Alejandrina Torres (born June 18, 1939) is a Puerto Rican, who was a member of the FALN who was convicted and sentenced to 35 years for seditious conspiracy. Torres was linked to the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), which claimed responsibility for 100 bombings and six deaths. Her sentence was commuted by President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Early years and personal life
Alejandrina Torres was born in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, in 1939. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was 11 years old. During the 1960s and 1970s, she was a leader in her community. She was a founding member and later a teacher at the Puerto Rican High School in Chicago. She later helped found Chicago's Betances Health Clinic and was active in boycotts of public schools which continued to mis-educate children and were hostile and racist towards their students' parents. At the First Congregational Church where she worked, she organized a variety of community programs. She also participated in the Committee to Free the Five Nationalists and later became a member of the Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Prisoners of War. At the time of her arrest in 1983 she was married to Reverend Jose A. Torres and had two daughters, Liza and Catalina, who were 16 and 11 years old respectively.
Criminal activities, arrest and convictions
Torres was arrested in June 1983. The arrest in April 1980 of a dozen FALN members in Evanston led to the identification of Edwin Cortes as a suspect, this led to the identification of a FALN safe-house, and subsequently that it was also used by Alejandrina Torres. The surveillance team was able to place cameras and listening equipment in the apartment. In the apartment, they found approximately 24 pounds of dynamite, 24 blasting caps, weapons, disguises, false identification and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The agents were able to neutralize all the ammunition and explosives in the apartment, by replacing the gunpowder with coconut charcoal. Using surveillance, investigators determined that the group planned to place bombs at a military facility on July 4, 1983. This prompted the arrest on June 29, 1983 of three FALN members: Edwin Cortes, Alberto Rodriguez, and Alejandrina Torres, and a fourth sympathizer (Jose Rodriguez).
At their trial proceedings, all of the arrested declared their status as prisoners of war, and refused, in general, to participate in the proceedings. They declared themselves to be combatants in an anti-colonial war against the United States to liberate Puerto Rico from U.S. domination and invoked prisoner of war status. They argued that the U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to try them as criminals and petitioned for their cases to be handed over to an international court that would determine their status. The Federal court, however, did not recognize their request. During the trial, Cortes and Torres painted a picture of Puerto Rico as a bleak world where American corporations, particularly drug companies, conducted unethical experiments, such as birth control tests, on Puerto Rican women; where the American government systematically effaced a rich, proud Puerto Rican cultural heritage; and where the powerful, shadowy hand of the Wall Street capitalist dictated the country`s politics and exploited its citizens and natural resources. They and their witnesses asserted that George Washington was a slave holder, that U.S. domination over Puerto Rico was illegal and that the FBI historically targeted the FALN for infiltration, disruption and annihilation. They invoked the names of freedom fighters from Northern Ireland, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and elsewhere; attacked the legitimacy of the 1898 treaty with Spain ceding Puerto Rico to the U.S.; accused government authorities of enslaving Puerto Rican nationals in a "cocoon of ignorance"; and cited a United Nations resolution that sanctioned war against colonialism.
The prosecutors countered: There may be something heroic about someone who dies for his beliefs, but there is nothing heroic about someone who sneaks out into the dead of the night, plants bombs and then slinks back into the sanctuary of a safe house before the bomb detonates. In comments at sentencing of the three, Judge George Layton stated, One of the strange things about this case is that these defendants didn’t accomplish any of their purpose. The didn’t succeed in springing Oscar Lopez. They didn’t succeed in springing anybody from Pontiac Correctional Center. And they didn’t even succeed in planting the bombs. Why? Because in this case, in this court’s judgement, represents one of the finest examples of preventive law enforcement that has ever come to this court’s attention ...They were going to plant bombs in public buildings during a holiday.
Torres and other FALN members had been linked to more than 100 bombings or attempted bombings since 1974 in their attempt to achieve independence for Puerto Rico. Torres was sentenced by a Federal district court to 35-years of incarceration for seditious conspiracy, bomb and weapons violations (conspiracy to make destructive devices, unlawful storage of explosives, possession of an unregistered firearm), and interstate transportation of a stolen car. Cortes and Rodriguez were convicted of conspiring to rob a Chicago Transit Authority money collector.
