By David Swanson
Imagine that you took your family to the White House for a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and you were all standing in the front row as the president made some brief remarks, you and your spouse and your two children, a little girl and a little boy. And imagine that after talking for a few minutes the president turned to his chief of staff, handed him a knife, and said “Would you mind grabbing that little girl out of the front row and bringing her up here and slitting her throat?” And imagine that the chief of staff did just that, as you and others screamed and fought with various aides and secret service officers. And then someone shouted “Arrest him!” while pointing at the chief of staff. But the president held up a piece of paper and declared: “I’m pardoning him right now!” And all the shouting suddenly stopped. People murmured to each other: “Oh, well, if he’s pardoned he’s pardoned.” And the president stood and smiled, paused for a while, and then turned to the chief of staff and said “It covers torturing the little boy too.”
Would you say “Enough!” Even if you’d been to law school? Or would you still declare the pardon power to be “unlimited”? Would it take more than this to awaken an ounce of humanity or independent thought from deep within your brain?
Not to worry. What we are dealing with is far more than this. We are dealing with the gruesome sadistic torture and murder of thousands of people. We’re dealing with a war that’s left over 1.2 million dead, 4 million displaced, millions more without decent water, food, or shelter. We’re dealing with people kidnapped, kept in outdoor cages for years without any indication of reason to hope, prisoner suicides, prisoner torture, people hung from their wrists until they passed out or died, people shocked with electricity, beaten with sticks, or given the water torture. Your little daughter is only one person, but imagine if she were thousands, and that they were all tortured, raped, and murdered, every single one. And then tell me that the pardon power is “unlimited.” Tell me that the Supreme Court of the United States has no possible choice other than to conclude that the pardon power is “unlimited.” Can you tell me that and show your face in public? I dare you.
Do you believe large crimes are less important than small ones, crimes against Muslims are less important than crimes against Christians, crimes against foreigners are less important than crimes against Americans? Do you believe those things? Think about it before you answer. Now tell me if the pardon power is unlimited. Tell me if it makes sense for human rights groups to declare that the pardon power is unlimited and to then ask a man like George W. Bush, his arms drenched in blood up to the shoulders, to please not abuse his unlimited power. Is that a smart thing to do? Is it a conscionable thing to do? Is it something we can do and not become complicit in crime?