Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Quality of Mercy...

We were interested to read that President Obama had issued nine pardons to some very unimportant felons before he got out of Dodge to go to Afghanistan to give the troops some very early holiday greetings. 
We are told that every year the Justice Department sends the president a thoroughly vetted list from which he may choose.  (After all it wouldn’t do to have major criminals on that list.  If you thought that there were Dangerous Ones let off, ease it from your mind.)  None of these would ever have made America’s Most Wanted list.  Furthermore, Obama’s list would never rise to the level of Bill Clinton’s list which included members of the radical Weather Underground, fugitive Mark Rich, ex-Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (the Congressional Post Office scandal) and even Bill Clinton’s half-brother for prior drug charges.  Those folks really needed serious pardons. [Here]
We must also not forget that President Jimmy Carter pardoned all Vietnam draft resisters on his very first day in office. [Here]  
My favorite of Obama’s 2010 pardons is that of Ronald Foster.  His crime was committed almost 50 years ago when Mr. Foster was a young marine, stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  Foster and his pals decided to shave pennies into the shape of dimes to fit into various vending machines in their barracks.  The Secret Service caught 16 of the culprits and they were sentenced to a year of probation and a $20. fine. [Here
Foster went on to serve for a year in Vietnam and forgot about the incident until 2005 when he applied for a gun permit but was denied.  He found out then that he was on a convicted felon list from that long ago incident.  Mr. Foster then applied for a presidential pardon and was finally granted one by Obama this year.
A Utah man, James Banks, was also pardoned for a similar petty, long-forgotten and long paid-for crime.  In 1972 Mr. Banks was working at an Air Force Base and “liberated”  (stole) some plywood and nails from a construction site.  His theft was discovered and his penalty was a loss of two days pay.  He wasn’t even fired.  Banks went on to live his life and he forgot about it.  He was reminded of the incident, however, when he, too, went to buy a gun nine years ago and was rejected for a license.  He hired an attorney and waited.  Mr. Banks, now 66 years old, heard about the pardon while he was driving to a rodeo in Las Vegas with his wife.  He said in a phone interview, “Hell, I hadn’t heard anything for two years.” [Here]
In reading these stories, one gets the feeling that these petty, long-forgotten crimes would best be settled by other means rather than making a Presidential pardon necessary.  And if the Justice Department and the WH would truly like a serious list of folks who have really suffered cruel injustice in our criminal justice system, I am sure a simple phone call to Bob Herbert at the NYTimes would yield a long and interesting list.  And what about a call to the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center?
Is Obama's list the compassion we’ve been waiting for?

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