Saturday, July 7, 2007

Two-track System of Justice

* 23 American soldiers killed in Iraq so far in July 2007

I wrote last week about how Republicans have done a 180 degree turn on how they feel about the filibuster and up or down votes since they're the minority. They've done another 180 on the matter of the president commuting Scooter Libby's sentence. If this keeps up, they'll begin to feel like the girl in The Exorcist whose head went spinning crazily round and round.

You could google Republican quotes about the rule of law back during President Clinton's impeachment and get enough to fill an encyclopedia. Back then, the rule of law was sacred, it was revered. People, such as Clinton, who lied under oath were the worse sort of criminal, undermining the very foundation of our nation's greatness. Perjury was, to say the least, a high crime and misdemeanor, deserving of overturning an election and impeaching a president.

And, yet, how do the majority of Republican politicians feel about perjury and obstruction of justice now? The rule of law? Why, that little old thing, it's no big deal at all. Poor old Scooter, he's one our ours, you can't actually put someone like that in JAIL, not like all the lowlife's, like Martha Stewart and 1000's of other everyday perjurers!

And it seems like the tougher they were on regular people, the more sympathy they feel for Scooter. President Bush himself, for instance. As governor of Texas, he gave fewer pardons than any Texas governor since the 1940's. He turned down the appeals of 152 of 153 death row inmates, including those who were underage and retarded. He turned down Karla Faye Tucker, although everyone who had known her agreed that she'd made a spiritual transformation in prison and even the Pope begged him to reconsider. He not only said no but he mocked her plea for mercy to journalist, Tucker Carlson. He turned down defendants whose attorney's slept through most of their trial. "No excuses," said Bush, "the jury has spoken." It is reported that Bush spent less than 15 minutes each reading the appeal summaries before using his "DENIED" stamp. Fifteen minutes for a person's life, sounds about right, huh?

In addition, the Bush administration has argued before the Supreme Court for harsher mandatory minimum sentencing laws, not wanting the Judge to have any leeway to consider mitigating circumstances, such as defendant's past spotless record or the contributions he or she may have made to society prior to their crime. But, wait a minute, isn't that what the whole Scooter Libby commutation is supposed to be all about - Scooter's being such a good man and not deserving such a harsh sentence? Never mind.

Or consider Mitt Romney. He proudly flourishes his record as the only Massachusetts governor in history never to have given a pardon. He rejected Anthony Circosta's request for a pardon. Anthony Circosta shot another boy with a b-b gun when he was thirteen, a shot that never even broke the skin. Nevertheless, Circosta was charged with assault and convicted of a felony. Since then, he's worked his way through college, joined the National Guard and led a platoon in Iraq. In 2005, he asked Governor Romney for a pardon to be able to become a police officer back home in Massachusetts. But Romney said no, not once but twice. Because he's tough on crime, don't you know?

But how tough is Romney on Scooter? I'll tell you. The tears practically run down in face in describing how brutally the judicial system has mistreated this heroic figure. Give me a break.

And Rudy Giuliani? His whole reputation is based on Rudy the crime-fighter, Rudy the former prosecutor who brought safety back to the streets of New York, Rudy who never saw a criminal he didn't want to take down hard. Prosecutors live or die by the testimony of witnesses so probably Rudy takes perjury and obstruction of justice pretty seriously, wouldn't you think? Well, not exactly. Like the others, Rudy puts Scooter in a completely different category.

And all this is what rankles. It is this belief they seem to have that there is one legal system for all of us peons and another for the likes of them. It is that when its one of their group, they will ride rough-shod over rules they have assured us were hard and fast and couldn't be bent for the Anthony Circostas and Karla Faye Tuckers of the world.

And, in fact, the rules are very firm about commuting a sentence. There are three main elements: 1) the person must have served at least some of their prison sentence; 2) the person must have exhausted or given up any further appeals and 3) the person must have accepted responsibility for their crime and expressed remorse. Bush ignored all of these when it came to Scooter.

And while we're at it, let's get one thing clear. No, President Clinton did not do the same thing. Some of his pardon's may not have passed the smell test but he didn't pardon anyone whose testimony had a direct bearing on his vice-president or his own actions in a criminal case. He let Susan McDougal sit in jail, even though she was being punished by Kenneth Starr for not testifying that Clinton did something illegal, which she said wasn't true. If George W's commutation of Libby's sentence is to be compared to any others, it is his father's pardons of the Iran-Contra figures.

And although it has angered his base, of course, it had to be a commutation and not a pardon. A full pardon wipes out a conviction so the person pardoned then has no excuse not to testify before a congressional hearing and/or in a civil case brought against him. By contrast, a commutation preserves Libby's right to appeal and thus, his right to take the fifth amendment.

But do you have any doubt that George Bush will pardon Scooter Libby before he leaves office? Because I sure don't. I believe the fix has been in since day one. Libby's attorneys initially said they were going with the "Scooter as Scapegoat" defense and would be calling on the vice-president to testify. Suddenly and remarkably, however, they changed tactics and went with the much less effective "I just don't recall the sequence of events" defense. Scooter is found guilty and sentenced but no action is taken until it is determined that he has to report to prison even before his appeal. After that, Bush swings into action within hours. There is no way they are going to let Scooter sit in jail with all the time in the world to dredge his memory bank and possibly, give Patrick Fitzgerald a call to "revise" his testimony and cut a better deal for himself. But to preserve the fifth amendment option, he can't be pardoned. Therefore, he gets half a loaf now in the form of a commutation, and he'll get the other half in January of 2009 with a full pardon.

All their bases are covered. You have to give them credit for cleverness in an obstruction of justice-ish kind of way.