FALN Out of Favor

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:21

    Clinton has received 3229 requests for clemency during his administration. He's granted three: to a hog farmer convicted of perjury on a bankruptcy form, a woman convicted of cocaine distribution (the President's pardon got her out a month early) and a guy convicted of possessing dope. So why did he pardon a group of terrorists who between them planted 130 bombs (most famously at Carter-Mondale and Bush campaign headquarters in 1980), killed five people and maimed many more? The President gave several reasons, none of which stand up.

    1. He said these guys were victims of "guilt by association," as if they merely lived in the same apartment building as some terrorists. Sandy Berger appeared on tv during the controversy over the Clinton pardons last August to say: "They're not individuals who personally were involved in violence." Yeah, right. Dylcia Pagan, when sentenced back in the 1980s, shouted to the judge and the jury who convicted her, "All of you, I would advise you to watch your backs." These guys were the terrorists. My personal favorite was Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Rambo of the Puerto Rican independence movement. According to a contemporary law-enforcement account: "He has set up a series of safehouses and bomb factories across the country, the searches of which have uncovered literally hundreds of pounds of dynamite and other forms of high explosive, blasting caps, timing devices, huge caches of weapons and stockpiles of ammunition, silencers, [and] sawed-off shotguns." Sentenced to Leavenworth, Lopez planned an escape with (according to the Burton report) "fragmentation grenades, smoke grenades, phosphorus grenades, eight M-16 rifles, two silencers, 50 pounds of plastic C-4 explosives, eight bulletproof vests, ten blasting caps to use with plastic explosives, and 100 30-shot clips for use with automatic weapons." Lopez was offered clemency?but refused it, on the grounds he would have to renounce violence. Lopez's probation officer's assessment of him was: "His level of remorse, rehabilitation and positive regard for this court's process is minimal, if not nonexistent. He demonstrates a sustained, consistent commitment to the use of violence and weapons. He will use any means to gain freedom for the purpose of undermining the principles of the United States government. He has already determined that human life is expendable for this purpose."

    2. Clinton claims to have released these killers on the grounds that they "had all served sentences that were considerably longer than they would serve under the sentencing guidelines which control federal sentencing now." But the U.S. Sentencing Commission told Burton's committee that today's penalty for such crimes would be a minimum of 30 years without possibility of parole.

    3. Most importantly, the White House tried to make it appear that there was a groundswell of public indignation and a great deal of institutional unease about the guerrillas' sentences. There was none. The FBI wasn't even consulted on the matter (although FBI director Louis Freeh leaked a letter in which he stated, "The FBI was unequivocally opposed to the release of these terrorists under any circumstances and had so advised DOJ"). The Bureau of Prisons was not consulted. All the relevant U.S. attorneys were opposed (although the President, again citing "executive privilege," refuses to release their letters). Justice itself was opposed, when first consulted about releasing the guerrillas in 1997, but last summer changed its recommendation. The constituency for the terrorists' release consisted of three leftist Puerto Rican members of Congress?Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez of New York and the truly deranged Luis Gutiérrez of Chicago?and the White House itself. The Clintons set up an "Interagency Working Group on Puerto Rico," headed by Jeffrey Farrow and Marcia Hale, but with help from Cheryl Mills in the White House Counsel's office, which seems to have spent much of its time creating bogus "support" for the clemency.

    The White House Working Group made lists of people who should petition the pardon attorneys. "Some of these people should meet with President Carter and request a letter to the President." (Carter did write such a letter.) It organized letter-writing campaigns. It sought activists to pressure the Governor of Illinois and the Mayor of Chicago?in order to get them to lean on the White House. It suggested pitching the story to "liberal reporters in key media outlets." A memo from Farrow last July even indicates that the White House was consulted on plans for Puerto Rican "protests"; "A demonstration in front of the White House July 23rd is planned to include a refusal to move at 1 pm," Farrow wrote. "At the same time, representatives of the demonstrators are to meet with inside [sic] on the matter."

