Bush's Record Of Mercy


There is none. Part of what makes the commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence for perjury so transparently corrupt is Bush's long and remarkable record as Texas governor of denying clemency to almost anyone, and the contempt he expressed for even the process of reviewing appeals for mercy from death row. These were not white-collar criminals threatened by 30 months of jailtime. These were often individuals with very few resources facing the direst sentence imaginable: the death penalty. The massive discrepancy between the brusqueness with which Bush dismissed their pleas for mercy and the hours of careful study he cites in relieving Libby of inconvenience is proof positive to my mind of this president's reflexive sense of privilege, and profound moral and ethical corruption. Here's a devastating article from the Atlantic archives detailing Bush's clemency "decisions" while Texas governor. To give you a flavor:

On the morning of May 6, 1997, Governor George W. Bush signed his name to a confidential three-page memorandum from his legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, and placed a bold black check mark next to a single word: DENY. It was the twenty-ninth time a death-row inmate's plea for clemency had been denied in the twenty-eight months since Bush had been sworn in. In this case Bush's signature led, shortly after 6:00 P.M. on the very same day, to the execution of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded thirty-three-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old.

Gonzales's summaries were Bush's primary source of information in deciding whether someone would live or die. Each is only three to seven pages long and generally consists of little more than a brief description of the crime, a paragraph or two on the defendant's personal background, and a condensed legal history. Although the summaries rarely make a recommendation for or against execution, many have a clear prosecutorial bias, and all seem to assume that if an appeals court rejected one or another of a defendant's claims, there is no conceivable rationale for the governor to revisit that claim. This assumption ignores one of the most basic reasons for clemency: the fact that the justice system makes mistakes...

The record as a whole is one of a human being utterly indifferent to the fate of others, especially those without money, connections or political value. The number of people George W. Bush sent to their deaths without a second's thought is higher than any living governor in the United States. And yet it took a perjury conviction of a white, wealthy, connected apparatchik to awaken the president's sensitivity to injustice:

A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.

Gonzales declined to be interviewed for this story, but during the 2000 presidential campaign I asked him if Bush ever read the clemency petitions of death-row inmates, and he equivocated. "I wouldn't say that was done in every case," he told me.

Get angrier.

(Photo: WIn McNamee/Getty.)