Terrorist Released from Prison, LAT Calls Her 'Fetching' Co-ed Turned 'Fugitive'

When is a terrorist simply an aged "radical" to the Los Angeles Times? When the terrorist is Kathleen Soliah, who in her glory days was a "fetching high school pep-squad member turned fugitive." Soliah was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a group that plotted to blow up Los Angeles Police Department cruisers in the 1970s.

Here's how Times staff writer Joel Rubin opened his March 21 story on Soliah's recent release from prison:

Kathleen Soliah, a former member of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army, was released on parole this week from a California women's prison after serving about six years behind bars for her role in a plot to kill Los Angeles police officers by blowing up their patrol cars.

The white-haired convict, who has changed her name to Sara Jane Olson, had been sentenced to 12 years in prison. Like most California inmates, Soliah earned credit against her sentence for working while in prison. She served on a maintenance crew that swept and cleaned the main yard of the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, prison officials said.

The 61-year-old Soliah, who was released Monday, must now serve a three-year parole, although prison officials declined to provide the conditions of her release.

Rubin did note that the LAPD see Soliah and the SLA in a "far harsher light."

The only instance where the term "terrorist" was used in the article, however, was in describing the al Qaeda terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and was quickly followed by a flattering, romanticized description of Soliah as a "fetching high school pep-squad member turned fugitive" (emphasis mine):

Soliah's second life came to an abrupt end in 1999 when she was apprehended soon after being featured on TV's "America's Most Wanted." Her case was moving toward trial on Sept. 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks, Soliah struck a plea deal in the bombing attempt, saying she feared she would not get a fair trial in such an atmosphere.

Prosecutors scoffed at her reasoning, pointing to reams of documents, fingerprints and other evidence they had amassed against her. The deal aborted a trial that had promised high drama -- the saga of a fetching high school pep-squad member turned fugitive -- and a revisiting of the social tumult of the 1970s.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.