Thursday, July 5, 2007

The "unique case" of Scooter Libby

As Fz points out, Bush's long and heartfelt contemplation of the Libby pardon goes against his record in Texas. Andrew Sullivan digs up more, from the archives of the Atlantic:

On the morning of May 6, 1997, Governor George W. Bush signed his name to a confidential three-page memorandum from his legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, and placed a bold black check mark next to a single word: DENY. It was the twenty-ninth time a death-row inmate's plea for clemency had been denied in the twenty-eight months since Bush had been sworn in. In this case Bush's signature led, shortly after 6:00 P.M. on the very same day, to the execution of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded thirty-three-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old.

Gonzales's summaries were Bush's primary source of information in deciding whether someone would live or die. Each is only three to seven pages long and generally consists of little more than a brief description of the crime, a paragraph or two on the defendant's personal background, and a condensed legal history. Although the summaries rarely make a recommendation for or against execution, many have a clear prosecutorial bias, and all seem to assume that if an appeals court rejected one or another of a defendant's claims, there is no conceivable rationale for the governor to revisit that claim. This assumption ignores one of the most basic reasons for clemency: the fact that the justice system makes mistakes...
Sullivan interjects:
The number of people George W. Bush sent to their deaths without a second's thought is higher than any living governor in the United States. And yet it took a perjury conviction of a white, wealthy, connected apparatchik to awaken the president's sensitivity to injustice:

A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.

Gonzales declined to be interviewed for this story, but during the 2000 presidential campaign I asked him if Bush ever read the clemency petitions of death-row inmates, and he equivocated. "I wouldn't say that was done in every case," he told me.

Yet the prospect of Scooter Libby serving 30 months in prison sent the President leaping for a pen to sign a pardon. Whatever happened to equal justice under the law? The White House doesn't know what that means. And if you don't believe me, just ask them (as a reporter did at a White House press conference):
Q Scott, is Scooter Libby getting more than equal justice under the law? Is he getting special treatment?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by "equal justice under the law." But this is a unique case, there's no doubt about that.

It's a unique case, all right. But not a complicated one, as Joshua Marshall points out here:

Setting aside whether Scooter Libby should spend 0 days in jail for what most people spend from 1 to 3 years in jail, the key here is that it's inappropriate for the president to pardon or commute a sentence in a case in which he (i.e., the president) is a party to the same underlying crime. Because it amounts to obstruction of justice.

It's really not that complicated.

No, it's not.

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