George W. Bush did precisely the right thing by commuting the prison sentences of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean.
It’s not that the two men aren’t guilty. They are. From everything I’ve read about the case, and the interviews I’ve conducted with U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton whose office prosecuted the case, it seems obvious that they’re guilty as sin. These former law enforcement officers were justly tried and convicted of shooting an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler while patrolling the U.S.-Mexican border and lying about it. For their sins and indiscretions, Ramos received 11 years while Compean got 12 years. Most of that sentence was the result of mandatory sentencing laws for crimes in which a firearm was discharged — the very sorts of laws written and approved by some of the same Republican lawmakers who all of a sudden found religion and demanded a full pardon for Ramos and Compean.
Bush refused to grant a pardon because, according to his spokesman, the president was also convinced of the former agents’ guilt. Bush thought they should “have to carry the burden of being convicted felons and the shame of violating their oaths for the rest of their lives.” And yet, the spokesman said, Bush also felt that “they and their families have suffered enough for their crimes.” So he commuted their sentences. Now both men are due to be released on March 20, although authorities are leaving open the possibility that the former agents could be released early for good behavior.
About this, neither the far right nor the far left is totally pleased. That’s a good sign for Bush. You can usually tell you’re on the right path in politics when you’re taking shots from the extremes. Those on the far right consider Ramos and Compean heroes who got railroaded into prison by an administration that was taking its marching orders from the Mexican government, and so they deserved a full pardon. Those on the far left see the pair as unrepentant lawbreakers who played judge, jury, and executioner with a drug smuggler, and so they deserved to serve out their full sentences without mercy.