It wasn’t unexpected. Indeed, it was entirely anticipated. Inevitable, even. Nevertheless, whether it was the timing or the crass politics, Bush’s commutation of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s prison sentence sent the Republic reeling.
In his prepared statement, Bush patronizingly avowed his “respect” for the jury’s verdict. In both words and deeds, however, Bush clearly evidenced his disrespect and contempt for the sentencing judge, a member of that pesky co-equal branch of government known as the judiciary. He also referenced the studied deliberations that led him to his considered judgment that Libby’s sentence of 30 months in prison was “excessive.”
Excessive? Such a claim is simply beyond the pale, even for this President. As governor of Texas, Bush never saw a death sentence he didn’t like. Whether the condemned was retarded, denied a fair trial, or just plain not guilty, Bush denied clemency to every petition that came across his desk. Apparently, Bush found nothing excessive about death as punishment.
As President, Bush has granted himself the authority (if not the Divine right) to indefinitely incarcerate anyone he wishes, without charge, without counsel, and without any prospect of even the semblance of a fair trial. Jose Padilla, for example, was imprisoned for three years, in extreme solitary confinement in a military brig solely because Bush & Co. declared him a “dirty bomber.” Finally, after intervention by the courts, Padilla was afforded counsel, transferred to a civilian jail and indicted. Notably, once he was finally charged, no mention was made of the government’s original, unfounded allegations.
Bush found nothing excessive about water boarding, stress positions, physical assault, or any of the myriad of “not-torture” techniques employed by the U.S. against alleged terror suspects. There’s apparently nothing excessive about CIA black sites or secretly transporting suspects to foreign countries for the sole purpose of being tortured.
There was nothing excessive about abducting Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, in 2002 and sending him to Syria where he was tortured for nearly a year before eventually released without charge. Without apology, either.
During Bush’s reign of terror, the Justice Department has taken repeated steps to ensure that all sentences handed down in the federal courts are as draconian as possible. In July 2003, outraged over “activist” judges who downwardly departed from the federal sentencing guidelines, then Attorney General John Ashcroft directed all federal prosecutors to report any judge deemed too lenient. The Administration’s stated purpose for the Ashcroft amendment was to ensure that all cases were treated equally.
In September 2003, Bush’s Justice Department ordered all federal prosecutors to seek maximum criminal charges and sentences whenever possible and to eschew plea agreements. In his remarks supporting the order, Ashcroft declared, “If you violate a federal law, the punishment will be uniform.”
Unless, of course, you happen to be Cheney’s former chief of staff who took the fall for the Administration’s smear campaign against a critic of Bush’s propaganda campaign for invading Iraq. In that case, lying to a federal grand jury never warrants incarceration. Never mind that the prison term was fully in accordance with the very sentencing guidelines once so cherished by Bush. Never mind that it was the minimum period of incarceration permitted by law. Never mind …
It would have been far less outrageous had Bush skipped the “excessive” bit and simply explained that, like in any crime family, good things come to those who bite their tongue.