Clinton defends clemency decision
WASHINGTON - President Clinton Tuesday denied that political
considerations played a role in his decision to grant clemency to 14 Puerto
He also defended invoking executive privilege in refusing to provide a
House inquiry with documents related to the decision and said the
''extremely lengthy sentences'' the prisoners were serving was a major
factor in his decision.
The president spelled out his position in a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman,
D-Calif., as a House committee opened a hearing into the clemency
Critics have suggested the clemency was aimed at boosting first lady
Hillary Rodham Clinton's popularity among the 1.3 million Puerto Ricans
who live in New York, where she is contemplating a bid for the Senate in
But Clinton said the timing of the announcement was dictated by the
promise of his former chief counsel, Charles F.C. Ruff, to finish the review
of the clemency case before leaving the government.
''His recommendation and my decision were based on our view of the
merits of the requests,'' Clinton wrote Waxman. ''Political considerations
played no role in the process.''
Republicans, who control the House Government Reform Committee, are
displaying a grainy videotape that purports to show one of the militants
allegedly making a bomb. Republicans are trying to disprove Clinton's
contention that none of those to whom he offered clemency had been
involved in a violent crime.
''Here they are making bombs. I'd say that's pretty violent,'' said Mark
Corallo, a spokesman for the House panel.
But Julio Cortes, brother of freed prisoner Edwin Cortes, told The
Associated Press today that the tape was ''old news.''
''My opinion is that this is all party politics,'' Julio Cortes said. ''They've
something that they think they can play up against Clinton and the
Democrats, election time's coming up, and they want to get as much
mileage as they can politically out of this.''
According to Corallo, the videotape turned over to the committee by the
FBI shows Cortes and Alejandrina Torres and Edwin Cortes, who both
served some 16 years of their original 35-year sentences.
In his letter to Waxman, Clinton noted that he required the prisoners to
renounce violence as a condition of clemency
''Many of those who supported unconditional clemency for the prisoners
argued that they were political prisoners who acted out of sincere political
beliefs. I rejected this argument,'' Clinton wrote. ''No form of violence is
ever justified as a means of political expression in a democratic society
based on the rule of law.
''Our society believes, however, that a punishment should fit the crime,''
Clinton has explained that he agreed to commute the sentences because
most of the jailed Puerto Ricans had spent nearly 20 years in prison, yet
had not been charged with acts of violence that left anyone dead or
Among the documents that were turned over to the House panel were
pre-sentencing reports on the separatists from the Bureau of Prisons.
Corallo called the contents of those reports ''very troubling.''
Most of those offered clemency were associated with the FALN - the
Spanish initials for the Armed Forces of National Liberation - responsible
for a wave of bombings of U.S. civilian and military targets in the late
1970s and early 1980s that left six dead and more injured.
Those granted clemency were convicted of seditious conspiracy and
possession of weapons and explosives. Among those petitioning for their
release was former President Carter and South African Bishop Desmond
Clinton's offer to the 16 militants required that they renounce violence
meet other parole conditions limiting their travel and contact.
Fourteen accepted the offer and 11 of them were recently released from
prison. One has to serve five more years before being released and two
were already out of jail and had their fines eliminated.