The Justice Department and the White House are working on revising the presidential pardon process to provide a way for crime victims to have "direct input" before executive clemency decisions are made, Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. plans to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee today.
The need to improve the pardon process became evident following President Clinton's controversial August offer of conditional clemency to members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation--known by its Spanish initials FALN--which sought independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. The FALN was involved in 130 bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s that left six dead and many injured.
Families and victims of FALN violence have said in congressional hearings that they had no chance to argue against clemency for FALN members, while advocates for the terrorist group were allowed to make their case to the Justice Department.
In an interview yesterday, Holder said Justice officials recognize the 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," Holder said.
Clinton's clemency offer to 16 FALN members--none of whom had been linked to the bombings--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.
Former White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff, after assembling a detailed file on the FALN members, recommended early this year that Clinton grant them clemency. But FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said the FALN members posed a continuing threat to the nation's security and should not be released early from prison. Freeh's view has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have criticized Clinton's decision.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), in an opening statement at today's hearings, intends to raise questions about whether Justice officials properly followed regulations governing pardons, congressional sources said. Among the questions legislators may raise is whether Justice violated the rules by permitting the initial request for clemency to come from an attorney for the FALN group, rather than from the imprisoned members themselves, sources said.
While acknowledging that the FALN process was unusual, Justice officials say it was not unprecedented and that no rules were violated. "By the end of the hearing," Holder said, "people will see we have fully complied with the regulations."