Clinton to Commute Radicals' Sentences
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
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
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
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.
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.
group, known as the FALN, which are the Spanish initials
for Armed Forces of National Liberation, was dedicated to the
independence of Puerto Rico.
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.