Pardon the Interruption

I was happy to see that our new president made the same flub in his oath of office that I did during my marriage vows, speaking before the officiant finished his first line. I’m also happy that our officiant did a better job of keeping his composure than Chief Justice Roberts did.

I thought his inauguration address as a bit flat, but I suppose it makes sense: Obama’s high-flying rhetorical style is more fitting for a campaign, and yesterday’s event was an occasion for letting the American people know what challenges lie ahead, or something like that. Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic did a pretty good job of rhetorical annotation of the address here and here.

Anyway, the subject that interested me in the last days of the Bush regime was that of pardons. The previous president, we recall, got into some hot water with the late pardon of Marc Rich, which turned out to be of a piece with the Clintons’ “it’s all for sale!” regime.

Pres. Bush’s final pardons — commutations, to be exact — were for a pair of border patrol agents who shot an unarmed man in the back and tried to hide the evidence. Taking a stand against mandatory minimum sentences — in a drug crime, no less! — the president determined that the two men had served enough time for shooting an unarmed man in the back and trying to hide the evidence.

The fact that Pres. Bush issued fewer pardons and commutations than any other two-termer should come as no surprise, given his record on executions while governor of Texas. But I admit that I was curious about whether he would revisit the case of the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh.

I have a fascination for people who have gone so far from “normal” that they become nearly unrecognizable. Lindh is one of those personae, having followed a path from a comfortable suburban life to a fetid basement of a prison in Afghanistan, at the age of 20. How does someone get alienated from his life that he winds up in a world so far from his ken?

A year or two later, Lindh was in the Supermax prison, having taken a plea agreement in which he agreed to make no public statements for the duration of his sentence (17-20 years, depending on good behavior), and to drop any claims that he’d been tortured after he was captured. (He’s in a medium security facility in Indiana now.)

And it’s that aspect of the case that made me wonder if the former president would commute Lindh’s sentence. It’s not that I think he should be excused for what he did; it’s more a question of what was done to him. I think Lindh’s case provided an   early example of how the War on Terror could lead to rampant abuse of rights, a blurring of the duties of the departments of defense and justice.

I didn’t really expect our departed president to engage in any degree of introspection about Lindh’s case, or about the bigger issues that it presaged about our government’s abuse of law in the past eight years, but it would’ve been an interesting signal if he’d chosen to revisit that case. It’s not like we’ve been dealing in nuances this decade.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.