Commutation of Sentence by President Clinton
In September 10, 1999, Torres was released as one of 12 FALN members granted conditional clemency by President Clinton. All of them were required to submit a written statement renouncing the use or threatened use of violence for any purpose. Clinton cited Rev. Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter as having been influential on his decision to grant clemency to FALN prisoners. A spokesman for the Clinton administration stated that none of the crimes for which they were convicted resulted in deaths or injuries They pointed out that they had not been convicted of the actual bombings. Rather, they had been convicted on a variety of charges ranging from bomb making, conspiracy to armed robbery, and firearms violations. Among the other convicted Puerto Rican nationalists there were sentences of as long as 90 years in Federal prisons for offenses, that included seditious conspiracy, possession of unregistered firearms, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, interference with interstate commerce by violence and interstate transportation of firearms with intent to commit a crime.
President Clinton's offer of clemency to former FALN members, including Alejandrina, was strongly opposed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the US House of Representatives and US Senate. In criticizing President Clinton's decision, both houses of congress categorized the FALN members as militant terrorists, and asserted that the actions of the FALN had killed 6 persons and maimed others, including members of law enforcement. In addition, one of the jailed co-conspirators of Alejandrina, Marie Haydee Beltran Torres, the wife of FALN leader and Alejandrina's stepson, Carlos Alberto Torres, had been convicted of killing a civilian in the bombing at the Mobil Oil building in New York, hence the FALN movement included members convicted of causing deaths. While the Fraunces Tavern bombing in New York that killed five persons was linked to the FALN, no one was specifically convicted for this bombing.
Allegations of human rights violations and political prisoner status
There were reports of human rights violations against the FALN prisoners. The prisoners were placed in prisons far from their families, some were sexually assaulted by prison personnel, some were denied adequate medical attention, and others were kept in isolated underground prison cells for no reason. Amnesty International and the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Administration of Justice both criticized the conditions. The conditions were found to be in violation of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. A federal judge also addressed his concerns in the case of Baraldine vs. Meese.
Throughout her imprisonment, Torres was plagued by health problems which were aggravated by prison staff's attacks and an indifference to her medical needs. It took the federal prison system six years to place her in a regular women's prison. Two of those six years were spent in the underground Women's High Security Unit at Lexington. Kentucky. Amnesty International condemned the conditions in that unit as "deliberately and gratuitously oppressive" and as causing physical and psychological deterioration.
Torres was one of four subjects housed in an experimental prison unit in Kentucky. The High Security Unit (HSU) was a kind of prison within a prison, occupying the basement of the Federal Correctional Institute. Allegations were made that the unit was an experimental underground political prison that practiced isolation and sensory deprivation. It was finally closed by a federal judge after two years of protest by religious and human rights groups. She was then moved to the federal women's prison in Danbury, Connecticut, from which she was released in September, 1999.
Torres was also sexually assaulted multiple times in cases involving prison personnel with the assailants never being charged. The attacks occurred in three different prisons. The first assault took place when she was locked in a men's unit, permitting the men to exhibit themselves in front of her. In a second incident a male prison lieutenant forced her to put her head between his knees and observed while female guards tore off her clothes and left her naked. The authorities responded to Torres' complaint in this case by placing her in solitary confinement, prohibiting from calling her family and lawyer to denounce the abuses. She was further penalized for violating prison rules, and a secret letter was written to a judge assigned to her case giving a false version of the events. In the third case, female prison guards held her while a male guard inserted his fingers in her vagina and her anus during an alleged "search". The warden who ordered the search admitted later that he did not suspect Torres of having contraband, and that the search was in violation of prison rules.
The sentences given to the FALN members were judged by some to be "out of proportion to the nationalists' offenses", and almost 20 times greater than sentences for similar offenses by the American population at large.
For many years, numerous national and international organizations criticized Torres' incarceration categorizing it as political imprisonment. Cases involving the other Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners have also been categorized by some as cases of political prisoners, with some being more vocal than others.
Besides Alejandrina Torres, two other political prisoners were housed at the Lexington, KY facility, Silvia Baraldini and Susan Rosenberg. The facility was sharply criticized by Amnesty International and its closure was eventually ordered by U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker.
- Crawford Jr, William B (October 5, 1985). "3 FALN MEMBERS GET 35 YEARS". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 18, 2009.
- "FALN prisoners set free". CNN. September 10, 1999. Retrieved March 18, 2009.
- Alejandrina Torres. Voices for Independence/Voces pro Independencia. PeaceHost. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
- Effects and effectiveness of law enforcement intelligence measures to counter homegrown terrorism: A case study on the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN); Roberta Belli, Final Report to the Science & Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, August 2012, page 23.
- R. Belli, page 24.
- Statement of the Special Agent (Retired) Richard S. Hahn before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing on FALN Clemency, September 15, 1999. Redacted in the website for Latin American Studies. Also can be found at Official report of the Committee of the Judiciary, pages 33-35.
