September 8, 1999

12 Puerto Rican nationalists agree to 'unprecedented' clemency condition

                  CHICAGO (CNN) -- Two Puerto Rican nationalists have one more day
                  to decide whether to accept a conditional clemency offer from
                  President Clinton which was accepted by 12 other members of the group
                  FALN on Tuesday.

                  Two imprisoned FALN members have rejected the offer of clemency.

                  "We think this is an unprecedented, historic moment," attorney Jan Susler
                  said, "that the president of the United States could recognize that men and
                  women who have dedicated their lives to the freedom of their country
                  deserve to be free ... to participate in the political, legal process to shape
                  the future of their country."

                  The dozen prisoners -- 11 of whom are eligible for immediate release --
                  signed papers renouncing violence to achieve political goals and agreed as a
                  condition of parole to sever ties with FALN.

                  The 12th prisoner who signed the papers will not be eligible for release until
                  he serves five more years at a federal prison in Florida, Susler said.

                  The White House issued a statement saying: "The president expects all those
                  who accept the conditional clemency grant to abide fully by its terms,
                  including refraining from the use or advocacy of the use of violence for any
                  purpose and obeying all the statutory conditions of parole."

                  The prohibition on associating with one another is a common condition of
                  parole, and authorities said if these prisoners violate their parole, the charges
                  will be reinstated against them.

                  Attorney: Mobilizing  protection for prisoners

                 The FBI and Justice Departments "have said pointblank that the
                  president should not have granted clemency," but it would be unwise for
                  federal authorities to harass, intimidate or set up the prisoners after they are
                  released, Susler said.

                 "Because they have showed us their hand and showed us they will not be unbiased,
                  objective law enforcement, we have taken it upon ourselves to mobilize protection
                  for the prisoners and watchdog groups who will be watching the people responsible
                  for enforcing the conditions," Susler said.

                  The Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by its Spanish initials
                  FALN, claimed responsibility or was blamed for 130 bombings, mostly in
                  New York and Chicago, in the 1970s and early 1980s.

                  None of the 16 at the heart of the clemency offer was convicted in any of the
                  bombings. They were convicted on a variety of charges, ranging from
                  bomb-making and conspiracy to armed robbery, and given sentences
                  ranging from 35 to 90 years. The activists already have served between 14
                  to 19 years in prison.

                  The group wants Puerto Rico to be able to end its status as a U.S. territory
                  and create an independent country.

                  Political controversy

                  The clemency offer was controversial to begin with. Some New York
                  politicians and law enforcement groups criticized the president as being
                  lenient to terrorists.

                  Others suggested Clinton took the action to help his wife, who is planning to
                  run for the U.S. Senate from New York, court support among New York's
                  Puerto Rican and larger Hispanic community.

                  The White House insisted politics played no part in the decision and made
                  the distinction that none of those offered clemency was involved in FALN
                  bombings linked to major injuries.

                  The controversy took another turn over the weekend when first lady Hillary
                  Clinton called on her husband to withdraw the clemency offer, saying the
                  failure of the 16 to immediately accept the conditions suggested they were
                  not prepared to renounce violence.

                  Some Democrats, including the senator Hillary Clinton would replace,
                  Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had called the clemency deal a bad

                  But now that the first lady has spoken out, Democrats who cheered the
                  clemency deal are calling her a turncoat.

                  "I am disappointed. I am angry," Rep. Jose Serrano (D-New York) said.
                  "And frankly, I view her and her candidacy differently after reading reports
                  of her comments and actions. I would be a hypocrite if I did not."

                      Correspondent John King and The Associated Press contributed to this report.