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Hillary, Terrorism and the FALN

By Ron Kolb

During the April 16 Democratic debate in Philadelphia, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Barack Obama about his relationship to William Ayers, the unrepentant member of the Weather Underground who had participated in several bombings of government facilities back in 1970s.

Since that time, Ayers had become active in leftist circles in Chicago. In 2001, Ayers bragged, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."

At the debate, Sen. Hillary Clinton condemned Obama's association with Ayers, adding that in those bombings "people died." "So it is--I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about," said Clinton.

There is a glaring bit of hypocrisy in Clinton's dismay. In 1999, her husband offered pardons to 16 unrepentant members of a fringe Puerto Rican terrorist group known as the FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation), who were based in the U.S., and the Macheteros (machete-wielders), the FALN's island-based branch. They were seeking independence from the U.S. and had virtually no political support on the island

During the 1970s and 1980s, FALN members set off at least 138 bombs in five major U.S. Cities. Six Americans were killed in those attacks. One of those bombings, in January 1975, was at the historic Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan while patrons were at lunch. The explosion killed four and injured more than 50.

Despite the Clintons' repeated denials, there is evidence that the pardons were offered to the terrorists with Hillary Clinton's full knowledge. In the Oct. 4, 1999, issue of the New Republic, Jose Rivera, then a New York City Councilman, is quoted as saying that he personally approached Hillary on Aug. 9, 1999. He said he gave her a packet of information about the FALN members along with a personal letter asking her to "speak to the president and ask him to consider granting clemency" to them.

Two days later, on Aug. 11, President Clinton would offer pardons to the terrorists.

***

The deadly 1975 Fraunces Tavern attack is only the beginning of FALN's terrorist activities. At numerous times, New York City (which was the site of all FALN's fatal bombings), was held in sheer terror. August 3, 1977, a day in which both towers of the World Trade Center were evacuated, was particularly violent. In midtown Manhattan, a bomb went off in the personnel office of Mobil Oil, killing one, while another went off at a Defense Department office.

Many other FALN bombings in New York and Chicago over the years would severely injure and maim dozens of others, including NYPD officers. And more deaths were yet to come in Puerto Rico, and even in Mexico.

Twelve of the sixteen that President Clinton pardoned were FALN members The other four were members of Los Macheteros, the Puerto Rican branch of the FALN. The two groups joined forces in 1979. Together, their combined forces were responsible for at least 138 explosive and incendiary attacks on civilian and military targets in Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S. between 1974 and 1983.

In Puerto Rico, the Macheteros were involved in a number of ambushes of U.S. military personnel, including the killing of four servicemen in three separate attacks. Incredibly, one of those who received a pardon from Clinton, Juan Segarra-Palmer, was suspected of planning and participating in two of those attacks.

The Macheteros would also claim credit for killing two San Juan policeman, the first one in 1978, and later an undercover officer in 1986.

The grim total of the FALN would also continue to mount. In 1978, FALN member William Morales was severely injured in Queens when a bomb he was making went off prematurely. Although he was taken into custody, in 1979, Morales escaped from Bellevue Hospital while there for treatment.

Morales was eventually captured in Mexico in May 1983 after a shootout with Mexican police. Two of the officers were injured, and one of them, Abelardo Rojas, would die from his injuries. Morales was then prosecuted and jailed in Mexico.

On April 4, 1980, working on a tip from observant citizens near Chicago, 11 FALN members were arrested in two vans that were stockpiled with weapons and ammunition. They were preparing to rob an armored car.

In one fell swoop, most of the FALN were now behind bars, with only a handful still at large. Upon their sentencing in 1981, most of them took the occasion to threaten Judge Thomas McMillen's life.

FALN member Carmen Valentine taunted the judge: "You are lucky we that we cannot take you right now". She then called the judge a terrorist, and said that her shackles kept her from killing him.

FALN member Dylcia Pagan addressed the court: "All of you, I would advise you to watch your backs". FALN member Ricardo Jimenez told the Judge, "You can give me the death penalty, you can kill me now."

"You say we have no remorse. You're right," FALN member Ida Rodriguez told the judge. "Your jails and your long sentences will not frighten us."

Judge McMillen agreed that the defendants showed no remorse. "I'm convinced you're going to continue (terrorism) as long as you live. If there was a death penalty, I'd impose the penalty on you without hesitation."

Eight of the members who threatened the Court that day would eventually receive pardons from Bill Clinton.

A ninth member, Freddie Mendez, had only been involved with the group for a short time when he was arrested. He then agreed to testify in future FALN trials, and was put in the Witness Protection Program. In court he would eventually quote a fellow FALN member that, "everybody in the organization has to know how to make bombs."

When the Justice Department announced publicly on May 12,1981 that Mendez had gone into witness protection, the few at-large members, who were then in New York, quickly reacted in anger.

On May 16, bombs were placed at numerous locations around the New York area. A call was received at JFK Airport that a bomb would detonate at the Pan Am terminal in 15 minutes. The caller identified himself as a member of the "Puerto Rican Armed Resistance". The bomb detonated in a men's room at the Pan Am Terminal, killing a 19-year-old maintenance worker. The following day, a caller said the group was an arm of the FALN, and then mentioned the FALN trial in Chicago.

