Presidential Pardon Time

11/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This is the time in every outgoing President's term where they pour over requests seeking Presidential pardons. I'm sure it's no different for President George W. Bush as he gets set to vacate the White House.

Those convicted of federal offenses -- everything from white collar crimes to bank robbery -- will have filed petitions by now, spelling out exactly why the nation's Chief Executive should wipe clean their slate and restore to them the full rights of U.S. citizenship.

It is often a controversial and criticized exercise.

Remember when President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon even though he hadn't been convicted of anything? The first President Bush pardoned 74 people including half a dozen officials from the Regan Administration who had been involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. But when President Clinton dropped a total 140 pardons as he scooted out 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue he set off a firestorm of calls for Congressional hearings and action by federal prosecutors. Besides pardoning his step-brother, Roger's, cocaine conviction Clinton also granted a pardon to fugitive billionaire Marc Rich who's ex (but still friendly) wife had made large donations to both the Democratic Party and the Clinton Presidential Library fund. It smacked of pardon purchasing and it came just months after Clinton's controversial clemency to 16 members of the FALN terrorist group, an action critics saw as a ploy to win Hispanic support for Hillary Clinton's Senate run.

But, back to George W. Scholars believe because of President Clinton's, shall we say, over zealousness, in granting clemency and pardons, President Bush will be cautious as he heads out the door. So far he has granted just about 160 pardons.

If I may, I'd like to put in my two cents worth for at least two more. Their names are Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. They are the two former U.S. Border Patrol Agents now serving 11 and 12 year prison sentences for shooting in the buttocks an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler who was trying to bring almost 800 pounds of marijuana across the border.

The drug dealer, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, was given free medical treatment for his wound and in exchange for his testimony against the agents he was given a temporary U.S. visa which allowed him "humanitarian passes" to cross back and forth across the border unhindered. Four months before the agent's trial Aldrete-Davila (who, by the way, filed a five million dollar lawsuit against the United States for violation of his civil rights) was arrested with another van full of drugs bound, again, for the streets of America. The jury in the agent's case never heard about the second smuggling attempt.

Reams have been written about this case both in favor of and against agents Ramos and Compean. A petition for a presidential pardon was signed by 413 thousand Americans from all 50 states. There is legislation pending in Congress to try to help the agents win pardons, one bill with more than 100 bipartisan co-sponsors.

Mine is just one more voice added to the mix with a simple take on the Ramos / Compean situation.

These two law enforcement agents put their lives on the line for America every day they went to work. They both had clean work records, although Ramos' wife once got an order of protection against him. These men were doing their job the day they came across the smuggler and other illegals trying to enter our country. There was a scuffle and they testified that they felt their lives were in danger when they saw the drug dealer with "something shiny" in his hand. A gun, they thought, and so they responded as if their lives depended upon it.

We ask so much of our law enforcement officers and we sometimes judge them so harshly after the fact for their split-second decisions. I wonder who among us could make such snap decisions and then withstand the withering criticism that often follows.

I guess the bottom line question here is: To whom do we give the benefit of the doubt? To our officers of the law or to those who deliberately, blatantly break our laws? The fact that Aldrete-Davila was back at the business of drug smuggling even before the agent's trial speaks volumes to me about who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.

These agents have been in prison since January of 2007, mostly kept in solitary because of their status. To say they are doing hard time is an understatement.

It might be extra tough for this President to pardon these two men, symbols as they are of his inability to wrap his arms around America's massive immigration and border problem. But I hope for the sake of the Ramos and Compean families President Bush steps up and does the noble thing.

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