Commutation not related to justice

Freedom New Mexico

Anti-immigration activists got something of a gift this week when President George W. Bush commuted the sentences of two Border Patrol agents who were convicted for shooting a fleeing drug dealer and tampering with evidence as part of a cover-up.

Conservatives in particular had been lobbying for a pardon, but Bush was more sensible and simply commuted their sentences. They will be released from jail in March, according to published reports.

This wasn’t a bad compromise. Their 10-year sentences seemed harsh, but government agents should not be allowed to shoot fleeing people and then to clean up the crime scene to protect themselves. They said they thought their lives were in danger, but that’s hard to believe given that they shot the Mexican drug dealer in the buttocks. How could he have harmed them as he ran away?

As media reported, “Bush didn’t pardon the men for their crimes, but decided instead to commute their prison sentences because he believed they were excessive and that they had already suffered the loss of their jobs, freedom and reputations, a senior administration official said.”

The reality: Conservatives championed their cause because they saw it as a reflection of a soft immigration policy. They want border agents to have great latitude in fighting the “invasion” from the south, and it appalled these folks that agents were being prosecuted while the drug dealer was given protection so that he could testify.

The sentences were so harsh, by the way, because of all the tough-on-crime mandatory minimum sentences that legislators in both parties endorse, and which typically are championed by conservatives.

No doubt, Bush’s decision was a just one. But it bothers us when government officials get special treatment for crimes that would lead to much harsher results for any regular citizen.

Many people are in jail under unfair mandatory minimums. “That’s tough,” is the usual response from big-government conservatives, who believe that law-and-order trumps concerns about justice.

Government officials need to live under the same laws that apply to the rest of Americans. But these types of cases get caught up in broader political causes, and then rationality goes out the window.

The Bush decision was fine, but don’t pretend this was about justice. It was about angry activists who wanted to make a point about the nation’s immigration policy.