    What's mysterious here is that the President can pardon anyone he wants. Why was he secretly organizing a campaign to pressure people into pressuring him? The one true thing the Clintons said in the course of this scandal-that-should-have-happened-but-didn't turns out to have been the most implausible: that this whole charade was planned long before Hillary Clinton decided she wanted to run for Senate. So what was going on here? Doubtless a bit of political calculation was involved?keeping Puerto Rican voters on board, etc. But there was plenty of true believership, too. Working Group staffer Mayra Martinez-Fernandez, who referred to the FALN terrorists as "political prisoners," wrote in 1994: "The release of these 15 Puerto Ricans is of special significance to me. I know most of these people's families. I know of their hard work and contributions to Chicago's Puerto Rican community. They are truly good people who are where they are for wanting their country to be free. That is not a crime. The history of the birth of this country clearly demonstrates the burning desire of a people to be free from colonial control. As a Puerto Rican, I feel I own [sic] them for their sacrifice."

    I'm sorry?is Dan Burton crazier than this woman?

    Rude I saw my first Giuliani speech last Tuesday night at the American Spectator's annual dinner. It was both authoritarian and impressive, but more authoritarian than impressive. The authoritarian bit came before the speech itself. The schedule called for cocktails at 6:30, dinner at 7:30. But when we arrived at quarter to seven, the dinner xylophones were bingling and all the guests who'd arrived were being beckoned?no, shoved?into the dining room, whereupon the Mayor launched into his spiel with the place a quarter empty. Rudy had decided sometime in the course of the afternoon that he?and his security entourage, which is considerably more ostentatious than, say, the Vice President's?had to be back in New York on the 8:30 p.m. shuttle. So if the 350 rather important people he was addressing (including a dozen congressmen and a half-dozen senators) were deprived of their cocktails and seated in front of a salad already wilting on its plate...well, tough. But it was an easy crowd, and he won it over with a few Mafia imitations at the outset and a few Hillary jokes. Then he took on education, and you could see that Giuliani's great gift as a speaker is?no joke?his subtlety. He's not an ideologist of the Gingrich mold, given to lazy-minded dismissals of leftism as insanity. No: Giuliani is willing, even eager, to admit that liberal solutions are at first glance more attractive, even more plausible. He went into his bit about how New York's education department isn't so much an education department as a jobs program for Democratic hacks. Since everyone likes jobs, using the school system as an employment agency isn't necessarily an insane thing. It's just a corrupt thing.

    That rang a bell. If Republicans are losing on education across the country, it's not because Clinton is some kind of preternaturally gifted demagogue; it's because he's a preternaturally gifted clientelist, and Republicans lack the guts to stand up to his clients. Last week President Clinton vetoed the education appropriations bill. And he made it plain that any attempt to give states any say over the dough he had earmarked to hire 100,000 new teachers would be a "deal breaker." That is, if it doesn't provide jobs for his myrmidons at the National Education Association, then he'll veto it again.

    So on the one hand, "the children" have nothing to do with the President's education plans, and he ought to be a sitting duck for the first Republican with the brains to say so. On the other hand, as Giuliani reminds us, no such Republican exists in national politics today.

    The Glory That Is Greece

    I like the way the White House broke the news at the last minute that the President was delaying his long-planned trip to Greece (scheduled for last weekend) until this Friday. What's more, that he was chopping it down to a 24-hour blow-through. The change of plans is understandable. One of the reasons Clinton wanted to begin his 11-country junket in Greece is that there are a lot of foreign policy matters to discuss. The Greek government was not at all happy about getting dragged into the Kosovo mess last spring. Its refusal to let NATO use its deep-water harbor in Thessaloniki?the only reliable port of entry for our tanks and supply trucks?was the big reason Milosevic correctly viewed the ground-troop option as so much hot air until the very end of the war.

    And if the government was lukewarm, the people of Greece were, to use a nice Hellenic adjective, apoplectic. That's the real reason the trip is being delayed. Several Greek groups were planning massive protests, and Greece's Prime Minister Costas Simitis?to his infinite credit?proved unwilling to corral his citizenry behind police lines to please some visiting nabob, as Tony Blair so shamefully did when China's Jiang Zemin visited Britain last month.

    What was priceless was Clinton's taking a page out of Joe McCarthy's playbook in describing the protests he was expecting: "The Communists, the Anarchists, perhaps some others in Greece, want to demonstrate in large measure, I understand, because they strongly disagree with my policy in Kosovo." So anyone who disagrees with the President's war on Serbia is a Communist! Even if the group that waged the war was the yuppie wing of what used to be called, during the Cold War, anti-anti-Communism. In the Greek context, is the President telling us he's come around, tardily enough, to containment? Does he think the ELAS guerrillas were a bunch of Leninist bandits? That the Colonels' Coup was a good idea?

