End Presidential Pardons and Clemency

An Amendment: The president shall not have the right to grant pardons or clemency.

The prospect of the criminal in chief, George W. Bush, issuing pardons to his co-conspirators is repugnant to all citizens who’ve paid any degree of attention over the last eight years.

He neglected his duty prior to 911 resulting in a devastating attack on the nation.

He started an illegal war based on lies that caused injury and death to tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and the deaths of over 1.2 million Iraqi civilians.

He ordered the illegal wire tapping of citizens, a clear violation of law.

He stopped scientific research causing the suffering unto death of those with illness and injury that could have been healed during his term.

The list goes on. Bush ruled like a tyrant with the wisdom of an adolescent sociopath.

Right now this man who should have been impeached and subsequently jailed for his crimes is planning last minute pardons and acts of clemency for his friends, co-conspirators, and others who meet his deviant criteria for release from legal obligations.

Highly motivated citizens and legislators are seeking legal precedents and rationales to stop Bush from pardoning his collaborators.

Hopefully, their efforts, one of which is impeachment, will meet with success. Allowing those who attacked the people to walk away free after the death, destruction and ruin they’ve caused will deny meaning to any efforts aimed at true reform.

The problem of presidential pardons goes well beyond George W. Bush’s ability to issue them. The absolute right of presidents to pardon any crime is archaic, arbitrary, and offensive to those who value human dignity, rationality, and the rule of law.

Pardons and Clemency Emerged from Tyranny and the “Divine Right” to Rule

Roman emperor Nero (left) “fiddled while Rome burned” and executed his relatives. As emperor, Caligula (right) showed his contempt for Rome by torturing citizens and appointing a horse to the Senate

Rome formalized the shift from a republic to an imperial state when Julius Caesar was elevated above all by the Senate. This allowed him to accumulate vastly expanded powers even though he was a “first among equals.”

The fiction of the Roman Republic remained but Julius Caesar and those who followed had extraordinary authority over policy and state action. The emperor even had the power to arbitrarily overrule the decisions of tribunes of the people and magistrates.

While Rome claimed to bring civilization to those it subdued, it was ultimately a lawless state given the powers usurped by the emperors. No citizen was safe if he or she offended the first among equals. No decision by the people meant anything if the emperor’s needs got in the way.

Roman dictatorship was replaced in Europe by hereditary royalty (with the exception of the Republic of Venice). During the middle ages, these rulers by accident of birth and raw power generated the notion of the “divine right” of monarchs. Subjects were to believe that God flawlessly conferred the right of kings to rule.

With the divine franchise, monarchs were able to determine who was arrested, tried, and convicted whenever it suited them. They were the state. These rulers had the absolute right to say who was and was not tortured and executed. There was some resistance to the notion of “the divine right.” Shakespeare echoed this in Richard the III when the Earl of Lancaster comments on Richard’s crimes:

“That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself” (2.1.65-66)

The first English Civil War represented a full break with the assertion of divinely conferred rule. The conflict pitted the English middle class against the self-absorbed monarch, William I and his supporters. The army fighting the king was one of the first in history to openly debate policy and political structure in the midst of war.

“Agitator” John Wildman, the son of a butcher, drafted the “Agreement of the People.” The original transcripts of the debate (center) and agitator and trooper Edward Sexby who, with Wildman, led the debate in behalf of radical democracy..

The Putney Debates involved Oliver Cromwell on one side and the Levelers faction of the army on the other. The army proposed a new government based on a universal male franchise, strict proportional representation, and punishment for King William I for his crimes. They also specified the equality of citizens before the law, without exception:

That in all laws made or to be made, every person may be bound alike; and that no tenure, estate, charter, degree, birth, or place do confer any exemption from the ordinary course of legal proceedings whereunto others are subjected.
— “An agreement of the people,” Oct., 24, 1647

Cromwell prevailed against radical democracy. But the ideas didn’t die.

The American Revolutionary War was inspired in part by the political descendants of the Levelers. The outcome was compromised, to a degree, by the retention of the artifact of divine rule — the absolute right to pardon criminals of all sorts. As a result of the recent collapse of legislative balance against tyranny and cloaked as executive prerogative (much like the Romans suffered), we have a deviant leader with the power to negate what’s left of our most important laws with the stroke of a pen.

Bush negated legislation he disliked by issuing “signing statements” indicating his intent to ignore laws he didn’t care for. He will soon negate the history of his crimes by pardoning those who collaborated in the nations “conquest of itself” thus voiding any remainder of individual and collective protections.

