January 16, 2009
HEARING STATEMENT OF JOSEPH F. CONNOR
THE UNITED STATES SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS
JANUARY 16, 2009
Thank you members of the committee.
My name is Joseph Connor and, unfortunately, I appear before the Judiciary Committee for a second time, once again addressing the unimaginable, immoral and dangerous 1999 clemency offer to 16 Puerto Rican terrorists of Los Macheteros and the Armed Forces for National Liberation, more commonly known as the FALN. These terrorists proudly claimed responsibility for over 130 bombings in the US including the murder of my 33 year old father Frank Connor during the infamous lunchtime bombing of historic Fraunces Tavern on January 24, 1975.
Despite warning and recommendations to the contrary by the FBI, Bureau of Prisons and the Attorney General herself, then Deputy Attorney General and current AG nominee Eric Holder played a large part in the release of those terrorists.
The years since those hearings in September 1999 have brought our country great change and traumatic events. From the horrors of 9/11 and two wars, to the election of two presidents to the current economic crisis, much has changed in our world; some change forced upon us, other change initiated by us.
In my life and I think in the lives of most Americans we make changes based on our experience intended to build on our successes and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. The nomination of Eric Holder makes me wonder what his supporters have learned from the past or if they have already forgotten the lessons of recent history.
Putting aside his well documented involvement in the outrageous pardon of Marc Rich, his involvement with Chiquita Brands and Elian Gonzalez, the Attorney General nominee's reported egregious support for unleashing unrepentant terrorists on the American people against the advice of the FBI, Bureau of Prisons, prosecutors and even Janet Reno herself, should disqualify him on its own.
Incredibly, we revisit today the same recriminations of the September 1999 hearings; who had a hand in the clemency grants and why? How sad that we have to go through this again. We knew the clemencies were wrong then. The Senate, in 1999, condemned the offers by a 95-2 vote. Yet here we are contemplating the confirmation of the architect of terrorists' release as the top law enforcement officer in the land! In a post 9/11 world, how can this be?
If anything, given the devastating terror attacks of 9/11, we as Americans should only be more resolute in our opposition to anyone who would be soft on or support terrorist organizations.
If anyone needs to be reminded about terrorism perhaps I can provide some insight.
Murder at Fraunces Tavern
It was a beautiful winter's day, Friday, January 24, 1975, when my family was shattered by the bombing of Fraunces Tavern in New York City. My father, Frank Connor, was brutally murdered in the attack; an attack for which the FALN proudly claimed responsibility. Our mother, Mary, had spent much of the day preparing a special meal, which we planned to have that night to celebrate my brother's and my recent 11th and 9th birthdays, respectively. That special meal became the food mourners ate after my dad's funeral. Shortly after coming home from school that day, we learned that our father had been with clients at Fraunces for lunch. After an agonizing vigil, his colleagues at J.P. Morgan Bank delivered the final, devastating news to my mother, brother, grandmother and me. Our dad was dead and our childhoods' shattered.
Who was Frank Connor?
Frank Connor was our father. Only 33 years old when he was murdered, he was the only child of immigrants Thomas Connor and the former Margaret Maloney. Tom worked days as an elevator operator and a Margaret nights as cleaning lady at J.P. Morgan where she would eventually find young Frank a job out of high school. The Connor family lived in Washington Heights, NYC, a working-class section of Manhattan. Frank attended City College, and years later graduated from Farleigh Dickinson University night school. He was a classic American success story, the son of immigrants working his way up from his clerical job as a high school graduate to a successful career as officer at the prestigious J.P. Morgan.
Frank married Irish born Mary Anne Lynch in 1962 and had three sons, Tom (1964), Joe (1966) and Martin (1967). Frank and Mary were devastated when Frank's father Tom died in November 1967 and baby Martin tragically died shortly after his birth just before Christmas of the same year. Through the pain, Frank remained a devoted husband to Mary, son to Margaret and proud and loving father to Tom and Joe.
His mother, my grandmother, Margaret Connor lived until October 2001 at the age of 97. She never recovered from the death of her only child. Although my mother has remarried to a fine man, and my brother Tom and I have families of our own, not a day passes without feeling the void left in our lives. My father's death has become a part of me; an indescribable, intangible wound that was opened and aggravated by this preposterous and disrespectful clemency grant and now re-aggravated by this nomination.
These terrorists took away my father's life; never allowing him to see his sons play sports in high school, never allowing him the pride in seeing his boys graduate high school and college, or meet his daughters in law. They took from him the joy of being father and a grandfather. They took from my mother the promise of growing old with her first love.
