WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Little more than a week after the release
from prison of 11 Puerto Rican nationalists following a grant of
clemency by President Clinton, a top FBI official has told Congress that the
convicted FALN members are terrorists who still pose a threat.
"I think they're criminals and terrorists and represent a threat to the
States," Assistant FBI Director Neal Gallagher told Congress Tuesday, in
the FBI's first public statement on the president's decision to grant clemency
to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists.
Although the White House decision to invoke executive privilege prevented
the FBI from explicitly describing the Bureau's recommendation on granting
clemency, Gallagher left no doubt where the FBI stood on the issue.
Gallagher made his comment after House Reform Committee Chairman
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana), asked whether he believed the prisoners
should have been released.
Eleven of the 16 jailed FALN members were released from prison 1
1/2 weeks ago.
The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies have privately
made clear their strong opposition to the clemency decision, but Tuesday's
testimony marked the first time a top FBI official made a public comment
directly opposing the presidential decision.
Gallagher, as Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Division, is the
third-ranking official. He formerly headed the FBI's counter-terrorism unit.
Clinton: No politics in decision
Hours before the Congressional hearings began, Clinton issued his most
detailed explanation to date why he offered clemency.
In a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), the president said that
six years he had been lobbied by members of Congress, religous and
community leaders and others for the release of the FALN members.
"My decision[s] were based on our view of the merits of the requests --
political considerations played no role in the process," he wrote. "In making
my decision, I did not minimize the serious criminal conduct in which these
men and women engaged."
Sentences from 35 to 90 years
The FALN, translated as The Armed Forces of National Liberation,
claimed responsibility for or were blamed for 130 bombings, most of
them in New York and Chicago, in the 1970s and early 1980s.
None of the 16 who were offered clemency 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 had served 14 to 19 years in
Two of the 16 offered clemency rejected the deal. As part of the clemency
offer, the prisoners renounced violence to achieve political goals and agreed
to sever ties with FALN.