House Committee to Hold Hearings on FALN Clemency

By Ben Anderson | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - The House Government Reform Committee will convene hearings Tuesday on President Bill Clinton's decision to offer clemency to 16 convicted terrorists who were members of a militant Puerto Rican independence group.

Meanwhile, the full House is set to consider the joint resolution passed by the Senate last week deploring Clinton's grant of clemency.

Clinton approved the clemency request made on behalf of the imprisoned members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN by its Spanish initials) despite objections from the Bureau of Prisons and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

FALN is reportedly responsible for 130 bombings and numerous other violent acts, which left five people dead, and 84 wounded in its 20-year effort to gain total Puerto Rican independence from the United States.

Of the 16 terrorists freed under Clinton's executive clemency, two have purportedly been recorded on FBI surveillance tapes constructing a bomb and devising an assault on Leavenworth Prison to break out a fellow FALN member.

Eight were arrested in a stolen van, allegedly preparing to abduct an affluent Chicago businessman. Employees of then Carter-Mondale campaign headquarters in Chicago found themselves in the midst of an armed take-over and were held hostage, allegedly at the hands of FALN.

Clinton said the clemency request was presented to him in the "ordinary course of business" by the White House Counsel's Office. But as First Lady Hillary Clinton approaches a likely U.S. Senate bid from New York, speculation began to grow that his decision was an effort to bolster support from the state's sizable Puerto Rican voter base.

The president said he approved the request since none of the inmates had been "convicted of doing any bodily harm to anyone" and that "they had all served sentences that were considerably longer than they would serve under the sentencing guidelines which control federal sentencing now."

Beyond that, the president has offered little insight as to why he ignored the FBI and Bureau of Prisons recommendations that he deny the clemency request, leaving both Democrats and Republicans to question his decision making process.

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) will hold a hearing Tuesday to gain more insight into what lead Clinton to make such a controversial decision and his reluctance to be more forthcoming with answers to the committee's questions.

"Why would President Clinton pardon individuals whose actions caused immeasurable harm and suffering to so many innocent people, including several police officers?" Burton asked.

"The president has a moral obligation to the American people to explain why he let terrorists out of prison," Burton said. "By claiming executive privilege he is, in essence telling the American people that it's none of their business. But it is their business and it is the business of law enforcement agencies across the country."

On September 1, Burton's committee issued subpoenas to the White House and the Justice Department seeking the information on which the president based his decision to grant clemency.

But the administration rebuffed the committee's efforts by asserting executive privilege, refusing to comply with the subpoena and provoking bipartisan irritation on Capitol Hill.

Committee Members maintain the position that Clinton's executive privilege covers only a portion of the material relating to the FALN case. Subsequently, another set of subpoenas were issued seeking prison records, FBI threat assessments and information about reported phone calls between imprisoned FALN members discussing plans for future terrorism.

Tuesday's hearing will include testimony from Diana Berger, widow of the New York City police officer killed during an alleged FALN bombing and Thomas Connor whose father was allegedly killed during another FALN bomb attack.

The FBI's Assistant Director for Terrorism Neil Gallagher, the Bureau of Prisons' Assistant Director for Correctional Programs Michael Cooksey and Acting Assistant Attorney General Jon Jennings are scheduled to testify in Tuesday's hearing as are two retired New York City detectives.

The joint resolution expressly deploring Clinton's FALN decision is expected to be presented before the full House by mid-afternoon Tuesday. The Senate passed the measure last Tuesday by a vote of 95 to two with three Senators not voting.