I Beg Your Pardon, Mr. President
By Doug Patton
December 8, 2008
During his tenure as President of the United States, George W. Bush has been stingier with his constitutional authority to grant pardons than any chief executive since World War II.
As of November 24, with just under two months left in office, out of the thousands of people pleading for pardons, the president had only found 171 worthy of his mercy.
But it is not the number of pardons that should concern the American people. It is who gets these pardons and who does not. Many presidents have been criticized for controversial pardons. Abraham Lincoln pardoned a man who had been convicted of attempted bestiality because he found the man's character to be "otherwise reputable."
Andrew Johnson made good on Lincoln's desire that a pardon be granted to every soldier who fought for the confederacy.
In 1950, President Harry Truman commuted the sentence of Oscar Collazo from death to life in prison. Collazo had been convicted of trying to assassinate Truman. In 1979, after having served 29 years, Collazo was released from prison after President Jimmy Carter granted him a full pardon.
Richard Nixon pardoned Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa in exchange for an agreement not to "engage in direct or indirect management of any labor organization" for the next ten years.
Gerald Ford will always be known as the man who pardoned Richard Nixon a month after Nixon resigned in disgrace in August 1974. The pardon probably caused Ford to lose the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter, but Ford believed that it was the only way for the nation to get past the Watergate scandal.
Carter, once in office, fulfilled a campaign promise to offer amnesty to anyone who had fled to Canada or elsewhere to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.
George H.W. Bush granted pardons to former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal, which had occurred during the Reagan administration when Bush was vice president.
Then, of course, there are the notorious, last-minute pardons issued by President Bill Clinton, perhaps the most infamous of which was that of Marc Rich, the millionaire financier who had fled the country after being indicted on 51 counts of tax fraud for which he owed $48 million in federal taxes.
For George W. Bush, the case of Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean is a stench in the nostrils of every thinking American who loves justice.
One night in February 2005, Mexican drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila drove his van illegally across the border from Mexico to the United States carrying 743 pounds of marijuana. When confronted by Agents Ramos and Compean, Aldrete-Davila tried to flee back across the border. The agents, thinking they saw a weapon in the suspect's hand, opened fire, hitting him in the buttocks. He continued to flee and managed to escape back into Mexico.
Federal prosecutors gave Aldrete-Davila blanket immunity to return to the U.S. and testify against the agents. Ramos and Compean were subsequently convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and violation of civil rights.
Ramos got 11 years in prison. Compean got 12 years.
California Congressman Dana Rohrbacher said the case was "the worst miscarriage of justice that I have witnessed in the 30 years I've been in Washington. The decision to give immunity to the drug dealer and to throw the book at the border patrol agents was a prosecutorial travesty."
It also turns out that this low-life drug smuggler re-entered the United States at least 10 different times in 2005 and that he was caught smuggling drugs while he was waiting to testify against Ramos and Compean. These facts were not brought up at their trial.
I have praised George W. Bush for keeping this nation safe from another terrorist attack since 9/11, for his tax policies and for two solid nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I also have been critical of his weak immigration policies and for his profligate spending during his two terms in office, and I have been extremely disappointed in his willingness to give away the store in these ridiculous corporate bailouts. Overall, if I had to grade him as a president, I would give him a C-minus.
But I will lose my last ounce of respect for this man as my president if he does not pardon Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean before he leaves office. These men put their lives on the line for us just as surely as our brave troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and justice demands a full presidential pardon.
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.