Clinton's Radical Pardons
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 5, 2001
by Ronald Radosh
WITH PARDONGATE IN FULL STEAM, the attention is continually, and
appropriately, on the factors behind Bill Clinton's last-minute pardons.
These include those of the exiled billionaire and tax evader Marc Rich;
the pardons in upstate New York of four Hasidic Rabbis who stole money
from the State of New York, and whose congregation all voted in the New
York Senate election for Hillary Clinton; and on the pardons of Carlos
Vignali, a major drug dealer, and Glen Braswell, a man convicted of mail
fraud and perjury. Hillary Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, was handsomely
paid for his intervention on their behalf. But among the hundred-plus
late-minute pardons signed by Bill Clinton before he left the White House
were those of two 1960's radicals, unreconstructed advocates of
revolutionary violence, Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg.
Why did Clinton pardon them? In this case, both did not have benefactors
giving large sums of money to Hillary's campaign, to the Democratic
National Committee, or to the Clintons' personal legal defense fund. To
date, I have not seen any investigative reports as to who recommended
them, nor seen any comments from the former President as to what motivated
him to grant these pardons. Let us look first at the record.
Susan Rosenberg was a former member of the Weather Underground the
extremist faction that emerged from Students for a Democratic Society in
the 1960's. The group was the major exponent of revolutionary violence,
which they sought to carry out in a joint effort with black radicals in
the Black Panther Party. Rosenberg was arrested in New Jersey in 1984,
after she and a companion were found unloading pounds of dynamite and
weapons, and a submachine gun, from their auto. These weapons were to be
used by a Weather Underground cell in planned bombings, the key "tactic"
favored by these revolutionaries at the time. Rosenberg was indicted and
found guilty by a jury, and sentenced to 58 years in prison.
Among other crimes, Rosenberg was also accused in a nine-count indictment
in 1982 of helping to engineer the 1979 prison escape of Black Liberation
Army leader Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of murder, assault,
robbery and weapons charges in the May 2, 1973 murder of a New Jersey
State Trooper, W. Foerster, and the wounding of another trooper while
traveling on the New Jersey turnpike. Chesimard shot the second trooper,
James Harper, as he was retreating to his police car. On November 2, 1979,
Rosenberg helped Chesimard escape from a women's prison at which she was
serving a life sentence, when visitors took a guard and prison driver
hostage. Chesimard then managed to escape to Cuba, where Fidel Castro gave
Appearing last December on "60 Minutes," Rosenberg presented her case for
a pardon to a national audience. Essentially, she argued that she was
incarcerated for a crime she never committed ^ the 1981 Brinks robbery in
Nanuet New York, in which two police officers and a security guard were
murdered. At the time of her arrest, she had also been charged with
planning to provide weapons for that robbery. But after her New Jersey
conviction, Rudolph Giuliani, then US Attorney, dropped the charges as
redundant since she had already been convicted and sentenced to a lengthy
and severe sentence.
Rosenberg, like so many other prisoners seeking parole, argues that she is
a new and different person. A model prisoner with no charges against her
by prison authorities, she was up for parole. After her hearing, the US
Parole Commission refused to pardon her, citing her role in the Brinks
robbery as grounds for continued incarceration. Her attorneys appealed
their ruling to a US District Court, which ruled that she could legally be
kept in prison for fifteen more years on the basis of the Brinks charges.
What Rosenberg is doing is citing a legal technicality that Giuliani had
dropped the charges to save the government the cost and time of a trial
as the grounds on which she says the Parole Commission had no right to
reject her appeal. Moreover, she also argues that she was only a political
activist, and not part of the Weather Underground group that committed the
murder. When she was indicted, Rosenberg went underground as a fugitive,
and would have remained free had the FBI not caught her in 1984, when she
and a revolutionary associate were found, once again, stashing explosives
and guns. She is innocent, she claims. "I supported the right of oppressed
people to armed struggle," she told the news show. "That didn't mean I did
it." Of course, in her lexicon, armed struggle is itself not a crime;
simply a tactic to be used by the oppressed, of which she obviously
includes herself ^ a woman trapped in a hierarchical and patriarchal
oppressive capitalist society. Therefore, even if she was guilty of
supplying the Weather Underground Brinks terrorists with weapons by
definition she would still say that she was not guilty. And as for the
arms that government witnesses testified she had gathered for the Brinks
job, she of course responds that those witnesses were lying.
Then there is the question of remorse. Rosenberg argues that she has had a
change of heart about using violence to reach her proclaimed objectives.
The US Attorney's office, however, argued to the Parole Commission that
"even if Susan Rosenberg now professes a change of heart... the wreckage
she has left in her wake is too enormous to overlook." Except, of course,
for Bill Clinton. The Parole Commission, in refusing to release her, noted
that it was appropriate to consider information about the Brinks robbery,
even though an indictment for that crime had been dropped, and it did not
find her denial of involvement in the crime credible. In addition,
relatives of the murdered officer have publicly asked that she not be
released, since she had never expressed any remorse for the murders.