- Richard Hahn interview, page 48.
- R. Hahn testimony.
- R. Belli, page 27-28.
- Andrés Torres. The Puerto Rican movement: voices from the diaspora. Temple University Press. 1998. Page 147. Retrieved March 19, 2003.
- Prendergast, Alan, July 12, 1995. End of the Line. Denver Westword Retrieved on November 21, 2008
- The Puerto Rican movement: voices from the diaspora. By Andrés Torres. Temple University Press. 1998. Page 147.
- ProLIBERTAD. ProLIBERTAD Campaign for the Freedom of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War: Arm the Spirit October 30, 1995.
- 4 Guilty In Bomb Plot, Chicago Tribune article, August 06, 1985, by William B. Crawford Jr.
- "12 Imprisoned Puerto Ricans Accept Clemency Conditions" by John M. Broder. The New York Times September 8, 1999
- United States Department of Justice. Office of the Pardon Attorney: Commutations of Sentences.
- W. Crawford, Chicago Tribune article.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons. U.S. Department of Justice. Immate Locator.
- United States Department of Justice. Press Release. August 11, 1999.
- FALN prisoners another step closer to freedom: Clinton condemned on Capitol Hill for clemency. CNN. September 9, 1999.
- Charles Babington. September 11, 1999,Puerto Rican Nationalists Freed From Prison.' The Washington Post Page A2.
- Eleven Puerto Rican Nationalists Freed from Prison. CNN. September 10, 1999.
- Opposition to the clemency was approved by 88% of the US House of Representatives and 98% of the Senate "Congressional Record — HOUSE" H8019 and "Congressional Record — SENATE" S18018, and by law enforcement agencies..
- Reading Eagle, Associated Press article, dated September 8, 1977.
- Day, Susie. August, 2001. "Cruel But Not Unusual: The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons, An Interview with Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn." Monthly Review, Accessed March 19, 2009
- Reuben, William A.; Norman, Carlos. "Brainwashing in America? The women of Lexington Prison"., The Nation 1987. Accessed March 19, 2009
- "Judge Bars U.S. From Isolating Prisoners for Political Beliefs". The New York Times, 1988. Accessed March 19, 2009
- The Puerto Rican movement: voices from the diaspora. By Andrés Torres. Temple University Press. 1998. Page 149.
- Peoples Law Office. Puerto Rico.
- Eleven Puerto Rican Nationalists Freed from Prison CNN. September 10, 1999
- Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling on United States to Expedite Puerto Rican Self-determination Process: Draft Resolution Urges Probe of Pro-Independence Leader’s Killing, Human Rights Abuses; Calls for Clean-up, Decontamination of Vieques. United Nations General Assembly. June 12, 2006. (GA/COL/3138/Rev.1*). Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York. Special Committee on Decolonization, 8th & 9th Meetings. (Issued on June 13, 2006.) The Approved Text reads, in part, "As in previous years, ...the Special Committee called on the President of the United States to release Puerto Rican political prisoners..." (page 1)
- Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, City University of New York. Guide to the Ruth M. Reynolds Papers: Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. August 1991 and December 2003. Updated 2005. Archived July 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Reviews Puerto Rico – U.S. relations, including cases of Puerto Rican political prisoners.
- Vito Marcantonio, U.S. Congressman. In his August 5, 1939, speech before Congress titled Five Years of Tyranny. (Recorded in the Congressional Record. August 14, 1939.) Archived January 12, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. In the words of Congressman Marcantonio, "There is no place in America for political prisoners...When we ask ourselves, 'Can it happen here?' the Puerto Rican people can answer, 'It has happened in Puerto Rico.' as he spoke about the treatment of Puerto Rican Nationalist and U.S. prisoner Pedro Albizu Campos. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
- Chicago Sun-Times. Puerto Rican community celebrates release of political prisoner. Archived July 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Report states, "Chicago's Puerto Rican community celebrates the release of political prisoner Carlos Alberto Torres..."
- Puerto Rican Nationalist Sentenced to 7 Years for 1983 Wells Fargo Robbery in Conn. Fox News Network. May 26, 2010.
- Carlos Alberto Torres, Puerto Rican Nationalist Imprisoned In Illinois For 30 Years, Returns Home To Puerto Rico . The Huffington Post. July 28, 2010.
- Douglas Martin. August 3, 2010. Lolita Lebrón, Puerto Rican Nationalist, Dies at 90. The New York Times.
- Jan Susler, “The Women’s High Security Unit in Lexington, KY,” Yale Journal of Law and Liberation 31 (1989): 31-42.
- United States v. Alejandrina Torres United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.