02 July 2007

I could have guessed this would happen - Bush commutes Libby's prison sentence, and leaves his fine intact. Apparently this is a Solomonic compromise so Bush could say he didn't grant Libby a full pardon (and thus he's respecting the rule of law), but he can placate political supporters who say Libby got a raw deal.

All I can say is, I have experience in this line of work, and the general public has little or no appreciation for the subtle differences between a commutation and a pardon. It all looks like the same thing - someone got special treatment and is evading the sentence imposed by the judicial system. (That's not to say commutations are never justified, just that you can't easily tell the public that a commutation is justified where a pardon isn't).

As for the propriety of this particular commutation, I think it's only fair to commute sentences when the justice system is incapable of adequately addressing the underlying issues of fairness and compassion in the case. Libby paid millions of dollars for the best legal representation he could get, and it's not like there was hidden evidence that only came to light after his conviction, or some horrible human tragedy that would compel an early release from prison. I think the justice system did its job in this case, and commutation is a slap in the face of the hardworking people involved in the case.

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