Let’s move on from the tale of Senator Barack Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to another tale of Obama’s United Church of Christ — a denomination that he and I share.
Does the name Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional — Armed Forces of National Liberation — ring a bell? You may remember this charming group by its initials, FALN. A so-called revolutionary group determined to bring about Puerto Rican independence through violence. As reminded in a detailed February 12, 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal by Debra Burlingame, it was FALN that was responsible for a New Year’s Eve, 1982 bombing at One Police Plaza in New York. The explosion ripped the lower leg off of Police Officer Rocco Pascarella, as well as destroying the entrance to the building. Of Officer Pascarella, Ms. Burlingame quotes the following: “He was ripped up like someone took a box cutter and shredded his face,” remembered Detective Anthony Senft, one of the bomb-squad officers who answered the call 25 years ago. “We really didn’t even know that he was a uniformed man until we found his weapon, that’s how badly he was injured.”
Moments later, notes Burlingame, Detective Senft himself, as well as his partner, Richard Pastorella, “were blown 15 feet in the air as they knelt in protective gear to defuse another bomb. Detective Senft was blinded in one eye, his facial bones shattered, his hip severely fractured. Detective Pastorella was blinded in both eyes and lost all the fingers of his right hand.” There were four bombs that New Year’s Eve night. In an hour, in addition to the two explosions at One Police Center, FBI headquarters in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s federal courthouse were attacked. Over the years there have been others.
Fast forward to October 1999. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee releases an unclassified report from then-Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno. Discussing the disappearance of many Cold War-era related terrorist groups, the report makes one exception.
“Puerto Rican terrorist groups…are an exception and represent an ongoing threat,” the report says. It also recounts a violent history of 100 bombings and arsons in both Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland. Then, almost in passing, the report mentions “the impending release from prison of members of these groups jailed for prior violence.”
Stop the tape.
April 1998. Reno’s deputy attorney general Eric Holder meets with Paul Sherry, who is advocating clemency for FALN members. One wonders whether any responsibility for the loss of Officer Rocco Pascarella’s leg, the blinding of Detective Senft’s one eye, the shattering of his facial bones and the fracturing of his hip, as well as the complete blinding of Detective Pastorella and the loss of all the fingers of his right hand, was discussed. Holder does ask Sherry whether or not the FALN terrorists had renounced violence. Sherry, says Deputy Attorney General Holder later, “said they would not change their beliefs. This probably meant they would not change their beliefs about Puerto Rican independence, although he gave a carefully phrased answer that did not make it entirely clear that they had renounced the use of violence.”
So who, you may wonder, is Paul Sherry? Glad you asked. As a member of the United Church of Christ who once tangled with Sherry over President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, I’m happy to tell you.
Paul Sherry is actually the Reverend Paul Sherry, who, at the time he was meeting with the Deputy Attorney General of the United States to request clemency for the perpetrators of such horrific acts, was, I am sorry to say, the president of the United Church of Christ — the denomination that Senator Obama and I share. Reverend Sherry’s request — and he certainly was not alone — was granted. As Ms. Burlingame and many others, notably the website UCC Truths, have noted, on August 11, 1999 clemency was indeed offered by President Clinton to the FALN terrorists. Twelve accepted in less than a month, and over the objections of then-Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, the terrorists were granted their freedom.
September 15, 1999. The Senate Judiciary Committee, disturbed over all of this, holds hearings to look into the clemency of the FALN terrorists. Testifying that day is one Nozomi Ikuta. She has been called to testify because the Judiciary Committee wishes to know about her lobbying activities surrounding the FALN pardons. Who is she? Well, she is actually the Reverend Nozomi Ikuta, who at the time was a representative of, yes, the United Church of Christ Board of Homeland Ministries. It becomes apparent in Reverend Ikuta’s testimony that, as UCC Truths’ James Hutchins notes, “The United Church of Christ did not, at any point, try to communicate with the victims of the terrorism.” (Hutchins, by the way, says he was so stunned at seeing the UCC portrayed in this fashion that he promptly established UCC Truths, a site dedicated to dissenting UCC members who sharply disagree with the national leadership.) A stunned Rocco Pascarella, permanently disabled by the actions of the FALN terrorists, was also at the same hearing and said of the United Church of Christ: “Did I understand correctly that some people from the group trying to gain clemency for these individuals met with somebody from Justice or the White House? If that’s the case then, I really think that that has to be the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Because as a victim I was never contacted by anyone.”
You did understand that, Officer Pascarella. And surely I am not the only UCC member who is embarrassed about this. You are owed an apology.
THERE’S STILL MORE. Oh my, so much more.
Six days later, the Reverend Dr. Thomas Dipko, executive vice president of the UCC’s United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, found himself in front of the House Committee on Government Reform answering questions from then-Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr. Barr, surprise, surprise, was disturbed. In particular he was upset at the news the UCC had honored one specific Puerto Rican terrorist for her role as a layman in the church, a woman who lived in Chicago named Alejandrina Torres. Why? Because Congressman Barr had seen Ms. Torres plying her trade — on an FBI surveillance tape.
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