Commentary by DEBRA BURLINGAME, in the Wall Street Journal
It was nearly 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve, 1982. Two officers on New York Police Department's elite bomb squad rushed to headquarters at One Police Plaza, where minutes earlier an explosion had destroyed the entrance to the building. Lying amid the carnage was Police Officer Rocco Pascarella, his lower leg blasted off.
The perpetrators were members of Armed Forces of National Liberation, FALN (the Spanish acronym), a clandestine terrorist group devoted to bringing about independence for Puerto Rico through violent means. Its members waged war on America with bombings, arson, kidnappings, prison escapes, threats and intimidation. The most gruesome attack was the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing in Lower Manhattan. Timed to go off during the lunch-hour rush, the explosion decapitated one of the four people killed and injured another 60.
Given all this, why would Bill Clinton, who had ignored the 3,226 clemency petitions that had piled up on his desk over the years, suddenly reach into the stack and pluck out these 16 meritless cases? (The New York Times ran a column with the headline, "Bill's Little Gift.")
Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the midst of her state-wide "listening tour" in anticipation of her run for the U.S. Senate in New York, a state which included 1.3 million Hispanics. Three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- Luis V. Gutierrez (D., Ill.), Jose E. Serrano, (D., N.Y.) and Nydia M. Velazquez, (D., N.Y.) -- along with local Hispanic politicians and leftist human-rights advocates, had been agitating for years on behalf of the FALN cases directly to the White House and first lady.
The Clintons were caught in an awkward predicament of their own making. The president had ignored federal guidelines for commutation of sentences, including the most fundamental: The prisoners hadn't actually asked for clemency.
It would be a mistake to dismiss as "old news" the story of how and why these terrorists were released in light of the fact that it took place during the precise period when Bill Clinton now claims he was avidly engaged, even "obsessed," with efforts to protect the public from clandestine terrorist attacks. If Bill and Hillary Clinton were willing to pander to the demands of local Hispanic politicians and leftist human-rights activists defending bomb-makers convicted of seditious conspiracy, how might they stand up to pressure from other interest groups working in less obvious ways against U.S. interests in a post-9/11 world?