There are indeed two justice systems in this country. No doubt about it. Powerful people have a different set of laws than the rest of us. You don’t have to be a radical activist with a bullhorn to see that. It’s proven every day all over this country in cases you and I never hear about, though the latest example is anything but obscure. President Bush has given his pal, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the proverbial “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.
Bush considered the 2.5 years Libby was facing for lying (aka the old “I do not recall” defense) and obstructing justice “excessive,” and commuted the sentence. Considering the generous percentage of time the law will take off one’s sentence for good behavior in prison, was it really excessive? This is one of many questions which immediately come to mind.
Another is, since Bush has repeatedly said he wanted to “let the legal process play out” on so many things over the past few years (this was often said in lieu of a real answer to any uncomfortable question from the press, like those about Karl Rove's continued employment in the White House), why did he suddenly reverse this strict policy? Keep in mind, Libby was set to go to jail, but the appeals process had not yet been exhausted. In other words, the legal process had not yet played out. Libby could have been exonerated by the justice system yet.
Another is (I ask coyly), why did this particular case catch the president’s attention? Aren’t there any number of other miscarriages of justice in this country that the president could turn his attention and influence to, rather than a small, warranted sentence for a wealthy friend? Say, like an incarcerated black kid of modest means who didn't really do anything wrong?
And another: What is to stop any high-office official from breaking the law? Between the funds to hire “dream team” legal representation and the knowledge that, should the dream team fail, the president has your back, what incentive is there for you not to commit any crime, up to and including treason or murder? This is not a rhetorical question!
Libby's commutation means that his conviction will stand, and that probation and fines are still in order. But when you’re a wealthy person to start, and have some of the most influential people in the country raising funds for your defense, you’re going to do ok financially even if you are facing large fines. And when you're looking at being locked up in a cage for 30 months, probation must surely feel like a reassuring slap on the wrist. Is that paying for a crime?
I actually think the rules should be changed so presidents cannot pardon (which this commutation, since it eliminates any real punishment, is as good as) anyone they know personally. It’s a clear conflict of interest and an abuse of power. Then we’d have no more Marc Richs, Scooter Libbys or Oliver Norths. This is a view I’ve held since before Libby, by the way.
I also have some other unconventional ideas about the law which apply here. I’ve long believed in a kind of unofficial “banishment” for people who escape justice. That means making (Libby’s) life as shitty as possible without getting in trouble yourself. Don’t help him. Don’t talk to him. Don’t smile at him. If he enters your place of business, tell him that he’s making the other customers “uncomfortable” and ask him to leave. Persona non grata, on a nationwide scale. OJ, without the knife. I’m sincere in this, though I don’t expect anyone will heed it.
This issue is too big for a single post. For part two, I will offer a point-by-point analysis of the president’s statement announcing this commutation. This should be fun!
As we head into our Independence Day celebrations, I lament that we have not yet freed ourselves from the present-day tyranny that is the reign of King/Czar George II of the USA. Somebody get me a drink... STAT!