His grandchildren will never know their grandfather. They look at pictures and listen to stories. But, when they ask why he was killed and why those claiming responsibility were released, what answer can we give? Truth is his life has been valued lower than the political agendas of a political appointee like Holder, the former first lady Hillary Clinton and the former president Bill Clinton who used Holder's push for clemency to further the political career of his wife. Frank Connor was a good man. He loved his family and his country and deserves better than having his life and tragic death used for politics.
Should Holder, a person who panders to terrorists be our top law enforcement officer? Certainly this great country can produce better candidates.
Who was the FALN?
Contrary to the disingenuous claims of those who sought the terrorists' release, there is nothing non-violent about these FALN members and there has been no remorse. They proudly claimed responsibility for over 130 bombings in the US mainland and Puerto Rico killing six and wounding scores (see communiqué). Four of them were videotaped building bombs just prior to their arrests. They refused to acknowledge the United States' jurisdiction to prosecute them and at sentencing threatened the life of Judge McMillan. They were convicted for crimes such as seditious conspiracy, weapons possession, and armed robbery. Judge McMillan said he would have imposed the death penalty if he could.
The FALN killed and maimed real people and devastated the lives of many others. Our family has had to live with the aftermath of their "non-violence" for almost 34 years.
The day after their release, one of the terrorists explained to Tim Russert on Meet the Press that there was no need for him to feel guilt for the Fraunces bombing. Incredibly and shamelessly, he argued that the establishment where people were killed did not take proper precautions to guard against such an attack. My father was killed while eating lunch in a New York City restaurant in the middle of the day! The bombings only stopped when these terrorists were put in jail!
These are the people Holder pushed out of prison and on to the American people.
Terror hits our family again: The World Trade Center attacks of 9/11
As we did every day, my brother and I commuted through the World Trade Center the morning of 9/11/01. I witnessed the towers explode in a massive fireball from my nearby office; hundreds of our fellow citizens jumping or falling from the mighty towers like specs of rain in a storm. Personal items and papers, all too similar to those on my desk, floated toward Earth exposing to the world all that was, up until only seconds before, precious to those people but now utterly meaningless to those dead or dying on the upper floors.
Our father's godson and our closest cousin, Steve Schlag was killed in the North Tower that horrible morning only blocks from both where I stood and from Fraunces Tavern where his godfather was killed by terrorists a generation before. Like our father, Steve left a loving wife and young children. He left an adoring mother, two sisters and a father still devastated from the loss of his "brother" Frank Connor.
Clemency legal convention and process
Not only was this grant of clemency immoral, but it violated several legal conventions. Under the Victim's Rights and Restitution Act of 1990, a "responsible official" was to provide victims with the earliest possible notice of the release from custody of the offender. The law reads at 42 U.S.C. Section 10607(c)(5):
"After trial a responsible official shall provide a victim the earliest possible notice of. . .release from custody of the offender." My family read about the grant in the newspaper!
We were never contacted by Eric Holder, Janet Reno or anyone at the Justice Department or the White House regarding our views on the clemency. Had the terrorists renounced violence and accepted clemency right away, they would have been out of jail before we ever learned of the offer.
The process through which this clemency was offered was improper. Typically, those incarcerated express remorse and request clemency from the President through a standard process. The President then reviews the claims. In 3,039 out of 3,042 prior cases, clemency was denied by the Clinton Administration.
In this case the standard process was not followed.
? did not actually request clemency,
? did not express remorse,
? were not required to provide information on unsolved cases,
? were allowed 30 days to decide to accept the conditions,
? were allowed unprecedented conference calls among them between prisons to decide collectively whether or not to accept the offer. This is even more outrageous when you consider that clemency is an individual, not group grant.
Eric Holder reportedly coached the terrorists to express remorse in writing and renounce violence to get around having not done so in an application. According to Neil Lewis's October 21, 1999 article in The New York Times, "In the end, the prisoners provided a long ambiguous statement with no explicit statement of regret. While some people had been hurt, the statement said, "innocent victims were on all sides."
To reiterate the points above, astonishingly the arrogant terrorists never requested clemency and were allowed 30 days and unprecedented conference calls between prisons before they would agree to these minimal conditions!
Yet the record shows they were pushed to release by Eric Holder.
Had we been properly notified, we would have requested the delivery of our opinion on the issue through a personal meeting with Holder or Reno, as the pro clemency supporters were granted. But no, we were not given the same courtesies as the pro terrorist faction.
