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November 23, 2006

A turkey story for Thanksgiving

As this AP story details, President Bush kept up tradition yesterday by pardoning the National Thanksgiving Turkey.  But today Debra Saunders, in this great commentary titled "Pardon more than the turkey," makes a strong case for doing a lot more:

After the GOP took that thumpin' in the November elections, President Bush wants the voters to give his party and his leadership a second chance. That makes this a good time for Bush to use his presidential pardon power to give others a second chance. This holiday season, Dubya should not limit his presidential pardon power to one lucky turkey.

Thanks to draconian federal drug sentences, the number of federal prisoners reached a record 193,989 on Nov. 9 -- that's a steep increase from 150,000 in 2003. The prison population is not growing because the feds are locking up drug kingpins.... The percentage of biggies behind bars is shrinking, while the low-life chump class grows.  In 2000, the commission reported, the proportion of importers/high-level suppliers shrank to 1.4 percent of the cocaine offenders, down from 8.8 percent in 1995; the proportion of organizers/leaders fell from 12.7 percent in 1995 to 5.3 percent....

Clarence Aaron was a college student in 1992 when he introduced two dealers to each other. They paid him $1,500.  Nine kilograms of cocaine were traded.  A second deal didn't happen. Yet when the feds arrested the group, they charged Aaron with dealing 24 kilograms of crack cocaine, because one dealer was going to turn the cocaine into crack and the second deal had been set up. Aaron failed to cut a deal by pleading guilty and testifying against others. Aaron's sentence?  Life without parole.  That's right, Aaron wasn't in charge, he wasn't a professional dealer, he had been charged with a first-time nonviolent drug offense and he's serving the same sentence as the treasonous FBI-agent-turned-spy Robert Hanssen.

You might expect that sort of over-the-top sentence in the Middle Ages or some hellhole dictatorship that does not value human life.  An enlightened nation, however, has no business locking up a kid and throwing away the key for life -- because he did something both criminal and stupid when he was, as Bush once described his early years, "young and irresponsible."  I can't help but believe that if a white college kid had screwed up like this, unlike the African-American Aaron, he would have received a more fitting sentence.

Bush should commute Aaron's sentence this year, because it is the right thing to do. He also should work with the U.S. pardon attorney to release other prisoners serving sentences that far exceed their crimes. While in office, Bush has issued 97 pardons and two commutations. Two commutations are too few. Julie Stewart, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, hears that the Bushies don't want to commute sentences that comply with guidelines, no matter how barbaric they are. "Why have a pardon attorney's office?" she asked rhetorically. "The Founding Fathers gave (the pardon) to the president for the very purpose of exercising it when the punishment doesn't fit the crime."

Politically, Bush could use pardons to show that he cares about people who live outside the GOP circle. Let Bush show America the president who boasted in his 2004 State of the Union speech that America is "the land of the second chance" that he walks the walk....

November 23, 2006 at 11:37 AM | Permalink

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» Two sentences Our Leader refuses to commute. from Radio Left
Jesus' General All the people who think Our Leader is too easy on criminals like Scooter Libby should read the stories of two convicts to whom he's refused clemency.[Read More]

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Comments

Would also be interesting to get stats on the demographics of his pardons to date. The turkey, notably, was white.

Posted by: B | Nov 24, 2006 10:18:30 AM

Maryland Governor Ehrlich has really put a lot of work into the pardons process in Maryland. Clearly, there is a place for pardons in our Constitutional system, and it seems clear that President Bush has not gone out of his way to use it to redress some genuine hardship cases. Of course, it is interesting to me to see that President Clinton escapes unscathed here. He, with his disgraceful abuse of the pardon power, made the exercise of the pardon power more risky than it had been in the past.

Perhaps, if readers here are so bent out of shape about Aaron's fate, they should write members of the CBC, the NAACP and elected officials. Of course, the NAACP is too busy trying to save Tookie.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 26, 2006 2:21:02 PM

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