Monday 10 January 2011

Silly pardons for criminals

President Bill Clinton used his power under the U.S. Constitution to grant pardons and clemency to 456 people, thus commuting the sentences of those already convicted of a crime, and obviating a trial for those not yet convicted. On January 20, 2001, he pardoned 140 of those people in the final hours of his presidency. They included; Bob F. Griffin, former Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, who was serving two years in prison on bribery charges, Peter MacDonald, former Navajo Chairman, serving a 14 year sentence in prison for fraud and racketeering convictions, Melvin J. Reynolds, Democratic Congressman from Illinois for bank fraud and obstruction of justice and Carlos Anibal Vignali who was convicted of cocaine trafficking, just some of those he pardoned on his way out of office.

President George W. Bush granted presidential pardons to 189 persons who served their entire sentence and commuted in addition the sentences of 11 persons such as Paul Herman Wieser, convicted of theft from an interstate shipment, Bruce Louis Bartos convicted of transportation of a machine gun in foreign commerce, Meredith Elizabeth Casares of embezzlement of U.S. Postal Service funds and David Lloyd St. Croix convicted of the disposing of stolen explosives.
It is beyond me as to why these two presidents would pardons criminals such as those listed. Now, if only one of these presidents could tear up my speeding ticket, I’d be no less than grateful forevermore.

An unprecedented move by President Karzai of Afghanistan to pardon a teenage Taleban suicide bomber – and pay him $2,000 to travel home to Pakistan – has drawn stinging criticism and warnings that it will encourage such attacks. “It is a very silly idea to forgive such criminals. He was a volunteer,” Mullah Malang, an MP from Baghdis province, told The Times. “When he goes back to Pakistan he will tell all his friends that he deceived the Afghan Government. He is brainwashed, he will always be a Taleb.”

The extraordinary case involved Rafiqullah, 14, a would-be suicide bomber, who was captured in May by Afghan police in the province of Khost, which borders Pakistan. He was wearing a suicide vest and riding a motorbike. His target was Arsala Jamal, the governor of the province.

One is forced to wonder why President Karzai pardoned this young man. Based on why I have heard about that president, I have to assume that money crossed into his hands.

As the debate over accountability heats up, the possibility of US presidents issuing a blanket pardon increases — and that outrages lawyers and legislators who would see such a move as a flagrant abuse of executive power.

Congress can’t control the pardon power,” said New York University law professor David Golove, an expert on executive power. “For practical purposes, there are no clear limits.”

The breadth of the president’s pardon power has been challenged before, particularly after President Abraham Lincoln pardoned former confederate officials who swore an oath of loyalty to the Union. But in Ex Parte Garland, the Supreme Court spelled out just how far-reaching the president’s power is.

The pardon power clothes the president with the power to pardon all offenses, and thereby to wash away the legal stain and extinguish all the legal consequences of treason — all penalties, all punishments, and everything in the nature of punishment,” the court ruled.

Accordingly, if Bush pardoned administration officials accused of authorizing torture — say, Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney Chief of Staff David Addington or former Justice Dept. lawyer John Yoo, to name a few frequently mentioned possibilities — legal experts say the pardons would be extremely difficult to challenge in court. The fact that none of these men have been convicted of anything makes no difference.

The Confederates pardoned by Lincoln hadn’t been indicted or tried, either.

Similarly, President Jimmy Carter preemptively pardoned draft evaders during the Vietnam War when he took office in 1976. Even the Watergate-plagued Richard Nixon, pardoned by Gerald Ford in 1974, was never convicted of a crime.

Only one of 16,000 persons executed in the United States has been posthumously pardoned. That was William Jackson Marion in the 1880s. He hanged for the murder of a frien of his, John Cameron. Marion died saying he had no confession to make, reasonably enough as Cameron, it transpired, was alive and well. For the remaining 15,000 plus – well, death cannot be undone so, on the whole, the judiciary prefers not to try.

Britain refused to pardon Breaker Morant. This man was an Englishman who had lived (with mixed success) in Australia for a while. If the considerable body of evidence against him is to be believed (and it is well documented) he was a cowardly murderer. The film Breaker Morant (which I have seen as a television movie) was a very good one as far as entertainment is concerned, but it did not represent the reality of what it purported to portray.One of the most serious crimes you can commit in the military is to execute unarmed and helpless prisoners of war. Morant committed a crime and was charged, tried, convicted and executed for it. Whether he was acting under orders is a matter of debate, but acting under orders are really no defence for committing a war crime.

More people say they favour a pardon for Billy the Kid than oppose the idea after Governor Bill Richardson’s office set up a website and e-mail address to take comments on a possible posthumous pardon for one of New Mexico’s most famous Old West outlaws. Mr. Richardson’s office received 809 e-mails and letters in the survey that ended Sunday. Some 430 argued for a pardon and 379 opposed it.

The website was created in mid-December after Albuquerque lawyer Randi McGinn petitioned for a pardon, contending New Mexico territorial governor Lew Wallace promised one in return for the Kid’s testimony in a murder case against three men.

Mr. Richardson had to decide whether to pardon the Kid in the 1878 killing of Lincoln County sheriff William Brady. He later said that he wasn’t going to pardon him. His successor, incoming Governor Susana Martinez, has already said she won’t be wasting her time on a pardon. The Republican said Tuesday that state issues, such as a balanced budget and a controversial move of the state’s DNA laboratory, were more pressing.

Billy the Kid, also known as William Bonney or Henry McCarty, was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett in July of 1881, a few months after escaping from the Lincoln County jail where he was awaiting hanging for Brady’s death. He killed two deputies while escaping, but the pardon request didn’t cover those deaths.

E-mails debating the issue came from all over the country and beyond, including England, Japan, France and New Zealand. It clearly generated a lot of interest globally probably because of Billy the Kid’s fame. According to legend, Billy the Kid killed 21 people, one for each year of his life. The New Mexico Tourism Department puts the total closer to nine. In any case, there just doesn’t seem to me any legitmate reason why such a killer should be pardoned.

As we all know, every Thanksgiving, the president of the United States pardons a turkey that has been brought to the White House. It is probably the only red blooded entity that was truly innocent of any wrongdoing.

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