Astonishingly these arrogant FALN terrorists were allowed unprecedented conference calls between prisons to discuss the minimal conditions. With freedom offered, these terrorists still took 30 days to decide whether or not to agree to the clemency guidelines! And to show you what type of individuals were offered this accommodation, two FALN members ultimately rejected the grant and chose to state imprisoned.
According to a recent article by in the Los Angles Times
The January 9, 2009 article in the Los Angeles Times documents very clearly, Holder's despicable activities relating to the clemency process. Internal Department of Justice memos released with the article incredibly show Holder's office was more concerned about the public relations fallout of released terrorists committing more crimes than they were concerned about the potential victims of those crimes.
"A significant public relations problem could arise if one or more of the prisoners granted clemency is charged with an additional crime..."
LA Times Article of January 9, 2009 should be entered into the record as well as released internal DOJ memos.
We cannot afford to place our lives in the hands of anyone who would be soft on terror. According to reports in the LA Times, Hartford Courant, NY Daily News and released papers and transcripts, Mr. Holder was the driving force behind the clemency for the proud, unrepentant, terrorists of the FALN; even going so far as to recommend clemency.
Holder lacks the judgment, character, honesty and belief system necessary for such a vital position in today's world.
I respectfully request Mr. Holder respond to the following questions and protocols allowing the members of the United States Senate, who have accepted the trust and interest s of our citizenry, to make an informed and thoughtful decision on his qualifications to hold the highest law enforcement position in the land. I implore that the members of the Senate require that Mr. Holder provide direct, truthful and unambiguous answers to the follow questions:
? Why he ignored the recommendations of the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the former Pardon Attorney, prosecutors and even his own Justice Department and championed the release of self proclaimed terrorists?
? Why Mr. Holder continues to hide behind executive privilege when posed direct questions on the issue when he will be a part of the "most transparent administration in American History?"
? How did his conscience feel when he released dangerous terrorists on the American public?
? Why Holder failed to contact victims or their families while meeting with supporters of the terrorists?
? Why Holder provided advise to the terrorists by coming up with the idea that they renounce violence?
? Why Holder allowed the terrorists unprecedented conference calls between prisons?
? Why Holder did not require their provision of information to resolve unsolved crimes?
? Why was a new report done in 1999, superseding former Pardon Attorney Margaret Love's report (that recommended against clemency)?
? If not the FALN terrorists, as Mr. Holder specifically pointed out, which terrorist group was Janet Reno referring to in her Sept 1999 report condemning the impending release of terrorists?
? What reason President Clinton gave for the terrorist clemencies?
Holder claimed in his very evasive testimony before the Judiciary Committee that it could not be the FALN terrorists because (in his absurd logic twisting manner) they had renounced violence and therefore could not have been regarded as terrorists. However he never said, who if not the FALN, it could have been.
In February 2000, Deenie Berger (wife of Alejandro Berger who was killed at Fraunces Tavern) and I introduced the Pardon Attorney Reform and Integrity Act with Senator Hatch and Representative Fossella.
While never enacted into law, this Act required the Attorney General to submit specific information to the president (including written statements of victims and of various law enforcement representatives) during the clemency process. While the President would retain his constitutional right of complete discretion over granting clemency the Bill was intended as a guarantee to the American people that the President is making an informed decision fully disclosed to the people.
This Bill would have made for a very transparent process and remove all doubt as to the roles of those involved such as Mr. Holder. The light of full disclosure may well have been bright enough to eliminate any thought of allowing terrorists to walk free.
I ended my introduction that day in 2000 with the following wish and warning, "We hope and pray that there will be no "future victims" and when made law, this will never need enforcement. We live in a world, however, that is that much less safe given the release of these terrorists and the encouragement would be terrorists much have received by the clemency grant.
I would not want to think that my father lived, died and was forgotten; the memory of his life pushed aside by some political agenda of the President. Beside the beautiful memories carried by his family and friends and passed down to the newest generation, perhaps the Bill introduced today by Senator Hatch and Representative Fossella will mean that some good has come out of this horrific experience and he has not died in vain."
It's very simple. Please thoroughly review Mr. Holder's record, put aside partisan politics but put yourselves in the shoes of the ordinary Americans who have given you their trust and vote and decide if this man who favored endangering their lives by releasing unrepentant terrorists should be charged with protecting your follow citizens.
I think ordinary Americans would agree. The answer is very clear.
Joseph F. Connor
January 16, 2009