Two years later in Chicago two of those eventually pardoned, Alejandrina Torres and Edwin Cortes, were actually filmed on FBI surveillance tape making bombs. That tape would eventually be played at their federal trial in 1985.

Torres and Cortes had also conspired with a third member to attempt a jailbreak from Leavenworth Prison of a fourth member, the infamous Oscar Lopez-Rivera. The FBI foiled that plot, and Torres, Cortes and Alberto Rodriguez were later arrested when the FBI determined that they were only days away from bombing military facilities in the Chicago area.

Lopez-Rivera would again plot another escape attempt in 1985, this time conspiring with two more people on the outside, members of "Prairie Fire," the group that had strong ties to the Weather Underground. The FBI also foiled this plot, and then tacked on extra years to Lopez's sentence.

Amazingly, Bill Clinton would offer a pardon to Lopez-Rivera, along with Rodriguez and bomb-makers Torres and Cortes in 1999. Lopez-Rivera, having tried to escape twice, would turn down Clinton's offer.

***

Filiberto Ojeda-Rios was a leader of the Macheteros and considered to be a co-founder of the FALN. He was suspected in the deadly Fraunces Tavern bombing in 1975. He was also suspected, along with Juan Segarra-Palmer, of planning and participating in the deadly attacks of the U.S. service members in Puerto Rico.

In 1983, Ojeda-Rios and Segarra-Palmer plotted with fellow Machetero Victor Gerena to rob a Wells Fargo armored car in Hartford, Conn. Disguised as an employee, Gerena overpowered two fellow workers at gunpoint, bound them and then drugged them, and then proceeded to transfer $7.1 million into another vehicle. It was, at the time, the second largest armored car robbery in history. Little more than a month later the Macheteros fired a LAW rocket, which is an anti-tank weapon, at the FBI Office in San Juan, demonstrating their continued bent for violence.

The FBI would arrest Ojeda-Rios for his part in the robbery, but it would come at a price. He opened fire on the agents with an Uzi submachine gun, and one of the agents was struck in the eye. Ojeda-Rios would be held without bail for a record time of nearly three years.

When he was finally released on bail, he fled to Puerto Rico in 1990 before his trial was due to begin. He was tried and convicted in absentia two years later. After his escape, Ojeda-Rios was placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list, alongside fellow Machetero member Victor Gerena. They would be joined on the list in 2001 by Osama Bin Laden.

Although he remained a fugitive, after Ojeda-Rios returned to Puerto Rico, he continued to publicly foment violence. He also took credit for setting off yet more bombs around the Island. In 1999, shortly after his compatriots were released by Bill Clinton, Ojeda-Rios said that we should "take advantage of this historic moment, and battle against the reactionary offenses of the U.S. government."

In 2005, however, the FBI caught up with Ojeda-Rios at his rural hideout. During the ensuing shootout, three agents were injured, one of them seriously. Ojeda-Rios was also seriously injured, and would soon succumb to his wounds.

Fellow Machetero member Victor Gerena still remains on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list.

***

By 1999, the grim total of the FALN and Machetero attacks stood at 13 dead and dozens wounded. When Bill Clinton offered the pardons to Ojeda-Rios and Gerena's compatriots that same year, he was forced by Justice Department rules to add one condition. The 16 terrorists would have to renounce violence before they could be set free. All 16 refused to do so.

Hillary Clinton, in the middle of her race for the Senate, at first publicly supported the pardons. But after more than three weeks of the terrorists refusing to renounce violence, the public outcry forced Hillary to change her position. The families and survivors of the FALN's attacks, plus numerous law enforcement officials and the Congress joined in the outrage.

She now opposed the pardons, and stated on Sept. 4, 1999, that "When the administration first offered these prisoners clemency, I made it very clear that I had no involvement in or prior knowledge of the decision, as is entirely appropriate, and that the prisoners should not be released until they renounced violence."

Her statement then concluded, "It's been three weeks, and their silence speaks volumes. I believe the offer of clemency should be withdrawn."

On Sept. 7, after intense pressure from the Clinton administration, 14 of the 16 terrorists finally agreed to renounce violence. The two who did not were Oscar Lopez-Rivera, who had twice tried to escape from prison, and Machetero member Antonio Camacho-Negron, who had been involved in the Wells Fargo armored car robbery.As the clemency was framed, Lopez would have to remain in prison until 2009, as it did not apply to the escape attempt convictions.

Machetero Juan Segarra-Palmer, who was suspected of killing the U.S. military personnel in Puerto Rico, but was instead convicted for his involvement in the Wells Fargo robbery, accepted the pardon offer, but would have to wait until 2004 to be released.

The two remaining Macheteros, who had also been involved in the armored car robbery, were already out of prison, and had their other fines expunged.

Of the 11 remaining FALN terrorists, all had been convicted of conspiracy charges related to the bombings.

