Report: Change sought in U.S. pardon procedure

October 20, 1999

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Justice Department and the White House want to revise the presidential pardon process to give crime victims more say before executive clemency decisions are made, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Discussion of the changes was prompted by public outcry after President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists in September.

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello said in an October 6 column in the Wall Street Journal that Clinton had not adequately considered the perspectives of bombing victims when he made the clemency offer to 16 members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a militant Puerto Rican group.

Victims of FALN violence or their relatives told lawmakers they had not had any chance to argue against clemency for FALN members, although advocates for the group had been allowed to make their case to the Justice Department.

The Post said Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder would disclose discussions on revising the clemency process at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Holder told the Post in an interview Tuesday that Justice Department officials recognized that there was a need to revamp the regulations.

"We are looking for ways to allow relatives and victims to have more direct input into the pardon process, and we're working with the White House in that regard," the Post quoted Holder as saying.

U.S. authorities said the FALN was responsible for bomb attacks and bank robberies in the New York and Chicago areas from 1974 to 1983 that killed six people and injured dozens.

Clinton has said he decided to grant the FALN members clemency because their sentences were excessive, given that none had been directly involved in the group's bombings over that period or had been convicted of offenses that caused harm to other people.

His clemency offer to 16 FALN members was predicated on their renouncing violence, which not all did. Eleven FALN members were released last month and returned to Puerto Rico. Each had served 19 years in prison.

The matter has been extremely controversial, with FBI Director Louis Freeh on record as saying he believed the FALN members posed a continuing threat to the nation's security and should not be released early from prison.

Republicans have charged that Clinton made the clemency offer as a political ploy to help first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton curry favor with Hispanic voters in New York state, where she is considering running for a U.S. Senate seat.

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