Tis the pardon season. As the clock strikes midnight on his administration, Santa Bush gets to decide which convicted criminals have been naughty or nice. Being one of Santa’s elves, I have prepared a pardon list for his consideration.
A presidential pardon for Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Richard Cheney, would be one of the most controversial. Although he was investigated for leaking the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Libby was not even indicted for that crime. Scooter was convicted of lying and obstructing the investigation into the actual leaker. Many people suspect that he was covering for his boss, the vice president.
Some Republicans advocate for this pardon because they dismiss Libby’s crimes as insignificant, but I do not agree. Lying under oath, especially by a lawyer, will never be a minor transgression to me. Our justice system depends on people telling the truth or being penalized if they don’t.
Even though I am a card-carrying Democrat, I am still for this pardon. Public service lately has become a one-way, non-stop, nonrefundable ticket to a criminal investigation. Those that choose public service are required to have a good criminal lawyer on retainer even before they order their business cards. This must stop for the good of the country. I became more convinced of the necessity for the Libby pardon after President-elect Obama broke the land speed record for presidential criminal investigations by being summoned by a prosecutor even before he is sworn into office.
We, as a country, are the ones that are losing out when we criminalize public service. The best and brightest of our country are refusing to do public service because they do not want to be caught up in this maelstrom.
I cannot extend the same type of mercy to government officials that were involved in the torture of prisoners due to my abject revulsion that the American government would condone the torture of prisoners. Although I suspect — or more accurately hope — some involved in the commission of torture were just good soldiers following orders, I would be against a blanket pardon for the CIA and Justice Department employees involved.
After the furor that surrounded the pardon of fugitive billionaire financier Marc Rich, I am hesitant to propose the pardon of another billionaire financier, but Michael Milken deserves consideration. Milken partially suffered from being the first of the billionaire CEOs. In 20/20 hindsight, he looks like an eagle scout compared to Bernie Madoff and his middlemen, and Dennis Kowlowski of $6,000 shower curtain fame. Subprime mortgages and credit derivatives, which are legal, hurt more people than Michael Milken ever did.
Lost in all the controversy about Milken is the fact that he helped create and build real companies such as Kindercare, the first corporation to provide child daycare, and the long-distance carrier MCI. Having had the pleasure of attending the Milken Institute’s conferences, working with his staff, and seeing Mike up close, it is clear to me that he has spent the last 15 years trying to make the world a better place. How many of us can say that we have done that?
The state of Israel and the Jewish community are advocating for the pardon of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard on humanitarian grounds. Sentenced to life in prison, he has already served 24 years in jail. The American intelligence community has been adamant against clemency.
The main argument for his release is that he has served longer than anyone else convicted of spying for a friendly nation. That argument can now be amended to longer than almost anyone convicted of spying.
Saubhe Jassim Al-Dellemy was convicted this month of spying for Iraq since 1989. He was paid by the Iraqi intelligence services to pass on information about government officials and soldiers that frequented his Laurel, Maryland, restaurant. Al-Dellemy is facing a maximum of five years in prison. Even considering that Al-Dellemy was not an employee of the U.S. intelligence services, but spied for enemy countries, the disparity between his and Pollard’s sentence is glaring.
I do not hold up much hope for Pollard’s pardon due to the recent posthumous pardon of Charles Winters by President Bush. Winters, a Christian, shipped to Israel the only bombers utilized in the defense of Israel during the 1948 War of Independence. For helping Israel, he was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Although Charles Winters deserved this pardon on the merits, I suspect it was partially done at this time to appease Israel for not granting the pardon of Pollard.
Israel has only itself to blame for Pollard still being in jail. The Israeli government and the Israeli public have sent mixed signals over the years about the importance of his release. In 2000, then-Prime Minister Barak, many senior Israeli officials, and the Jewish leaders in the United States pushed for the pardon of Marc Rich rather than concentrating all their efforts on securing Pollard’s release. In the ultimate repudiation of Pollard, his handler and the man who could have prevented his arrest, Rafi Eitan, was elected by the Israeli public to the Knesset in 2006.
The case of John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old child that was convicted of serving in the Taliban army for four months, cries out for commutation. He was a lost kid, probably rebelling against his parents, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He has already served seven years of a 20-year sentence.
There is a place in our criminal justice system for the pardon process, but the current system has broken down. Clinton tarnished it with many of his 11th-hour pardons, most notably the fugitive Marc Rich. Now Bush has been forced to reverse course on the pardon of Brooklyn real estate developer Isaac Toussie and has admitted that proper procedures were not followed in granting the pardon. It is time to rethink the process.