[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).
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. Senates confirmation of
Eric Holder. President Obamas 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 Holders 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 Holders
confirmation was universal. In a letter to the
House and Senate leadership, the newly elected
Republican pro statehood governor assured that
Holders 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 Ricos new resident
commissioner in Washington, followed the
governors lead. Responding to the criticism of
Holders 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:
People's Law Office
1180 N. Milwaukee
Chicago, IL 60642
773/235-0070 x 118
<mailto:jsusler at aol.com>jsusler at aol.com
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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