I was still an oldlib, not a neocon, when the Clintons finished their White House tenure. I was also uninterested in politics so, like the vast majority of Americans, considered myself informed because I glanced at the headlines. I therefore managed to ignore complete the details and import of Bill Clinton’s sua sponte decision to pardon 16 FALN prisoners, all of whom were serious and unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists with much blood on their hands. Debra Burlingame, however, has not lost sight of the travesty that the Clintons made of an American President’s extraordinary clemency powers:
The perpetrators were members of Armed Forces of National Liberation, FALN (the Spanish acronym), a clandestine terrorist group devoted to bringing about independence for Puerto Rico through violent means. Its members waged war on America with bombings, arson, kidnappings, prison escapes, threats and intimidation. The most gruesome attack was the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing in Lower Manhattan. Timed to go off during the lunch-hour rush, the explosion decapitated one of the four people killed and injured another 60.
FALN bragged about the bloodbath, calling the victims “reactionary corporate executives” and threatening: “You have unleashed a storm from which you comfortable Yankees can’t escape.” By 1996, the FBI had linked FALN to 146 bombings and a string of armed robberies — a reign of terror that resulted in nine deaths and hundreds of injured victims.
On Aug. 7, 1999, the one-year anniversary of the U.S. African embassy bombings that killed 257 people and injured 5,000, President Bill Clinton reaffirmed his commitment to the victims of terrorism, vowing that he “will not rest until justice is done.” Four days later, while Congress was on summer recess, the White House quietly issued a press release announcing that the president was granting clemency to 16 imprisoned members of FALN. What began as a simple paragraph on the AP wire exploded into a major controversy.
The controversy wasn’t just Clinton’s decision to pardon these disgusting excuses for human beings — the Left might have tolerated that. What drove people crazy was the way in which he did it — and then the way in which Bill and Hillary played ping-pong with the pardons, as he tried to deflect personal blame and she tried to keep her balance as she ran for the Senate:
Observed Judge George Layton, who sentenced four FALN defendants for their conspiracy to use military-grade explosives to break an FALN leader from Ft. Leavenworth Penitentiary and detonate bombs at other public buildings, “[T]his case . . . represents one of the finest examples of preventive law enforcement that has ever come to this court’s attention in the 20-odd years it has been a judge and in the 20 years before that as a practicing lawyer in criminal cases.”
The FBI cracked the cases with the discovery of an FALN safe house and bomb factory. Video surveillance showed two of those on the clemency list firing weapons and building bombs intended for an imminent attack at a U.S. military installation. FBI agents obtained a warrant and entered the premises, surreptitiously disarming the bombs whose components bore the unmistakable FALN signature. They found 24 pounds of dynamite, 24 blasting caps, weapons, disguises, false IDs and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
A total of six safe houses were ultimately uncovered. Seven hundred hours of surveillance video were recorded, resulting in a mountain of evidence connecting the 16 prisoners to multiple FALN operations past and present.
Federal law enforcement agencies considered these individuals so dangerous, extraordinary security precautions were taken at their numerous trials. Courthouse elevators were restricted and no one, including the court officers, was permitted to carry a firearm in the courtroom.
Given all this, why would Bill Clinton, who had ignored the 3,226 clemency petitions that had piled up on his desk over the years, suddenly reach into the stack and pluck out these 16 meritless cases? (The New York Times ran a column with the headline, “Bill’s Little Gift.”)
Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the midst of her state-wide “listening tour” in anticipation of her run for the U.S. Senate in New York, a state which included 1.3 million Hispanics. Three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — Luis V. Gutierrez (D., Ill.), Jose E. Serrano, (D., N.Y.) and Nydia M. Velazquez, (D., N.Y.) — along with local Hispanic politicians and leftist human-rights advocates, had been agitating for years on behalf of the FALN cases directly to the White House and first lady.
Initial reports stated that Mrs. Clinton supported the clemencies, but when public reaction went negative she changed course, issuing a short statement three weeks after the clemencies were announced. The prisoners’ delay in refusing to renounce violence “speaks volumes,” she said.
The Clintons were caught in an awkward predicament of their own making. The president had ignored federal guidelines for commutation of sentences, including the most fundamental: The prisoners hadn’t actually asked for clemency.
And so on. It’s a long article, with each paragraph as fascinating as the one that came before.
For me, articles like this really put me in a bind. I consider Obama the more dangerous Democratic candidate, both because I think he’s loopy politically and because I think he can win, but it’s awfully hard to envision the possibility of the Clinton’s coming back to the White House. I’d like her to be presidential candidate because I think her negatives are so strong she’ll lose, but, gosh darn it!, do we really want these people using the White House as their slime pit again?