Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Pardon me, Mr. President

Yesterday Lewis "Scooter" Libby had his 30-month prison sentence commuted by US President George W. Bush. It was announced today that a full pardon is still on the table. Libby was convicted of falsifying evidence and perjury, which included lying to both the FBI and a grand jury looking into the alleged cover-up of the Plame leak. Just as Libby was ordered by a court to stop temporizing and go directly to jail -- no more special treatment -- Bush made his move, sending political shockwaves throughout Washington and forcing many to re-look the investigation that has torn through the White House, even through its most formidable defences from Congressional and judicial oversight, and implicated high-ranking officials. The investigation raised more questions than it ultimately answered.

This partial pardon shows the poor, politicized state of the US criminal-justice system. Libby was a very powerful figure as Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. No doubt the most powerful VP in recent times had a hand in the decision to let Libby not spend even a day in jail. Libby will still have to pay a fine of $250,000 as well as serve two years probation. Administration loyalty has gone too far. Pardons and criminal clemency at the hand of the president were meant for good-intentioned purposes under the constitution. These powers have turned into devices of the political muck of the national government and illustrate the strength of executive interference in the judiciary.

This controversial semi-pardon has been condemned by many. It only emphasizes the conservative hypocrisy over crime: American conservatives are generally seen as being "tough on crime". A liberal viewpoint of this whole confusing affair is best represented by today's New York Times editorial on Bush's commute of Libby's jail time.

Some have said Libby shouldn't have to serve jail time because he was a 'scapegoat' in the Plame affair. Even if that is true (and we'll probably never know) that doesn't excuse the fact he broke the law. On top of that is does not matter in this case who leaked: the investigation was into the cover-up of the leak, not the leak itself. The White House controlled Justice Department couldn't even be trusted to launch an investigation objective even by the least stringent of standards. Some non-conservatives had their various reasons to let Libby -- seen by some as a scapegoat of the affair surrounding the outing of CIA agent Valery Plame and the cover-up that followed -- off the hook.

In Bush's world, personal politic, no matter how skewed, counts more than justice and public interest. The conservatives supposedly tough on crime are cheering at the sentence commute -- huge hypocrisy. The American public in general will not like Bush's move either. So what was his excuse for the partial pardon? He said the jail sentence was "excessive" (no excuse for cutting jail time to zero, though). Even conservative pundit Tony Blankley poked holes in Bush's defense when he said that if Bush though the sentence was really excessive he could cut it in half, curbing it to 15 or so months -- the recommended legal sentence time for the perjury crime in Libby's case. Libby faced a jail term of 25 years; the prosecution in the case, which was decided in March of this year, asked for three. Libby deserved the "severe" (in Bush's words) punishment the court handed him. The White House's curbing of justice -- while legal constitutionally -- is another mark of disgrace on the Bush administration's record.

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