The New York Times
August 12, 1999

Clinton to Commute Radicals' Sentences


          WASHINGTON -- Under continued pressure from minority
          politicians and human rights activists, President Clinton
          Wednesday agreed to commute the sentences of 16 members of a
          Puerto Rican nationalist group that was involved in more than 100
          bombings of political and military installations in the United States at least
          15 years ago.

          Most of the 16 were convicted of crimes like seditious conspiracy,
          possession of an unregistered firearm or interstate transportation of a
          stolen vehicle. Yet some were sentenced to more than 50 years in jail, a
          length of time that the president viewed as excessive, administration
          officials said.

          Most have already served at least 19 years. One was sentenced to 90
          years and has served nearly 25 years and the others have served at least
          14 years.

          "The president feels they deserved to serve serious sentences for these
          crimes but not sentences that were far out of proportion to the nature of
          the crimes they were convicted for," Barry Toiv, a White House
          spokesman, said Wednesday night.

          The president imposed conditions on the commutations, requiring each
          person to renounce the use of violence and agree to comply with normal
          parole requirements. Eleven would be released from prison immediately,
          two would have to serve additional time, and three would have their fines

          One of their friends is not being offered clemency because of the
          seriousness of the crimes of which he was convicted and his continued
          advocacy of violence.

          The nationalist group, known as the FALN, which are the Spanish initials
          for Armed Forces of National Liberation, was dedicated to the
          independence of Puerto Rico.

          Between 1974 and 1983, law enforcement officials attributed at least
          130 bombings to the FALN and branded it a terrorist organization. It
          killed six people and wounded scores more, but those whose sentences
          the president wants to commute were not directly involved in the deaths
          and injuries, officials said.

          It was other Puerto Rican nationalists who were convicted of storming
          the United States House of Representatives in 1954 and wounding five
          lawmakers. Former President Jimmy Carter pardoned four of those
          nationalists in 1977 and 1979. He also pardoned a fifth who had been
          convicted of plotting to kill President Truman in 1950.

          Carter was among human rights leaders who urged Clinton to release
          these 16. Other leaders calling for their release included retired South
          African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, Cardinal John
          O'Connor of the Archidocese of New York, the Right Rev. Paul Moore
          Jr., the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and
          several Democratic lawmakers from New York, including Reps. Jose E.
          Serrano, Charles B. Rangel, Nydia M. Velazquez and Eliot L. Engel.

          White House officials said that Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has all but
          declared her candidacy for the Senate from New York, had nothing to
          do with the commutation, which had been in the works long before she
          indicated her interest in the election. However, the decision could accrue
          to her political benefit by cementing her relationship with New York's
          large Puerto Rican community.

          On the other hand, some law enforcement officials have said that the
          nationalists should have been given stiffer sentences, and the
          commutations could hurt Mrs. Clinton among the law-and-order
          advocates who support her likely Republican opponent, Mayor Rudolph
          Giuliani of New York City.