Bush should be denied this power. But the issue isn’t confined to Bush. It’s about the ability of each citizen to expect equal treatment by the law and for all citizens to know in no uncertain terms that no one is above the law.

Election to the presidency is not elevation to a divine status. It should not be taken as a right to unilaterally declare war, torture, lie, and steal nor should it turn into a right to allow others to do the same without impunity.

The constitution should be amended to end this arbitrary and offensive practice now and forever:

An Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

The president shall not have the right to grant pardons or clemency.

Michael Collins writes for Scoop Independent News and a variety of other web publications on election fraud and other corruptions of the new millennium. He is one of few to report on the ongoing struggles of Susan Lindauer, an activist accused of being a foreign agent, who was the subject of a government request for forced psychiatric medication. This article may be reproduced in whole or in part with attribution of authorship, a link to this article, and acknowledgment of images. Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. dwarfgoper said on December 9th, 2008 at 12:39pm #

    Great article, Mr. Collins. The spectacle that will soon unfold, with bu$h issuing pardons for his co-conspirators, will be a disgusting spectacle indeed. The pardon power needs to be abolished. I am wondering if you think the power of state governors to pardon should also be abolished.

  2. Hue Longer said on December 9th, 2008 at 11:53pm #

    Interesting article–thanks for it

    I can’t remember ever hearing about railroaded innocents being pardoned and the only time it seemed close was when Amy Goodman pressed Bill Clinton to pardon Peltier. That could be the only counter argument I could think of. Anyone have examples of this?

  3. Michael Collins said on December 10th, 2008 at 2:24am #

    dwarfgoper, thanks so much for the kind words. It will get very ugly, very soon. Bush is looking particularly depleted and behaving in a petulant fashion. I’ve never commented on this before, but when I saw Bush’s petulant and childish display at the Army-Navy game (on the news), I thought, next he’ll be speaking in tongues.

    Pardons offer the president the opportunity to behave very badly and get away with it. In my opinion, there should be no pardon power period. It’s a relic. At the state level, there’s quite a business in the process, some governors have walked away with serious money as a result. We’re not serfs and they’re not royalty.

    HueLonger, you’re welcome! The fact that Peltier is still in jail is an excellent argument that pardons don’e deliver justice. That’s totally outrageous. Good for Amy Goodman.

    There’s a better procedure than chief executives doling out their odd form of justice. In Scotland there’s a legal appeal to a special commission for highly questionable judicial decisions. The defendants in the PanAm bombing case, Lockerbie, used this path effectively. They got a serious review of their convictions that is ongoing. The specific purpose of the court is to hear controversial cases, not avoid them. The’ve shown intellectual integrity so far in this one (exposing bribes of witnesses, impossible claims, etc.).

    Peltier should be freed along with the others in those cases. Where’s the pardon? Where’s the clemency? I guess the “big dog” was just to busy with the absentee billionaire, Mr. Rich, to do something truly meaningful. Thanks for raising Peltier’s name. I’d thought of him prior to writing this.

    If someone picks this idea up and runs with it, I’ve got another – The Constitution & Legislation Competency Exam. Make the president and Congress pass a competency examination on the provisions of the Constitution and and the content and impact of every bill on which they pass judgment. They have to pass the latter to take office and they can vote only on those bills they’ve read and understood. I would keep them busy.

  4. bozh said on December 10th, 2008 at 5:16am #

    to me, any writ, law, constitution is an interpretative piece of rhetoric.
    to ensure, that the only valid interpretation of any utterance is that of a king or in modern times, a prez, judges r selected by a king or a prez who interpret a writ.
    or, one cld say, meanings (intent, behavior) is not in words but in people.
    meanings r in obama and not in his words. and we cannot ever find out what he means(intends/wants); we can only extrapolate what he may do on the basis what every prez has done before.
    and low and behold, it is frighteningly easy to say what uncle will do.
    working class will remain a dependency; ruling class will remain an interdependency (it’s more effective); warfare, multiple systems of health care and jurisprudence to continue, etc.

  5. Diane said on December 10th, 2008 at 9:33am #

    I think we should get a petition going. This definitely should be abolished. It sends the message that one can do whatever they want, and if they are sentenced for the crime, they will be pardoned if you know the right people.

  6. Michael Litoris said on December 10th, 2008 at 12:42pm #

    Two words: Go Greek!