On Sept. 12, FALN member Ricardo Jimenez appeared with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." Russert repeatedly tried to get an apology from Jimenez, but with no success. Tim then tried one more time, asking if Jimenez would apologize to Joe and Tom Conner, who lost their father, Frank Conner in the Fraunces Tavern bombing.

Said Jimenez: "If the Conners-I have said, you know, and I hope they would understand that when no intentions of ever having cost human life directly to somebody, you know-and we had no intentions of doing that purposely. We had never in our intentions become what you keep-repeatedly to terrorize people. We have had much compassion..."

"I think all precautions were taken, you know, to make sure that all human life was preserved. And in the end the measures were not taken that were necessary by the people who owned those establishments. And, no, we have never, never been in our objective to terrorize people."

***

What was Mrs. Clinton's reaction to the release of the terrorists? On Sept. 8, the day after most of the terrorists had accepted the offer, she said (speaking of the president's decision), "It is not surprising to me that I was not lobbied, or informed or even asked about it."

Two days later, on Sept. 10, the same day that the terrorists were being released from various prisons, she spoke to the World of Women Leaders Conference in Manhattan. It was a group of about 300 Black, Hispanic and Asian women. She told them that her decision to oppose clemency may have been too hasty, and that "the consultation process was not what it should have been, and that will never happen again."

This now became her third stance on the pardons. Since there are approximately 1.3 million citizens of Puerto Rican descent living in New York state, a natural question arises. Did President Clinton issue the pardons to help Hillary in her senate campaign?

Another question was (and is), what did Hillary know, and when did she know it? She had many opportunities to know of efforts to obtain the pardons. The efforts began by people who were sympathetic to the FALN cause soon after Clinton took office in 1993.

One of those who played a key role was Luis Nieves Falcon, an FALN sympathizer. Falcon began correspondence with several administration officials, some of them having close ties to Hillary.

One of Falcon's first contacts was Bernard Nussbaum, who had been a close friend of Hillary since they worked together on the House Judiciary staff during the Nixon impeachment. In Falcon's early attempts, the pardon issue received little action.

Falcon later began contacting White House staffer Maria Echaveste. In early 1999, soon after Mrs. Clinton announced her Senate intentions, Echaveste was involved in email exchanges with others who involved in the pardon issue. Since Hillary's announcement in February, things were now on the fast track.

On March 7, Echaveste sent an email to another close Hillary confidant, White House Counsel Charles Ruff, who had just begun working on the pardons. Ruff had been a member of Bill Clinton's impeachment defense team in 1998.

Echaveste's email to Ruff included this, "Chuck--Jeff's right about this--very hot issue". The Jeff she was referring to was Jeffrey Farrow, the point man on Puerto Rico and a holdover from the Carter era. Farrow had been meeting with three Hispanic House Democrats who supported clemency--Luis Gutierrez (IL), Jose Serrano (NY), and Nydia Velazquez (NY). Farrow had also been corresponding with Falcon.

Suddenly, the long-time efforts of Falcon and the three House members were beginning to pay off. On June 14, Falcon sent a letter to Hillary encouraging her to support the pardons.

Then, on July 23, Falcon went to the White House and attended a meeting that included Farrow and White House staffer Meredith Cabe, who was close to both of the Clintons in Arkansas, and then followed them to Washington. Another member of Farrow's team, Mayra Martinez-Fernandez (of Farrow's Working Group on Puerto Rico), was also in attendance.

Martinez had said in an earlier email that the pardons would "have a positive impact among strategic communities in the U.S." Martinez added these two words, "(read, voters)".

In sum, Hillary had numerous ties to people who were involved with the pardons. They included Echaveste, Cabe, Ruff and Nussbaum. She had also received the letter from FALN member Luis Falcon in June of 1999 that had recommended pardons.

Finally, on Aug. 9, Hillary met with the New York City councilman, Jose Rivera, who told the New Republic that he "personally presented Hillary with a packet on clemency", and also added a letter that asked her to "speak to the president and ask him to consider executive clemency" for the FALN members.

***

What did Bill Clinton have to say about his wife's involvement after the terrorists had finally accepted the pardons four weeks later?

On Sept. 9th, just one day before those pardoned were set to walk, President Clinton said, "She didn't know anything about it until--as far as I know--until someone from her office called and asked her for a comment, because I did not discuss it with her."

The president then added that the sentences for the terrorists were too severe for their crimes, even though most were convicted of conspiring to set off bombs and the sentences had fit Justice Department guidelines.

The House and Senate then went into action. Each chamber quickly passed resolutions condemning the pardons. The House vote was 311-41, and the Senate vote was 95-2. The Senate resolution stated that,"making concessions to terrorists is deplorable, and that President Clinton should not have offered or granted clemency to the FALN terrorists."

Neal Gallagher, Assistant FBI Director then testified before Congress that those pardoned were "criminals and terrorists and represent a threat to the United States."

When Congress wanted to further investigate the pardons, Clinton claimed executive privilege, preventing anyone involved with the pardons to testify about any details surrounding the issue. Any records or memos would also be precluded from disclosure. His order remains in place today.

Ron Kolb is a freelance writer residing in Corpus Christi, Texas.

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