinton said.
Some law enforcement officials and Republicans say Clinton made the clemency offer to curry favor for Mrs. Clinton among New York's 1.3 million Puerto Ricans.
But the president said politics played no role in his clemency offer to the militant activists.
"None of them were convicted of doing bodily harm to anyone. And they had all served sentences that were considerably longer than they would serve under the sentencing guidelines which control federal sentencing now," he said.
"I did not believe they should be held in incarceration -- in effect -- by guilt by association," he said.
The president said he received petitions on behalf of the prisoners from hundreds of people, including former President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, other religious leaders and congressmen.
Correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.
FALN prisoners another step closer to freedom
Puerto Rican Prisoners of War
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