Bush should commute Aaron's sentence this year, because it is the right thing to do. He also should work with the U.S. pardon attorney to release other prisoners serving sentences that far exceed their crimes. While in office, Bush has issued 97 pardons and two commutations. Two commutations are too few.
Julie Stewart, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, hears that the Bushies don't want to commute sentences that comply with guidelines, no matter how barbaric they are. "Why have a pardon attorney's office?" she asked rhetorically. "The Founding Fathers gave (the pardon) to the president for the very purpose of exercising it when the punishment doesn't fit the crime."
Politically, Bush could use pardons to show that he cares about people who live outside the GOP circle. Let Bush, the president who boasted in his 2004 State of the Union speech that America is "the land of the second chance," show us that he walks the walk.
Commutations also would appeal to libertarian-leaning Republicans who recoil at drug-war excesses. These are voters who harken to the words of the late economist Milton Friedman, who wrote in an open letter to then-drug czar Bill Bennett in 1989: "Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike."
As for law-and-order types who don't mind throwing other people's children behind bars for life, Bush can use mercy to appeal to those voters, as well.
Last month, a federal judge in Texas sentenced Border Patrol agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos to 11 and 12 years in prison for shooting a fleeing drug smuggler in the buttocks, not filing the necessary reports and depriving the smuggler of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure. That's an insane sentence for two men who worked in service to this country and made a split-second mistake. Bush should commute their sentences before either man has to report to prison.
Let me be clear: I support long sentences for violent criminals and repeat offenders, as well as the ultimate sentence -- lethal injection -- for repeat killers like Clarence Ray Allen and Stanley Tookie Williams, who rightfully were executed in San Quentin.
But I cannot countenance meting out the harshest sentences to people who can be redeemed and have something to contribute to society. Clarence Aaron has served enough time behind bars. Bush should set him free.
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