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Insight Magazine

When Politicians Support Terrorism (Excerpt)

By J. Michael Waller

February 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved. 

…An Insight investigation finds that at least a dozen sitting members of the House and Senate have provided active support to terrorist organizations, armed clandestine groups that targeted and killed Americans, or regimes that sponsor terrorism. Some of the lawmakers have been at it for years - even decades. Some appear to have done it for ideological reasons. Others certainly have been duped. With most, it's hard to tell.

The problem, close observers of domestic terrorist groups say, is that providing such support has become an accepted practice on Capitol Hill, where critics are silent and almost everyone would like to sweep the issue under the rug. One of the reasons for the silence, congressional sources admit, is that either the lawmakers or the cop-killers and terrorists for whom they advocate are members of ethnic minorities - and Democrats and Republicans alike are afraid to raise the issue for fear of being called racist….

Several…U.S. lawmakers have championed a domestic terrorist group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (known by its Spanish initials of FALN) that seeks to impose a Marxist- Leninist regime on Puerto Rico and secede from the United States. In the 1970s and 1980s, the FALN planted more than 130 bombs and killed at least six people. Reps. Jos E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), Nydia M. Velzquez (D-N.Y.) and Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), all left-wingers of Puerto Rican ancestry, embraced the cause of 16 convicted FALN members serving time in federal prison. Serrano called them "political prisoners," according to the People's Weekly World, the official newspaper of the Communist Party USA.

They campaigned to pressure then-president Bill Clinton to issue pardons to free the radicals, even though the terrorists themselves had not requested that their sentences be commuted. When Clinton agreed to grant them clemency in August 1999, Serrano blasted him for requiring them to renounce violence as a precondition of their release.

That presidential action caused problems for then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was about to begin her campaign to become a U.S. senator. "President Clinton made his decision to release the FALN terrorists at the same time his wife was campaigning for the Senate in New York," the Senate Republican Policy Committee reported in a policy paper. "Many commentators believe he hoped to win votes for his wife from the large Hispanic population in New York City. However, law-enforcement groups and victims'-rights groups were outraged, and his clemency offer did not poll well in New York state. His wife then opposed the granting of clemency, and the president denied that she was in any way involved in the decision."

The clemency offer did not otherwise fit the pattern of Clinton's behavior, the committee noted: "The president had only granted three out of the more than 4,000 clemency requests during his presidency." The terrorists didn't even ask for clemency, and in granting it Clinton "did not follow the procedures that have been in place since Grover Cleveland was president," granting it "even though the Justice Department did not take an official position as required."

Ninety-five senators condemned Clinton's action, voting in a resolution that "the president's offer of clemency to the FALN terrorists violates long-standing tenets of United States counterterrorism policy, and the release of terrorists is an affront to the rule of law, the victims and their families, and every American who believes that violent acts must be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

A joint congressional resolution declared that "making concessions to terrorists is deplorable," and that "President Clinton should not have granted amnesty to the FALN terrorists."

Hillary Clinton changed her position, but not two of her colleagues-to-be. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) were the minority of two standing on the far left with the amnesty….

Most…lawmakers object when they are charged with helping extremists, terrorist groups or terrorist regimes and, indeed, most probably have no idea they did so. But some are hard-core extremists who know very well what they have been doing. Serrano, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations panel in control of the FBI budget, is one of the latter.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews once grilled Serrano about Castro and Cuba, asking the lawmaker if he thought Cuba, one of seven countries the State Department classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism, is a free country. "It's a sovereign country," Serrano said at first, then added, "It's a country with a system different from ours." After aggressive prodding from Matthews, Serrano said, "I don't know if it's a free country. I don't live there." Ultimately the congressman revealed his true belief. The Castro regime, he said, "allows personal freedoms - absolutely."

J. Michael Waller is a senior writer for Insight magazine.

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