  7. Judy said on December 10th, 2008 at 4:56pm #

    This should not even be up for discussion. Prosecute Bush and his cronies NOW and stop all of his nonsense. They have proven themselves to be greedy, dangerous, criminal impostors. The fact that Bush is still creating problems is preposterous and I cannot even force myself to respect Congress for letting it happen. They have majorly insulted our intelligence.

  8. Judy said on December 10th, 2008 at 5:06pm #

    Those in the U.S. government are all responsible for much blood, sweat and tears. They had the opportunity to stop it, yet we can count on one hand those who tried. One day The Constitution will just be a nostalgic memory lost in a museum as some relic of America’s democratic republic past.

  9. bozh said on December 11th, 2008 at 8:10am #

    the more one blames bush(w. both ears and eyes tightly shut) the more uncle sam (let’s say, 5mn people) lahks it. thnx

  10. bozh said on December 11th, 2008 at 3:46pm #

    wld one be mistaken in assuming that Bush/Cheney wld have been deposed if they did not have support of cia, fbi, city police, army, and at least 50mn fanatics?
    and who in US is not frightened of what cia/fbi/rabidos might do to people who’d start an impeachment.
    and it is better this way as antiwar people can blame cia/fbi/rabidos/army officers which r more responsible than bush for carnage in afgh’n and iraq.

  11. tpayne said on December 11th, 2008 at 8:16pm #

    I’m not so sure I’d do this.

    For instance, just think if we ever elected a true progressive President. To picture that, ask yourself if Cynthia McKinney had just been elected President, would you want her to have the ability to issue pardons to drug-war prisoners?

    Yes, this power has been abuse by Clinton, who essentially sold the pardons. And it could be abused by Bush. But, would you really want to take it away if we ever won the Presidency? A progressive President elected after all these years might have a lot of wrongs to right, and the power of the pardon would be a way of doing it.

    But, there is one change I would make. I’d say Federal employees can never be given a pardon for crimes that they committed while in office. Those are violations of the public trust. Certainly a President should not be able to pardon people in his own administration who commit crimes while he’s the responsible elected official in charge. And I’m not sure I’d want a following President to have the ability to pardon such crimes. Or maybe put a 10 year waiting period on it or something.

    But, I’d be very careful against removing the power altogether. Its designed as a counter to tyranny. Its a check and balance against the police and the prosecutors getting too out of control.

  12. Michael Collins said on December 14th, 2008 at 11:46pm #

    Petition – great idea. Let them know their day of regal prerogatives is over.

    tpayne, I share your desire to counter tyranny. Consider hte prospect of a solution similar to the Scottish criminal review board mentioned above. That group recieves and seeks out unjust decisions that are unjust.

    Using that approach, we’d get rid of the tyrannical wielding of personal power and gain an ongoing method of righting wrongs. For example an empaneled justice commission could pardon not only Joe Blow who is in jail for 10 years for simple possession (of anything). It could pardon all the Joe Blows everywhere based on an unfair class of laws.

    A civilized president could set up the structure in such a way that it would become self perpetuating, in as much as possible and we’d be rid of the trappings of the arbitrary dispensation of justice.

  13. sam said on January 5th, 2009 at 8:55pm #

    Those in the U.S. government are all responsible for much blood, sweat and tears. They had the opportunity to stop it, yet we can count on one hand those who tried. One day The Constitution will just be a nostalgic memory lost in a museum as some relic of America’s democratic republic past.

    good point judy.but just look south we texans hold grudges and we don’t forget .most americans learn about civil rights but quickly forget about what the framers of the constitusion was trying to prevent . we think that it’s ok for the pres. to pardon a f ing turkey it’s ok to pardon a criminal .how about just giving them an appeal and the same opp. that oj had, insted of a judge and court that was courrupt like the border agents and they were just doing there jobs one got 11 years and the other got 12 years by a judge that aqquited a known illeagl cuban airplane hyjacker .

  14. Michael Collins said on January 5th, 2009 at 11:46pm #

    Sam, you make some very good points. How about a “justice” system with equal justice. Any system without that can’t claim the name of justice to begin with. Pardon’s are rarely necessary with an equal justice system and, when they are, a system like the Scots have which spots miscarriages would do better than some clown acting like he/she is goD. You mention one of the great injustices (until the loting of the Treasury recently). The hijaker who goes free because the power structure likes his politics. That’s about all anybody needs to see, period.

    Ah, but “hope” springs eternal as we wait for “change” … troops leaving Iraq but going to Afghanistan. Ironic and pathetic at the same time.

    Happy New Year!!!