On December 24, 1992, President Bush granted a "full, complete and unconditional pardon"
to six Reagan administration officials for crimes related to the Iran/Contra operation.
Four had been convicted;
Caspar Weinberger and Duane Clarridge had been indicted but their trials
had not yet commenced.
The announcement was made to the press not by the president but by some
White House functionary after Bush skipped town for theChristmas holiday.
The timing of the announcement on Christmas Eve, traditionally America's
busiest shopping day and least news-conscious day (in a nation bombarded by
newless news broadcasts), could only have been calculated by the White House
to avoid the scrutiny of the press, surely an act of evasion and cowardice
and somewhat ironic in a president who continually fought a "wimp factor."
Made in the last month of the Bush tenure, the announcement also competed
for news space
with the blitz of legislative and procedural announcements from the departing administration
and the headline-grabbing appointments of the incoming Clinton administration.
Actually two more individuals were pardoned by the action.
Bush simultaneously pardoned himself and Reagan, closing the door on what Special Prosecutor
Lawrence Walsh termed President Bush's "misconduct" in withholding his 1986 campaign diary
and on any investigation into the Reagan/Bush role in Iran/contra."Misconduct" is certainly a
genteel characterization for where these diaries might have led.
Mr. Walsh had charged that Mr. Weinberger's efforts to hide his notes
"forestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan." But the pardon nullified
Weinberger's notes from the 1986 meetings where Iran/contra was discussed - the very notes that
Walsh had officially declared as "evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan
administration officials to lie to Congress and the American people."
VicePresident Bush claimed to have been out of the loop, but was obviously
at those meetings - no contradiction there. In true Watergate fashion, "the Bush" claimed
to have come clean by turning over his diary.
Nixon only erased 18 minutes, but there was a crucial month missing from Bush's account.
In like manner, what was missing from the diary could have proved far more valuable than what
the de facto (or should I say post facto) diary revealed, if in fact it could be relied upon as a
representation of anything resembling actual events.
At best his diary containedl ittle of substance. At worst it was
self-serving - an accurate description
of the pardon as well. If Ford's pardon of Nixon was unprecedented in its exemption of the recipient
from future prosecution, Bush's pardon was unprecedentedly egregious for its distorted use of the
power to pardon himself. In his pardon statement President Bush claims,
"For more than 30 years in public service, I have tried to follow three precepts:
Honor, decency, and fairness... I know the American people believe in fairness and fair play."
This statement and the acts it excused are an insult to all Americans
and to our nation of laws.
This is a case of privilege for the privileged. Indeed only a president can exercise a pardon at this
national level of criminality - and for the first time a president has used it to pardon himself.
All Americans should be incensed at this abuse of power, but veterans
in particular who have a special
understanding of sacrifice for democratic principles, should demand a review of this power of pardon.
Isn't it a throwback to monarchial hubris? We have a right to question the "fairness" of this outright gift
to those who purposely broke the law and demeaned the very Constitution for which we fought and
which our leaders swore to uphold.
President Bush in his plea on behalf of Caspar Weinberger cited Weinberger's
precarious health and
his wife's cancer as contributing factors. As evidenced by the smiling image over his byline, Weinberger
was evidently healthy enough to accept a position as publisher of Forbes magazine, a glossy
forum from which to pitch his sham defense of high-tech profit-makers such as SDI.
What better place to campaign for profit out of the misery of others?
Particularly disgusting is the pardon of Elliot Abrams, previous mouthpiece
for Reagan's policies of lies
and murder in Centra America. Convicted of withholding information from Congress, he had been
sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service.
That sentence alone was a gift considering the death and destruction
he seemed to take personal pleasure
in defending and his lies to Congress about national policy matters which were in direct violation of
congressional law, e.g. the Boland Amendment, the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, the Intelligence
Oversight Act of 1980, and probably the Neutrality Act of 1937 - more flashbacks of Watergate.
Although Nixon's crimes were many and impeachable, Iran/Contra
was no third-rate burglary.
It was a direct assault on the Constitution and Congress, a much more serious threat to our system of laws.
(If we are a nation of laws.) The social contract under which we consent to be governed allows for some
restrictions on our individual freedoms for the good of all - an even playing field if you will.
No one is to gain unfair advantage. Our system of justice,
basic to this contract and the very core of
democracy, decrees that one who has illegally gained advantage should pay a price to society.
Simultaneously this payment should set an example to those contemplating abuse of the contract.
While we know that in the political scheme of things not everyone is
created equal, it helps if we all play
y the same rules, especially if some of use have been asked to put our lives on the line in defense of
"liberty" along the way. As it applies to our elected representatives the implied agreement has always been:
you have asked for our trust (vote), we expect you to uphold that trust and represent us with
"honor, decency, and fairness" and dare I add truth?
The erosion of democracy, "honor, decency, and fairness" has been long and insidious.
It started before November 22, 1963 (and perhaps the field can never
be completely level),
but December 24, 1993 is the most putrid vomit yet to be spewed on us. The self-serving power
structure inWashington is so corrupt that they do not even acknowledge that they should respond
to the mockery of justice that was foisted on the "republic" on December 24th.
We have been had - again.
At the very least we should demand that the pardon process be subject
to review by Congress.
Since 1974 it has become entirely politicized.
The power of the pardon is the last vestige of monarchy. It has legitimate use,
but we cannot trust our leaders to demonstrate "honor, decency, and fairness."
We should demand Bush and his pardon join monarchy in the dustbin of history.
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-Steve Geiger is a member of the Clarence Fitch Chapter of Vietnam Veterans
Against the War,
and serves on the chapter Steering Committee.