As for Linda Evans, she too has record similar to Susan Rosenberg. Evans
was once arrested in 1970 for conspiracy and crossing state lines to
incite riot at SDS's so-called "Days of Rage" in Chicago, and for
conspiracy and transportation of weapons and explosives in Detroit
charges which were dropped because evidence was gained by illegal
wiretaps. As her own biography puts it, "Linda began working to develop
clandestine resistance capable of conducting armed struggle as part of a
multi-level overall revolutionary strategy." She was again arrested in May
of 1985 and charged with acquisition of weapons, using false ID's, and
using safe houses and engaging in military training "to bring the war
against US imperialism home to America." Her targets, proudly listed on
one of her fan's websites, included the US Capitol building, the National
War College, the Israeli Aircraft Industries, (she is also, of course,
opposed to "zionism.") (sic) the FBI offices and the New York Patrolmen's
Benevolent Association.Yet her forty-year sentence was also commuted by
Bill Clinton in his last-minute pardon spree.
Reading Evans' articles makes it clear that she too has not changed her
views one bit. An article she co-authored on "The Prison Industrial
Complex" contains such gems as that incarceration's public rationale "is
the fight against crime," while its real purpose is "profit and social
control." Just as "communists were demonized" in the 1950's, she writes,
"the demonization of criminals serves a similar ideological purpose;" to
justify "repression" of poor people "who commit nonviolent crimes "out of
economic need." Her world view is one of an America in which one sees "the
flight of capital in search of cheaper labor markets," a continued
"downward plight of American workers," of a war against drugs in Latin
America meant to create "social control" in the hemisphere to be used to
stop land reform and to enforce "the transnational corporate agenda."
Reading Evans is like perusing old copies of Ramparts or the Weather
Underground's Prairie Fire, in which the "state's repressive apparatus"
works around the clock to incarcerate poor people to prevent them from
becoming revolutionaries. In a recent radio interview, Evans sounded like
an unrepentant 60's revolutionary, who was proud to have beat the system
and gained her freedom, despite not even having a bit of remorse for the
terrorist activities for which she was convicted. Indeed, people like
herself ^ she calls them "political leaders from the ^liberation
struggle," are in prison because the state wants to rob oppressed
communities of "radical political leadership which might lead an
opposition movement." Written while in prison, Evans identified herself as
a "north american (sic) anti-imperialist political prisoner."
The question, then, is what motivated Bill Clinton to pardon these two
self-proclaimed adherents of revolutionary violence, who pledge to use
their regained freedom to carry on the struggle and provide the leadership
they claim is missing. In these cases, there is no money trail to
investigate no rich benefactors seeking favors. There were only two
unreconstructed revolutionaries advocates of armed struggle who have
shown no remorse for the lives of the working-class police officers that
died as a result of Weather Underground terror.
Finally, there is one other reason that a President can pardon an
individual found guilty. That reason, as Charles Krauthammer has argued in
his syndicated column of March 2, is to "assuage deep national rifts."
Thus, the incoming Republican President Warren G. Harding pardoned
Socialist Party leader Eugene V.Debs in 1920. Debs had been found guilty
of violating the Espionage and Sedition Act, by openly opposing American
intervention in World War I, by speaking to a rally in Canton, Ohio. Debs
argued that he did so to prove that an unconstitutional law unjustly
curtailed the exercise of free speech. Running for President from prison,
he received over 1 million votes. Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic wartime
President, had shown extreme vindictiveness towards Debs. The war was
unpopular in many levels of American society, and a clemency campaign for
Debs drew wide popular support. Harding, a conservative, released Debs.
The Socialist's first stop as he left prison was the White House, where
Harding received him. "We understand each other perfectly," Debs said of
the new President.
Debs was a true and legitimate political prisoner, imprisoned for
expressing his ideas, openly and publicly. He engaged in no violent
action; his only crime was to avail himself of his First Amendment rights.
In this modern case, both Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans dare to call
themselves "political prisoners," when in fact; they were arrested,
indicted and tried not for their ideas loathsome as they may be but
for their terrorist actions. Indeed, as they see things, and constantly
reiterate in their articles and speeches, every radical in prison, from
Mumia Abu-Jamal on down, is to them a political prisoner. The violence
they are guilty of is justified on political grounds, and hence they do
not see their actions as criminal. Moreover, there is no widespread
movement for clemency for them, as there was for Debs in 1919. Their
continued incarceration would hardly have been noticed by anyone, save
their family and extreme radical friends. I have studied Eugene V. Debs,
and to put it bluntly, Rosenberg and Evans are no Gene Debs!
When Bill Clinton pardoned Puerto Rican terrorists last year, it was
widely understood that the act was probably related to Hillary Clinton's
forthcoming New York Senate race, and the hope that the pardons would gain
her local New York Puerto Rican support. But in these two cases, no motive
stares us in the face. Could it be that secretly, Bill Clinton in the
depths of his heart, holds sympathy for these pathetic radicals as fellow
anti-war comrades from the 60's, and that, in this final gesture, he has
acted to show them solidarity, thinking that he is acting on behalf of
ideals he too once held? Some journalist, at least, should also ask
questions about these completely indefensible pardons.
Ronald Radosh is a regular columnist and book reviewer for
FrontPageMagazine.com. A former leftist and currently Professor Emeritus
of History at City University of New York, Radosh has written many books,
including The Rosenberg File (with Joyce Milton). His memoir Commies: A
Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left is due
out the first week in May, with the official publication date in June.
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