Before leaving the White House, President Bush should do the right thing and pardon the two Border Patrol agents who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for shooting a fleeing drug smuggler — a case that’s been called a “prosecutorial travesty.”
The facts are fairly well known: Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean were arrested following a shooting incident along the Mexican border in February 2005.
Mexican national Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila entered the country illegally in a van carrying 743 pounds of marijuana. When confronted by the agents, he scuffled with them and tried to flee back across the border. The agents opened fire. Aldrete-Davila was struck in the buttocks, but continued to flee.
The agents later said they saw a shiny object in Aldrete-Davila’s hand that they thought was a gun.
Federal prosecutors gave Aldrete-Davila blanket immunity in exchange for his testimony against the agents. Ramos and Compean were convicted on several charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and violation of civil rights.
In regard to the civil rights violation, it might be noted that both agents are Hispanic.
In October 2006, Ramos — who was nominated to be Border Patrol Agent of the Year — was sentenced to 11 years and one day in prison, and Compean received a 12-year sentence.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein called that a “huge penalty, more than most people serve for murder.”
Her fellow Californian, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, went further, declaring that the case is “the worst miscarriage of justice that I have witnessed in the 30 years I’ve been in Washington. The decision to give immunity to the drug dealer and throw the book at the Border Patrol agents was a prosecutorial travesty.”
It subsequently came to light that Aldrete-Davila reentered the U.S. on at least 10 other occasions in 2005, and was again caught smuggling marijuana while he was waiting to testify against the agents — facts that were not brought out at the agents’ trial.
A Newsmax editorial in July called on President Bush to free the two jailed agents. Yet they still languish in a maximum security federal prison.
In February 2007, Ramos was savagely beaten in jail by a gang of illegal aliens, and he and Compean were placed in solitary confinement for their own protection.
Aldrete-Davila, meanwhile, was arrested this past November in El Paso, Texas, on federal drug smuggling charges.
In December, an appeals court judge said federal prosecutors may have overreacted in their case against the two Border Patrol agents. Judge E. Grady Jolly said: “For some reason, this one got out of hand, it seems to me.”
Attorney David Botsford, who is representing the agents in their appeal, said the judge in the original trial should have allowed jurors to hear evidence that Aldrete was “not a [drug] mule, a simple one-time [border] crosser.”
Members of Congress have asked President Bush to pardon the agents or commute their sentences. In December, members of the House introduced a non-binding resolution asking for the immediate commutation of Ramos and Compean’s prison terms.
As long ago as January 2007, President Bush had reportedly agreed to review the case, saying a pardon was possible.
But he took no action, and in July stated: “I know it’s an emotional issue, but people need to look at the facts. These men were convicted by a jury of their peers after listening to the facts” presented by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, who was appointed to his present post by Bush in 2001.
The White House claims the president does not entertain pardons or commutation until after five years of a sentence is completed.
But that policy is not airtight. As we know, President Bush did commute the sentence of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby before he had spent a day in jail, calling his 30-month prison sentence “excessive.”
As the Newsmax editorial stated in July: “In light of Bush’s commutation of Libby’s sentence, the Ramos-Compean case cries out for justice.”
It is fully within President Bush’s constitutional powers to pardon or commute the sentences of the two Border Patrol agents. Indeed, Bush has issued well over 100 pardons and commutations since taking office. In December alone, he granted pardons to 29 convicted criminals, including several who had been jailed on drug charges.
But Ramos and Compean remain in solitary confinement, being held in their prison cells 23 hours a day and allowed three showers a week — while even terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay's medium-security Camp 4 are allowed seven to nine hours of exercise and a shower every day.
President Bush should not leave office without correcting this grave injustice.
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