George W Bush has earned praise for the manner in which he has left office: dignified and quiet. Fair enough. And at least unlike his predecessor he didn't cry tears of self-pity. Nor, by and large, did Bush disgrace the Presidency by handing out a bundle of pardons to friends and cronies. With one exception that is. Throwing one last bone to the GOP base, Bush commuted the sentences of Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos, a pair of Border Patrol officers convicted of shooting an unarmed Mexican (who was subsequently proved to be a drug smuggler* - though the agents did not know that at the time) and then covering-up the shooting to make it seem as though their victim had been resisting arrest when he had, in fact, been running away and back towards Mexico.
The case became a cause celebre for conservative talk radio and a gaggle of Republican congressmen, for whom the Compean and Ramos were "heroes". They were the victims of an over-zealous prosecution and, once they'd been sentenced to 12 and 11 years in gaol respectively, the victims of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. As a result of Bush's commutation, they will spend just three years in gaol.
Well, I disapprove of mandatory minimum sentences too. But when even National Review's Andy McCarthy thinks these agents got what they deserved then it's tough to hold the heroes-doing-their-jobs line. Here's McCarthy:
Once Aldrete-Davila was down from Ramos’s shot to the backside, they decided, for a second time, not to grab him so he could face justice for his crimes. As they well knew, an arrest at that point — after 15 shots at a fleeing, unarmed man who had tried to surrender — would have shone a spotlight on their performance. So instead, they exacerbated the already shameful display.
Instead of arresting the wounded smuggler, they put their guns away and left him behind. But not before trying to conceal the improper discharge of their firearms. Compean picked up and hid his shell-casings rather than leaving the scene intact for investigators. Both agents filed false reports, failing to record the firing of their weapons though they were well aware of regulations requiring that they do so. Because the “heroes” put covering their tracks ahead of doing their duty, Aldrete-Davila was eventually able to limp off to a waiting car and escape into Mexico. Then again, Bush's idea of compassionate conservatism is pretty limited (just ask Karla Fay Tucker's family) - like his father he's granted fewer pardons than any non-Bush President. In any case, there are rather more deserving cases that he could have considered. Consider, for instance, Weldon Angelos, a record company executive convicted of selling marijuana to a government agent: for selling eight ounces of pot on three occasions (and for having a pistol in his possession on two of those occasions) Angels was jailed for 55 years. Needless to say, he's hardly the only victim of a system as unjust as it is capricious.
In other words, I hope Obama embraces and supports Jim Webb's call for reforming the criminal justice system.
*A drug-smuggler! Deserves what he gets! But they didn't know this at the time. And in any case, you're not supposed to shoto people in the back. (Or ass, in this case). Needless to say, choosing to commute this sentence, of all the prisoners he could have considered, will not go un-noticed in Hispanic political circles.
[Hat-tip: Jacob Sullum]