Yesterday, Lewis “Scooter” Libby became the highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair. In response, over 150 letters of praise have been written by military commanders, diplomats and other supporters of Libby, many of which openly call on Bush to pardon the condemned man.
Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution states that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. James Madison eloquently argues in favor of this power in The Federalist Papers, Article 74.
It is within Bush’s power as Commander In Chief to pardon Libby’s crime and nullify his prison sentence. However, I believe it is unlikely he will. During his six years in office, Bush has so far issued only about 115 pardons, number so low that it approaches a record. Bill Clinton issued 456 pardons, and Jimmy Carter granted clemency to 566 people during his four-year administration. Furthermore, the vast majority of pardons Bush has issued so far involve cases that are very old ~ for example, a Jehovah’s Witness minister sentenced in 1957 for ignoring a draft notice.
Historically, pardons have been issued after the condemned has served his sentence in full and demonstrated that he has recovered and become a productive and honorable citizen in the country which he offended. But Libby has not served any time, was only just sentenced yesterday, and the nature of his conviction is that it casts doubt on the character of this man, who has appeared to be a model citizen for many decades. Besides this, the political firestorm Bush would draw down upon himself for pardoning Libby cannot be attractive to the already-unpopular President.
The argument of the petitioners is essentially that Libby’s long and exemplary service in the past should actually cancel out the crime he committed recently. There is a tone about these petitions for pardon that suggests Justice should look away and forget, just this once, because Libby really is a good guy at heart. It smacks of political favoritism, not Justice.
Yesterday I mused on the dangers of revenge seeping into a sentence, the urge to scape-goat a man and punish him excessively for misfortunes and happenstance that are not his direct responsibility. Today I must observe that withholding punishment entirely is equally dangerous. I am inclined to join my voice with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who said yesterday, “We need to make the statement that the truth matters ever so much.”
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