Monday, December 8, 2008

In his last weeks in office, President Bush has an opportunity to redress the scales of justice for a few individuals who were harshly punished and some who never should have been prosecuted. In the former category is press baron Conrad Black, whose sentence Mr. Bush should commute. In the latter category is Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, whom the president should pardon. In both categories are Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, who deserve both a pardon and commutation.

Mr. Bush has thus far been cautious in the use of his presidential prerogative. He has pardoned 171 individuals - less than any president since World War II, excluding his father, who pardoned 74 and commuted three sentences. Individuals who seek a pardon can file a formal application with the Justice Department, or they can be pardoned by the president regardless. The president can commute a sentence - that is, reduce or eliminate it - and he can grant a pardon, which is an official act of forgiveness that restores civil rights. A pardon is issued to felons who have been out of jail for five years and have been upstanding citizens since their release. A pardon restores the right to vote, to bear arms and to seek political office. Mr. Bush has thus far chosen to pardon nonviolent offenders, many of whom are blue-collar workers from rural areas, are churchgoing and are former hunters or shooting enthusiasts. The precise reasons a president grants pardons are unknown.

There are several thousand applications seeking review. Those on the list who are murderers, child molesters or rapists should summarily be excluded from clemency by Mr. Bush, in our view.

However, the four we highlighted earlier are worthy of consideration. Black, a media mogul, was convicted in July and sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail for fraud and obstruction of justice. His sentence is harsh. Black has already paid $6.1 million to Hollinger International Inc., the company whose shareholders were defrauded, and a fine of $125,000. We urge the president to commute his sentence.

Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice in the federal investigation of the leaking of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Mr. Bush commuted Libby’s 30-month sentence. Libby has also paid fines. He has been stripped of his law license, faces two years of supervised release and is required to perform 400 hours of community service. We urge the president to grant him a full pardon.

The most egregious case of injustice is that of border guards Compean and Ramos. They were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler who had scuffled with them and was attempting to enter the United States. The justice system failed to recognize that these border guards were rightfully carrying out their duties. Mr. Bush should allow these men to be immediately released from jail and should grant them a full pardon.

Only the president can - and should - tip the scales of justice in the right direction when all other recourses have failed.

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