Pardons are forever

To get his friends and allies out of the mess he created, George W. Bush is going to have to issue a slew of pardons
By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  August 22, 2006

ASSEMBLY LINE: Many of Bush's pardons will focus on crimes committed in the name of the "war on terror"

Prediction: Before leaving office, President Bush will issue a shockingly large number of presidential pardons to operatives who, with the administration’s blessing, ventured far outside the law to wage Bush’s “war on terror.” Bush may even owe some of his underlings use of the pardon pen, since they relied in good faith on radical legal opinions crafted by White House lawyers to justify an “anything goes” response to enemies real and imagined.

Pardons will be the only effective device by which Bush can give absolute protection to his underlings. Otherwise they may face prosecution under a new administration. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s efforts to convince Congress to enact legislation that would protect administration, intelligence, and military operatives from prosecution for illegal acts committed in the war on terror may fail to gain approval. And even if Gonzales convinces this highly partisan Republican-controlled Congress, a future Congress could repeal Gonzales’s protective statute. A presidential pardon, on the other hand, is final.

The Bushies’ concern grows out of recent developments. Congress, under the leadership of Republican senators John McCain, of Arizona, and Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, has expressed unease over the administration’s aggressive claims that a “war-time president” may override legal restrictions in order to protect the nation from its enemies, particularly in the areas of torture and citizen privacy. Even more threatening to the administration have been rumblings about war crimes from the current Congressional minority. And then there’s been a series of Supreme Court decisions explicitly rejecting some of the president’s more grandiose claims to unfettered executive power.

Interestingly, the most graphic indication of the danger presidentially empowered lawbreakers may face comes not from Washington but from Italy, where warrants are outstanding for 26 Americans, most believed to be CIA operatives. On July 6, the Los Angeles Times reported that among the 26, all of whom are allegedly involved in a kidnapping scandal, are the former CIA station chief in Rome and an Air Force commander. Their identities were recently disclosed after authorities arrested a top Italian spymaster. While none of the Americans, reported the Los Angeles Times’ Tracy Wilkinson, are currently under arrest in Italy, it’s a safe bet that none will be sightseeing at the Coliseum anytime soon.

At the center of this Milanese scandal is the February 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian Muslim cleric and suspected terrorist recruiter Abu Omar, which took place in Italy. The alleged CIA plot was carried out during the administration of then–prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who claims to have been unaware of the secret operation but whose government, it appears, knew of and aided it. In May the Italian electorate voted out Berlusconi and installed a center-left coalition. Prime Minister Romano Prodi seems to be lending previously absent support to Italian prosecutors.

It’s enough to make Team Bush’s higher-ups, along with its shadowy operatives, shudder. The Italian warrants demonstrate how a voter-mandated changing-of-the-guard can lead to corrective prosecutions.

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Related: McCain’s crooked talk on torture, Oh, pardon me, Worst in breed: Newsmakers, More more >
  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, War and Conflict, Alberto Gonzales,  More more >
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