Editor’s Note: After the publication of this article, the White House announced on Tuesday that Oscar Lopez-Rivera’s sentence would be commuted.
As Barack Obama begins the last week of his presidency, speculation about potential candidates for an eleventh-hour presidential pardon has inevitably heated up. And one name that has been bandied about should send a particularly unpleasant chill down the spines of law-abiding Americans everywhere: Oscar Lopez-Rivera.
Then, in 1999, President Bill Clinton stunned the world by offering clemency to twelve FALN members, including Lopez, without notifying the families of the FALN’s victims beforehand. Eric Holder, at the time a deputy attorney general in Clinton’s Justice Department, had been trying to free the imprisoned radicals for two years. When then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s staff thought freeing the terrorists might help her pick up the significant Puerto Rican voting bloc in her N.Y. Senate race, they reached out to Holder for an assist. Holder came up with a statement the terrorists would have to sign expressing remorse for their actions, Mrs. Clinton met with an advocate for the group who passed along documents to assist with the clemency, she gave the documents to her husband, and just two days later President Clinton made the surprise announcement.
The plan quickly began to implode when both branches of Congress overwhelmingly condemned it and the administration failed to get all twelve terrorists to agree to its conditions. As a 30-day deadline to accept the offer approached, eleven of the twelve prisoners signed on, walking free as a stunned nation watched. Lopez-Rivera was the only prisoner to decline the administration’s offer.
With Obama’s time in office about to end, efforts to have him order that Lopez be freed are being renewed. In recent days, the outgoing president has ordered commutations of more than 1,000 inmates, many of whom were convicted of drug-related crimes or weapons charges. Besides Lopez-Rivera, other high-profile prisoners, including Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl and Chelsea Manning, noted for her involvement with WikiLeaks, are reportedly being considered for release.
Meanwhile, efforts to keep Lopez-Rivera incarcerated continue, spearheaded by victims’ families and retired law-enforcement officers. For them, his release would be an injustice and an affront to the memories of those who were killed and those who were left behind by the FALN. He founded the group and trained those who carried out its attacks, and he has never shown remorse for the horror, death, and pain those attacks caused. It is only right that he should serve out the full length of his sentence.
— Ronald Kolb is a freelance journalist from Texas.