Virtually everyone has an opinion on President Bush's decision to commute the 30-month prison sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby was convicted on March 6, 2007 of perjury for his questionable testimony in the Valerie Plame identity leak case.
As one might expect, Democrats and others on the left side of the political spectrum are outraged, while many Republicans and others on the right are either pleased or think that Bush did not go far enough by not issuing a full pardon to Libby. As Edward Chen reports at Bloomberg.com, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said that the Bush administration, "...placed itself and its ideology above the law." Rival Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said that in the Bush Administration, "...cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.'' By contrast, Chen's article reports that H. Christopher Bartolomucci, a Washington lawyer who has handled pardon cases during Bush's presidency, said that, "This was a truly unique case, a case involving a member of (Bush's) administration, a highly charged prosecution, so the normal rules go out the window.'' Got that? – For Bush Administration officials, the rules go out the window.
The funny thing is, though, that Bush hasn't always been so forgiving. Consider Bush's attitudes toward juries' verdicts and judges' sentences during his years as the governor of Texas. As Sister Helen Prejean revealed in her book The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17670#fnr2 (via the NYT Review of Books) Bush wrote in his autobiography that it was not his job to "replace the verdict of a jury unless there are 'new facts or evidence of which a jury was unaware,' or evidence that the trial was somehow unfair" Now that sounds like a real law-and-order attitude, doesn't it? I'm not aware of any new facts or evidence that has come to light since Libby's conviction. Perhaps Bush should share them with the public if he is privy to them.
But, then again, Bush was conveniently unaware of all of the facts surrounding the case of Terry Washington, a Texas death row inmate, who was, according to Sister Prejean, "a mentally retarded man of 33 with the communication skills of a seven-year-old." According to Sister Prejean, "Washington's plea for clemency came before Governor Bush on the morning of May 6, 1997. After a thirty-minute briefing by (our current Attorney General, Alberto) Gonzales, Bush checked "Deny"— just as he had denied 29 other pleas for clemency in his first 28 months as governor. But Washington's plea for clemency raised substantial issues, which called for thoughtful, fair-minded consideration, not the least of which was the fact that Washington's mental handicap had never been presented to the jury that condemned him to death. Gonzales's legal summary, however, omitted any mention of Washington's mental limitations as well as the fact that his trial lawyer had failed to enlist the help of a mental health expert to testify on his client's behalf. When Washington's post-conviction lawyers took on his defense, they researched deeply into his childhood and came up with horrifying evidence of abuse. Terry Washington, along with his ten siblings, had been beaten regularly with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts. This was mitigation of the strongest kind, but Washington's jury never heard it. Nor is there any evidence that Gonzales told Bush about it."
Sister Prejean also reported that when journalist Alan Berlow, "asked Gonzales directly whether Bush ever read the clemency petitions, he replied that he did so 'from time to time.' Instead, Bush seems to have relied on Gonzales's summaries, and they clearly indicate that Gonzales continuously sided with the prosecutors. One third of his summary of Terry Washington's case is devoted to a detailed description of the gruesome aspects of the crime, while he fails to mention Washington's mental limitations and his miserably ineffective defense lawyer. In response to Berlow's direct question, Gonzales admitted that his conferences with Bush on these cases typically lasted no more than thirty minutes. Berlow confirmed this for himself when he looked at Bush's appointment calendar for the morning of Washington's execution and saw a half-hour slot marked 'Al G—Execution.'"
Sister Prejean's "The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions" also reveals that, "To make sure that he never had to examine death sentences seriously, Governor Bush used a legal tactic similar to the one used by the US Supreme Court to block death row petitioners' access to constitutional claims. He restricted the standard for clemency so severely that no petitioner could qualify. He stated that since the courts had "thoroughly examined" every obscure detail of a death row petitioner's claims and found no grounds for injustice, it was not his place to "second-guess" the courts."
This is the epitome of rank hypocrisy. Bush clearly allocated little more than token time to hear life-and-death clemency cases. His loyalist attorney general deliberately withheld information that perhaps would have swayed Bush's opinion on the matter. Suddenly, when Libby, a loyal member of the Bush Administration, was found guilty by a jury of his peers, Bush found within himself the power to second-guess the court. Bush even did this without the benefit of "new facts or evidence of which a jury was unaware."
The message here is clear, folks: Republicans are not subject to the rule of law, at least while Bush is president. How's that for Law and Order? – Don't answer, let the real Law and Order star (and Republican presidential hopeful-to-be) explain: http://thompson.polireport.com/ Quoth Fred Thompson, "I am very happy for Scooter Libby. I know that this is a great relief to him, his wife and children. While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the President's decision. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life."
If Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, perhaps we should dub Dubya the Great Commuter.