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Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 1999/21 Elul, 5759

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Character doesn't matter? -- SO, YOU STILL don't think the president's character matters? Then, consider this.

The Constitution provides that the president shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for federal offenses, except in cases of impeachment.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear just how expansive this presidential prerogative is. It is equal to that of English Kings, Ex parte Grossman, 267, U.S. 87 (1925), and extends to all completed offenses, before, during or after trial, by individuals, or classes, conditionally or absolutely, without modification or regulation by Congress. Ex parte Garland, 4 Wall 333 (1867).

Chief Justice Taft, speaking for the Court in Grossman, explained the purpose of this awesome grant of power: "Executive clemency exists to afford relief from undue harshness or evident mistake in the operation or enforcement of the criminal law. ... Our Constitution confers this discretion on the highest officer in the nation in confidence that he will not abuse it."

Let's remember these sobering words as we feast upon another Clinton outrage.

By now, most of you are probably aware that President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican members of FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation), a terrorist group advocating independence for Puerto Rico. FALN made 130 bomb attacks on political and military targets in the United States between 1974 and 1983, killing six and injuring dozens, including several New York police officers.

Though the 16 were not convicted of crimes directly linked to the deaths or injuries, they were key members of FALN, which existed for the purpose of violently advancing independence.

Clinton's offer was conditioned upon the prisoners signing statements requesting commutation, renouncing violence (which they have yet to do), and agreeing to abide by all conditions of release.

Clinton ostensibly made the clemency offer in response to so-called human-rights advocates, who argued that the sentences, ranging from 15 to 90 years, were too harsh. He did so in the face of overwhelming opposition by federal law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, federal prosecutors in Illinois and Connecticut, where the convictions were obtained, and the Bureau of Prisons (whose officials say the inmates are not likely to obey the law if released).
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani noted that he couldn't ever remember a pardon being granted or recommended where there was such a representation by prison officials.

What possible reason could Clinton have to reduce or commute these sentences? What scintilla of sympathy could anyone have for this band of misfits?

Of all the people incarcerated on federal offenses in this country, surely, the president could have found a more deserving group. These are terrorists who still represent a threat to citizens of the United States, who Clinton has a duty not to expose to danger.

For a man who claims to feel our pain, Clinton is doing a masterful job disregarding the pleas of FALN's victims and their relatives.

He brazenly ignores the pain of:

  • Joseph and Thomas Connor, sons of one of the FALN's murder victims, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal of their loss, "not a day passes without our feeling the void left in our lives;"

  • The three police officers injured trying to disarm an FALN bomb in lower Manhattan on New Year's Eve in 1982. Richie Pastorella is blind in both eyes, without most of his hearing, minus one hand, and has 20 titanium screws holding his face together. Rocco Pascarella lost his left leg. Toney Senft lost one eye and the use of his hips. "When Mr. Clinton can commute my sentence and give me back my life, my eyes and my hips," says Senft, "then, I will accept their clemency."

  • Diana Berger, who was six months pregnant in January 1975 when she became a widow and her son fatherless at the hands of FALN bombs. Says she, "How dare they say these terrorists have been punished enough? We've been punished each day, and will be forever."

Many are accusing Clinton of extending the offer to enhance Hillary's standing with N.Y. Puerto Rican voters, whose turnout is believed critical to her victory.

Given the unanimous opposition of law-enforcement officials, the pain of the victims, the conspicuous absence of contrition by the prisoners and the character of a president who bombs pharmaceutical plants to divert attention from his domestic scandals, can any fair-minded person doubt that Clinton is once again abusing his authority for political gain? Can anyone still maintain that character doesn't matter?

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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