A groundswell of support—over 10,000 letters—from around the world convinced the Parole Commission that Puerto Rican independence activist Carlos Alberto Torres finally deserved his freedom. After spending three decades at the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois, on July 26, 2010 Torres was freed on parole. He had served 30 years of a 78-year sentence for seditious conspiracy, namely conspiring to use force against the lawful authority of the United States over Puerto Rico. Torres was a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which took responsibility for bombings in the Chicago in the 1970s, although Torres himself wasn’t charged with any of the attacks and no deaths or injuries resulted.
For all 30 years Torres had the ongoing support of his attorney Jan Susler, whose own steadfast commitment to social justice parallels his. Her long history of work on behalf of political prisoners and prisoners’ rights includes litigation, advocacy and educational work around USP Marion and the Women’s High Security Unit at Lexington, Kentucky. In an interview on WBAI’s weekly civil liberties radio show, “Law and Disorder,” Susler said it was a delight and a privilege to represent Torres. She noted that his sentence was extraordinarily disproportionate because he was being punished for his political views; had he committed a violent offense, in contrast, he would have served far less time. Throughout his 30 years of incarceration, she said, Torres stood tall and maintained his political integrity. “People stop him on the street—he can’t walk down the street—people him to embrace him and thank him for his contributions to the country.”
Susler is no stranger to unjust convictions and sentences. She joined the People’s Law Office in Chicago 1982 after spending six years as Clinical Law Professor at Prison Legal Aid, the legal clinic at Southern Illinois University’s School of Law. Her practice at PLO focuses on police misconduct civil rights litigation, which has lately included wrongful conviction litigation on behalf of people exonerated after serving many years in prison, innocent. Her work with the Puerto Rican Independence Movement and with progressive movements challenging U.S. foreign and domestic policies has been a constant throughout her 30 years as a lawyer.
Susler and Torres used international law in his defense, arguing that the courts of the colonizing country may not criminalize captured anti-colonial combatants, but must turn them over to an impartial international tribunal to have their status adjudicated.
Carlos Torres told Law and Disorder radio that upon his release, “We were met by a mob of friends and family. I loved every second of it. It was an expression of sheer unadulterated love….The only cloud is that we still have two Puerto Rican political prisoners in jail, Oscar Lopez Rivera and Avelino González Claudio. I’m anxious to get involved and do everything I can to bring the brothers out. I just can’t them out of my head.”
Upon returning home Torres helped carry the coffin of Dolores “Lolita” Lebron Sotomayor, who died at the age of 90 just days after his release from prison. Lebrón led an armed attack on the U.S. Congress on March 1, 1954, and spent 25 years and six months in Alderson’s Federal Women’s Prison in West Virginia before being pardoned in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. When Torres was beginning his sentence, Lebron walked back into prison to visit him and other political prisoners. “She was viewed as a national heroine,” he said.
To hear the full interview, go to: http://lawanddisorder.org/2010/08/law-and-disorder-august-9-2010/