Reno warned of Puerto Rican clemencies

October 21, 1999 - Tom Squitieri - USA Today

WASHINGTON - Less than a month after President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican terrorists, a Justice Department report warned that their release would increase the threat of violence by their separatist group.

The September 1999 report, prepared by Attorney General Janet Reno, called the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN an "ongoing threat to national security."

"Factors which increase the present threat from these groups include ... the impending release from prison of members of these groups jailed for prior violence," the report said, referring to the FALN members offered clemency.

The report intensified questions about Clinton's rationale for granting clemency. The Justice Department, FBI Director Louis Freeh, the U.S. attorneys offices in Illinois and Connecticut, where the separatists were prosecuted, all opposed their release. The Justice Department made its opposition known in a 1996 recommendation to the White House, according to documents made public Wednesday.

Asked to comment on the day's testimony, White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said, "The president made his decision after careful consideration of all the facts.''

Fourteen of the 16 FALN members accepted Clinton's clemency offer in September. Of those, 11 were released from prison, two had fines wiped out and one had his sentence reduced to five years.

The FALN, the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation, was responsible for a wave of bomb attacks and robberies from 1974 to 1983 that killed six and injured scores of others. None of those granted clemency were convicted of crimes that led to injury or death.

The report was made public at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, along with an analysis that appeared to conflict with Clinton's argument that the FALN members received sentences that were excessive by today's standards.

The analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that if sentenced today, the FALN members would get equal or harsher sentences than they received in the 1980s.

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