When Barack Obama commuted the sentences of hundreds of people serving long prison sentences for drug crimes, few were surprised or even that critical of his lame-duck effort to exercise the plenary power of the presidency. Two other commutations should have gotten much more criticism, however, and one of them should have gotten a lot more attention. The commutation of Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s sentence for espionage was an outrage, but the release of Oscar Lopez should stain Obama’s legacy permanently. As Zach Dorfman accurately recalls for Politico, Lopez was in fact one of the worst terrorists the US had ever seen — and had plenty of blood on his hands as well:
Most Americans may not have heard of Lopez, or the organization he helped lead, the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a radical Marxist Puerto Rican independence group. With the focus of post-9/11 terrorism falling almost exclusively on Islamist radicals, the violent nationalists of yesteryear—Puerto Rican, Cuban, Croatian and Jewish—have faded into obscurity. But during the FALN’s explosive heyday under Lopez’s leadership, the group was anything but obscure. In fact, from 1974, when the group announced itself with its first bombings, to 1983, when arrests finally destroyed its membership base, the FALN was the most organized, active, well-trained and deadly domestic terror group based in the United States.
The FALN was responsible for over 130 bombings during this period, including the January 1975 explosion in Manhattan’s historic Fraunces Tavern, which killed four and wounded 63. In October of that year, it set off, all within the span of an hour, 10 bombs in three cities, causing nearly a million dollars in damage. In August 1977, the FALN set off a series of bombs in Manhattan, forcing 100,000 workers to evacuate their offices; one person was killed, and six were injured. In 1979, the group even threatened to blow up the Indian Point nuclear energy facility located north of New York City. It later sent a communiqué warning the U.S. to “remember … that you have never experienced war on your vitals and that you have many nuclear reactors.” In 1980, FALN members stormed the Carter-Mondale election headquarters in Chicago, and the George H.W. Bush campaign headquarters in New York, holding employees there hostage at gunpoint. In 1981, they plotted to kidnap President Reagan’s son Ron. Plainly, the group was deadly serious about its objectives—a free, independent and socialist Puerto Rico—and zealous in its pursuit of them.
Well, that was the group, not Lopez. Right? Wrong. Lopez was at the top of the group, directing it and even instructing members on the finer points of bombmaking. They couldn’t pin any specific attacks on Lopez, however, which gave Obama the ability to claim that he hadn’t been convicted of any specific violent crime. As Dorfman writes, “This has the virtue of being true in the narrow, legalistic sense, and yet comprehensively false.”
The problem for Dorfman is the way that the clemency action played out:
During the Obama years, the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus lobbied President Obama for Lopez’s release, as did Senator Sanders, former Puerto Rico Governer Alejandro García Padilla, and many other prominent figures. As with Bill Clinton’s 1999 actions, it strains credulity that Obama would release Lopez were his cause not championed by powerful politicians within his own party, and if Puerto Ricans did not represent an important, and increasingly strategically located, Democratic voting bloc. …
Looked at this way, whether Lopez deserved clemency—which is an act of presidential mercy, and not recognition of his innocence—is immaterial. His release, as well as the release of 12 FALN members in 1999, is a particularly noisome example of interest group politics, played out on the national stage. (As Melissa Mark-Viverito said to the New York Post upon hearing of Obama’s commutation: “When people think of what did he do for Puerto Rico, it’s going to be that he freed Oscar.”)
When the rest of the country considers what Obama did, they should recall the words of Matthew Hennessey at the New York Daily News, who warned against clemency for Lopez:
During the 1970s and 80s, López Rivera’s FALN placed more than 130 bombs in American cities. Their goal was to destabilize what they called the “Yanki capitalist monopoly” and achieve Puerto Rican independence. Their method was terrorism.
In 1974, the FALN began planting booby-trap bombs around New York. While most of these early explosions caused only property damage, the group’s clear intention was to kill and maim. In December 1974, an NYPD officer responding to a report of a dead body in an abandoned building on 110th St. was seriously injured by an FALN incendiary device.
In January 1975, a 10-pound dynamite bomb killed four people and injured dozens at Fraunces Tavern. The powerful blast was felt blocks away. In an eerie foreshadowing of 9/11, dust-covered victims staggered through downtown streets. The FALN quickly took responsibility for the deadly deed. …
López Rivera’s supporters claim he is a political prisoner, in jail for his beliefs rather than his actions. They say there is no evidence that he personally killed anyone — which could also be plausibly said of Osama bin Laden and Al Capone.
Let’s make it very clear: Obama released an unrepentant terrorist who specifically states that America is his enemy. Why? There is no other reason than an attempt to get some cheap cred with a bloc of voters that almost certainly doesn’t share Lopez’ position on full independence for Puerto Rico. That’s far worse than Manning’s early release, and it should stick to Obama’s reputation permanently.