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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Just dump Holder now

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Bill Ayers is right; he's not a terrorist. He's a joke.

It's not Bill Ayers that soils President-elect Barack Obama's terrorist-fighting credentials; it's Obama's attorney general nominee, Eric Holder. And if Obama truly wants to unite us, he should dump Holder now.

Or at least make Holder fully explain his role in President Bill Clinton's grant of clemency to 16 terrorists from the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by its Spanish acronym FALN. It's a question Holder has been dodging for more than a decade, and the one he will have to answer if he expects to be confirmed by the Senate.

For Chicagoans, terrorism carried out by the FALN, a radical and violent Puerto Rican independence group, is no mere political matter. It set off 120 bombs in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them in Chicago and a few in Schaumburg—at Marshall Field's, Sears, J.C. Penney, the federal and county buildings, Great Lakes Naval Training Center, several banks and Cook County Republican headquarters. It was in Evanston that the law finally caught up with them. U.S. attorneys from here and the New York area opposed the clemency, as well as the Justice Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons. Former Atty. Gen. Janet Reno called them an "ongoing threat" in 1999, before Clinton sprung them. The FALN terrorists were not convicted of killing anyone, but Congress, which overwhelmingly condemned the clemency, concluded the FALN terrorists were responsible for five deaths. By standard practice, the clemency petition should never have reached Clinton's desk because none of the terrorists had applied for it. So, who did? How did Clinton get it into his head (or did he originate the thought) that the terrorists should walk?

The conventional wisdom points a finger at Holder, then deputy attorney general, and Holder has provided little evidence (other than his denials) that the process was on the up and up. Documents have revealed that Holder met with Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and other Democratic congressmen with Puerto Rican constituents to discuss the case beforehand. Holder suggested that congressmen get the prisoners to issue an expression of remorse to speed their release. Why? In congressional hearings, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) tried to find out, but in Holder's clumsy evasiveness just about all that Hatch could get out of him was an admission that no one bothered to question the bombing victims. Otherwise, Holder steadfastly pleaded executive privilege. Documents later revealed that Holder's (or whoever's) analysis reached Clinton's desk without the standard go or no-go recommendation.

Much has been made of Obama's relationship with Ayers, famous for his role as the co-founder of a radical idiots group called the Weather Underground. While the Weathermen were violent, the FALN overshadowed them. For all the heat generated by the Obama-Ayers affiliation, the president-elect has a lot more explaining to do to justify Holder's nomination as the nation's chief law-enforcement officer.

Ayers denied in a recent New York Times op-ed that he was a terrorist, and his reasoning (he didn't kill or hurt anyone) is goofy. You get a better reading of him from his book, "Fugitive Days," an adolescent attempt to rationalize a juvenile fling. Presumptuously comparing himself to John Brown and Nat Turner, Ayers fails to appreciate that his '70s rhetoric is as dated as bell-bottoms. Yet, he still takes himself seriously.

Forget him.

Much of the criticism of the Holder nomination so far has focused on his role in Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive who owed $48 million in taxes and faced 51 counts of tax fraud. His wife, Denise, made substantial contributions to the Clinton presidential library and Hillary Clinton's senate campaign. President Clinton also granted pardons or commutations to his half brother, Roger; to Susan McDougal, for her role in the Whitewater scandal; and our own convicted congressmen Dan Rostenkowski and Mel Reynolds. (All of which should be kept in mind if President Bush pardons—which he shouldn't—Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby.)

Why Obama wanted to resurrect all these troubling memories by nominating Holder is beyond me, especially in light of his campaign rhetoric about "bringing us together." I know, anyone who questions the Holder appointment will be accused of driving us apart, as if we have no right to ask for an explanation. But an explanation for this outrageous freeing of the FALN terrorists is required in an age when the threat of terrorism has worsened. It raises a question: What precisely does Holder plan to do with all the terrorists now in custody? It's more than a fair question.

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