    Apparently so. Last week, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall, the President praised Ronald Reagan, "who said so plainly what many people on the other side of the wall had trouble understanding?that the Soviet empire was evil and the wall should be torn down." To which Charles Krauthammer replied: "Other side? There was not a sentient soul on the other side who had any doubts about the evil of the Soviet empire... It was on our side that people had trouble understanding the thoroughness of the Soviet evil."

    Here, naturally, Krauthammer is referring to people like Clinton himself. But there's a new Clinton on the scene. Now Clinton is ready to don Scoop Jackson's armor and do battle against Communists and anarchists all over the world. Of course, there are probably about 10 people left in the entire Greek Communist party, and there probably haven't been a dozen anarchists on Earth since Kropotkin died. Never mind that! The President is ready to fight them to the death?them and "perhaps some others," as he puts it. Who would they be? The anarcho-syndicalists? The Fourierists? The Fenians? The Chouans? The Fuzzy Wuzzies?

    Boy, George Once Giuliani cleared out, eight-tenths of a second or so after stepping down from the podium, no one in the conservative crowd wanted to talk about education. The spectacular disgrace of George Roche, the president of Hillsdale College in Michigan, has been percolating around Washington for days. Roche, 64, is a "rugged ex-Marine" (always described as such in news accounts) who has run Hillsdale since 1971. He's spent the last 28 years plugging "traditional values" in his crummy books, his Imprimis newsletter (which has 900,000 readers) and his donor pitches. In so doing, he's lifted Hillsdale's endowment from $4 million to $172 million and turned his little cow college into the molten core of TradVal Republicanism. So devoutly prudish is Hillsdale that it refuses to take federal funds, for fear that the government strings attached would dilute its high moral purpose. Rush Limbaugh promotes Hillsdale on the radio, and a decided cult of personality has developed around Roche. Last week, word leaked that Roche was on administrative leave. In fact, he was honeymooning with his second wife in Hawaii, after having ditched Wife #1 last spring. Under the procrustean morality of Hillsdale, that little tidbit alone would have spelt doom for anyone who hadn't put a couple hundred mil in the college vault. But Roche appeared safe?until it emerged that he was wanted for questioning by the police in connection with the death of his daughter-in-law Lissa, who was found in the college arboretum with a bullet through her head in mid-October. The death was ruled a suicide. But once she'd died, Lissa's husband, Roche's son George Roche IV, revealed to campus authorities that...hard as it is to believe...Dad had been planking Lissa in the last days of her life. Lissa had even gone to visit her "rugged ex-Marine" of a father-in-law on her final morning.

    Then the rumor emerged that Roche had also been dallying with an undergraduate, who'd had an abortion. That was unconfirmed by police (abortion's not illegal, after all), and hadn't appeared in print by week's end. But even before the police revealed they were questioning Roche, the college brass made it very plain that they believed the rumors. "Obviously," said Hillsdale's designated flak-catcher Ron Trowbridge, "by suspending him, we were sending up a red flag as big as the Empire State Building." On Wednesday morning, Roche was dismissed from his post. "The college," Trowbridge said, "is never going to discuss the situation with George Roche again. We are done. From here on out, we're starting over.'' Yeah. Starting over without a chance of ever getting another penny from anyone.

    Maybe what we face here is merely a matter of interests. Maybe Roche was just a plain old sex maniac whose business (drumming up money from prudes) came into conflict with his traditional libertine values. But I suspect there's more to it than that. This is the kind of story that fills the op-ed pages with schadenfreude-laced left-wing inquiries into whether there isn't something sick and corrupt at that heart of conservative ideology in general. For the first time, I'm not sure I have the energy to dispute them. It's not that the ideology is sick per se. It's just that, for a certain type of prurient character, preaching fire and brimstone in public clearly gives an extra frisson to the inherently pleasurable pastime of shagging your way across campus.

    How come? Well, if you're one of those who looks at sex as an escape, then this sort of dangerous gallivanting adds to the liberating sense of weightlessness?of defying the laws of moral gravity?that self-destructive gamblers are said to feel in defying the laws of financial gravity. A job description like "Savior of Western Values" is an invitation to megalomania in the first place. But it also creates a heavier gravitational pull against sex, which would only make a Roche type feel like more of an übermensch in defying it. For a "rugged ex-Marine" wading ashore on the beaches of the Viagra age cohort, that thrill seems to have been irresistible.