[Ppnews] Holder & the Puerto Rican political prisoners

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 12 10:21:41 EDT 2009


Note: From time to time we will publish 
commentaries by guest writers. Please note that 
the opinions presented in this essay are not 
necessarily shared by the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP).

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Eric Holder and the
Puerto Rican political prisoners

By Jan Susler (February 28, 2009)

The Puerto Rican political prisoners figured 
prominently in the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of 
Eric Holder. President Obama’s choice for U.S. 
Attorney General, Holder, had served as the 
number two man in the Department of Justice in 
the Clinton administration when Clinton granted 
two sets of pardons in September of 1999, to 
Puerto Rican political prisoners, and in January 
of 2001, to fugitive financier Marc Rich, which 
turned out to be controversial for very different 
reasons, and for which Mr. Holder was called upon to answer.

 From the very moment President Obama named Eric 
Holder as Attorney General, the Right gave notice 
that Mr. Holder would bear the brunt of its wrath 
over the Republican defeat at the polls, and that 
these pardons would be their focus.

News that Mr. Obama would defend Holder’s role in 
the Puerto Rico clemency foreshadowed what the 
nominee would say at the hearings. Grilled first 
about the Rich pardon, Mr. Holder humbly accepted 
that he had made a mistake. However, when pressed 
to say that the clemency of the Puerto Rican 
political prisoners was also a mistake, he 
refused to disown responsibility and refused to 
concede to pressure to say it was a mistake. 
Instead, Holder defended the decision to grant 
clemency as “reasonable.” He listed the broad 
support for their release, including Nobel Peace 
Prize laureates, Coretta Scott King, President 
Carter, and Desmond Tutu. He noted that they had 
not committed any acts resulting in death or 
bodily injury, and he mentioned the significant 
amount of time they had served in prison. 
Interestingly, he did not mention the productive, 
successful lives being lived by the women and men released in 1999.

 From Puerto Rico, support for Holder’s 
confirmation was universal. In a letter to the 
House and Senate leadership, the newly elected 
Republican pro statehood governor assured that 
Holder’s support for the release of the political 
prisoners should not impede his confirmation, 
noting that not only were they not convicted of 
harming anyone or taking a life, but that they 
had already served lengthy terms in prison. The 
letter also referred to the support in 1999 from 
broad sectors in the Island, including former 
governor and founder of his own pro statehood party, Don Luis A. Ferré.

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s new resident 
commissioner in Washington, followed the 
governor’s lead. Responding to the criticism of 
Holder’s role in the release of the political 
prisoners, Pierluisi offered, “I have never been 
against that decision,” adding, “I think that (in 
the process of the clemencies) Holder exercised 
his discretion in a reasonable way.”

The Senate of Puerto Rico passed a resolution 
supporting the confirmation of Mr. Holder, stating, in pertinent part:

As Deputy Attorney General, he was assigned to 
evaluate the topic of clemency for sixteen Puerto 
Rican prisoners, members of the Armed Forces of 
National Liberation (FALN), convicted and 
imprisoned during the 70's and the early 80's in 
the United States, under sedition statutes. This 
movement for clemency was supported by numerous 
distinguished public figures in the United 
States, Puerto Rico, and other countries, 
including clergy, community organizations, and 
members of Congress, among others. Many of these 
former political prisoners live in Puerto Rico. 
Among them is Elizam Escobar, a painter who, 
since his release, has made significant 
contributions to the Puerto Rican arts.

Other support was also forthcoming from Puerto 
Rico, including from pro statehood senator 
Kenneth McClintock, who spoke as National 
Committeman of the Democratic Party, echoing the sentiments of the governor.

With this support, as well as support from the 
leadership of virtually every law enforcement 
organization and even the senator who had led the 
opposition to his confirmation, Mr. Holder was confirmed.

Veteran independentista leader Juan Mari Bras, 
expressing optimism that Holder would be 
confirmed, stated, “We are hopeful [.....] that 
he can finish the work he started with the Puerto 
Rican prisoners, releasing those who are still in prison.”

For further information:

Jan Susler
People's Law Office
1180 N. Milwaukee
Chicago, IL 60642
773/235-0070 x 118
<mailto:jsusler at aol.com>jsusler at aol.com



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