FALN Eyes Violence: Jailer

August 30, 1999 - KENNETH R. BAZINET - NY Daily News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Jailhouse tapes reportedly reveal Puerto Rican separatists planned a return to violence after their release, fueling criticism from Republican lawmakers yesterday slamming President Clinton's clemency offer for 16 members of the group.

The tapes, secretly made by the Bureau of Prisons, caught some of the imprisoned FALN nationalists saying that "as soon as they get out of there, they were going to return to violence," a law enforcement official told Newsweek magazine.

The magazine did not quote directly from the recordings or say when the conversations were recorded. Taping inmates' conversations is standard procedure at federal prisons, according to correctional authorities.

White House officials said yesterday they were not aware the tapes existed, despite a four-year review by the administration that led to Clinton's decision to offer clemency for the members of the FALN, the Spanish acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation.

"We just have to see what the facts are with respect to the tapes," White House deputy chief of staff Maria Echaveste told the Daily News.

Top Republicans lined up behind Mayor Giuliani, who has blasted the White House clemency offer and questioned its timing, coming as the First Lady mulls a Senate bid from New York.

"This sends the wrong signal to terrorists around the world," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), adding that there are "a lot of people in Washington that are questioning" whether it's linked to Hillary Rodham Clinton's expected Senate campaign.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "obviously we will have some members of Congress that will want to look into" the timing of the offer, though he stopped short of calling for a formal investigation.

But New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, dismissed the charge that the White House was playing politics. "I don't think this was intended to help Hillary Clinton," he told "Meet the Press."

The First Lady's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, would not comment on the charges of suspicious timing but said the First Lady's position has remained consistent. "Prisoners should not be released unless they renounce violence," he said.

Despite the heat from Republicans, the Clinton administration is sticking by the President's decision, which was backed by members of the Hispanic caucus in Congress, human rights advocates and Catholic clergy.

The jailed 11 men and five women offered conditional release were not involved in attacks that killed people, but the FALN carried out 130 bomb attacks on civilian and military targets from 1974 to 1983, including some in New York, that killed six people and wounded dozens. So far, none have accepted the White House offer.

In Puerto Rico, thousands of people shouting "Freedom for the patriots!" marched through the streets of San Juan yesterday to demand that Clinton give unconditional pardons to the fighters

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