11 Puerto Rican nationalists freed from prison
Hearings in Congress next week on Clinton clemency offer
September 10, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Eleven members of a militant Puerto Rican nationalist group responsible for a wave of bombings across the United States in the 1970s and 1980s have been released from federal prisons after accepting a controversial clemency offer from President Bill Clinton.
The last four prisoners -- Dylcia Pagan, Carmen Valentin, Alicia Rodriguez and Ida Luz Rodriguez -- were released Friday afternoon from a federal prison in Dublin, California.
Earlier in the day, seven other prisoners -- Ricardo Jimenez, Alejandrina Torres, Edwin Cortes, Luis Rosa, Elizam Escobar, Adolfo Matos and Alberto Rodriguez -- had been released from prisons in Connecticut, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Oklahoma, California and Texas.
Those released Friday had served between 14 and 19 years in prison for their role in the terror campaign by the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by its Spanish acronym FALN. Law enforcement officials say the FALN was responsible for 130 bombings, most in New York and Chicago.
None of those granted clemency were convicted in any of the actual bombings. Rather, they had been convicted on a variety of charges ranging from bomb making and conspiracy to armed robbery and firearms violations.
Nine of the prisoners freed Friday are planning to return to Puerto Rico, while the other two plan to settle in Chicago. All 11 must check in with their parole officers within 72 hours.
Of the 16 members of the FALN offered clemency by Clinton, 14 accepted and two refused. Two of the 14 who accepted were already free and had their outstanding fines reduced; one other member had his sentence reduced but still must serve five more years in a Florida prison before being released.
The decision by Clinton to release the convicted FALN members has sparked strong criticism from law enforcement officials and political leaders. The U.S. House approved a resolution opposing the clemency offer on a 311-41 vote, with 93 Democrats crossing party lines to oppose Clinton.
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 (R- Mississippi.)
Congress cannot legally override Clinton's decision on clemency, which is a power granted to the president alone. But 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.
Some leading Democrats, including presidential candidate Bill Bradley and New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have also opposed the clemency offer.
Critics have accused Clinton of taking the action to help the expected 2000 New York Senate campaign of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for Moynihan's seat. New York is home to a large Puerto Rican community.
As the controversy grew, the first lady urged her husband to rescind the clemency offer, a statement which drew the ire of some Hispanic politicians in New York.
Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn Thursday evening, Clinton defended his decision and said he didn't discuss the clemency offer with his wife.
"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 political uproar is likely to continue next week when two Senate committees and one House committee plan to conduct hearings on the clemency offer.
FALN prisoners another step closer to freedom
Puerto Rican Prisoners of War
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.