Sunday, December 28, 2008

The US Attorney General-elect and the Terrorists

In 1983, a gang of criminals trained in Cuba under the enlightened administration of Fidel Castro, pictured to the left schmoozing with a well known US senator and sometime later the governor of Connecticut, knocked over a Wells Fargo office in West Hartford and absconded to Cuba with $7.2 million.

Following a 1986 visit to Cuba, Weicker told The Village Voice that Castro was "a man of enormous intellect and idealism. Castro has been known to snow people but he didn't snow me. We flew all over the place and I saw what he has done with my own eyes. By Caribbean standards, it's Park Avenue."

It is not known whether during his brief visit Weicker asked Castro to turn over Wells Fargo robbers to his custody.

All were members of a Puerto Rican terrorist gang called Los Macheteros, a group affiliated with the Armed Forces of National Liberation linked to 130 bombings, a few murders and about a dozen robberies. According to the FBI, Los Macheteros, among other radical Indepenentistas, were the vanguard of the often violent Puerto Rican independence movement and one of the nation's foremost domestic terror threats.

Hartford native Victor M. Gerena, an inside man who directed the robbery, sought and received protection from Cuba's terrorist facilitators, but a number of Cuban trained bank robbers and terrorists were apprehended, tried and convicted of their crimes.

And then, as the lame duck Clinton administration trailed of into irrelevancy, clemency was offered to 16 radical Independentistas. The bank robbers and terrorists, all affiliated with the Armed Forces of National Liberation, were awarded with sentence reductions or remissions of fines, though none of them had applied personally for clemency.

The clemency process was highly irregular. Juan Enrique Segarra-Palmer, 55-year sentence was cut by about half and in three other cases fines of either $100,000 or $50,000 were forgiven. None of the convicted criminals awarded clemency were pressured by the Justice Department to give information concerning the location of the unrecovered money or the three participants in the robbery, one of whom was Gerena. Pressure of this kind brought to bear against criminals and their willingness to disgorge such information is common in clemency cases.

None of the groups opposed to the Puerto Rico clemency were consulted, as is usual in such cases. However, The Hartford Courant reported, “records show that Holder and other top Justice and White House officials met at least nine times with advocates for the prisoners. Notes of those meetings led congressional critics to complain that the officials advised the prisoner advocates how to craft correspondence to support the case for clemency.”

Eric Holder, the No. 2 man in the Clinton administration Justice Department from 1997 to 2001 recently nominated by president-elect Barack Obama as the new administration’s attorney general, directed the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney, the office responsible for investigating and issuing recommendations on executive clemency applications.

“As a result,” the paper reported, “he had a decisive role in controversial Clinton-era pardons, including that of billionaire Mark Rich, a fugitive tax cheat whose case has dominated discussion of Holder's nomination and is expected to be topic No. 1 at the confirmation hearings.”

Topic No. 2 doubtless will be the role played by Obama’s choice of attorney general in the highly unorthodox proceedings that awarded the Cuban trained terrorists with reduced sentences and fine reductions.

As Ricky Ricardo might say, Holder's got a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Others who may have a lot of explaining to do are Hillary Clinton, president-elect Obama's choice as Secretary of State, and US senators such as Chris Dodd.
In the past, Doidd has had a touchy-feely relationship with some undemocratic Latin American regimes that have sponsored terrorism. It should be interesting to hear the embattled Dodd's take on Obama's choice of the Clinton era pardoner-in-chief as attorney general, assuming any reporter bothers to ask him.

While critical of the pardons when they were issued, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont has styled Holder "uniquely qualified" to end the political meddling he said occurred in the Justice Department under former Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

However, ranking Republican on the committee Sen. Arlen Specter has said on the floor of the senate, “I don't think it is useful to get into the specifics as to the precise concerns which I raised and his precise answers, But by analogy to the Gonzales tenure, I think it is imperative we be sure the attorney general of the United States does not bend his views to accommodate his appointer; that the attorney general does not bend his views in any way which is partisan or political, to serve any interest other than the interests of justice.”

The bending of the usual rules of the clemency process in the case of the convicted Cuban trained robbers and terrorists suggest the office of pardons, under the direction of Holder, was more than happy to engage in political meddling.

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