By MARC McDONALD
George W. Bush has shown us a side we never knew he had in extending mercy to former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Bush spared Libby from a 2 1/2-year prison term, calling his sentence "excessive."
Perhaps Bush is following the advice of Jesus, who once said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." After all, Bush once declared that Jesus was his favorite philosopher.
The fact is, if you look at Bush's political career, you'll find a man who has never cared much for mercy. Indeed, you find a cold, callous person who never blinked as people were sentenced to harsh prison terms and given the death penalty under his watch.
Take the case of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War. Serving as Texas governor at the time, Bush ignored an international outcry for granting clemency for Tucker, who'd become a born-again Christian while in prison (and who, the prison warden testified, had become a model prisoner who had been reformed). Bush ignored all pleas for mercy from everyone from Pope John Paul II to the United Nations to the World Council of Churches.
Indeed, according to an account by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, Bush showed shocking callousness in the case. Carlson described how, during an interview, Bush smirked and pursed his lips and said "Please don't kill me," as he mocked Tucker's pleas for clemency.
In fact, Bush was never a man known for mercy in death penalty cases. In his five years as governor, Texas executed 152 prisoners, by far the highest total for any state and more than any other governor in modern American history.
A number of commentators argued that Bush routinely failed to give serious consideration to clemency requests in death penalty cases. Among these critics was Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun and leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.
As CommonDreams.org pointed out Bush presided over a death penalty cases that was noted for "notorious examples of unfairness," noting cases in which lawyers were under the influence of cocaine during the trial, drunk, or even asleep.
CommonDreams.org quotes a report by The Chicago Tribune on the 152 death cases that occurred in Texas while Bush was governor:
In one-third of those cases, the report showed, the lawyer who represented the death penalty defendant at trial or on appeal had been or was later disbarred or otherwise sanctioned. In 40 cases the lawyers presented no evidence at all or only one witness at the sentencing phase of the trial.
Of course, there's a big difference between the vast majority of defendants in these death penalty cases and Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Most of those executed in Texas were poor people from destitute backgrounds. Many were minorities.
By contrast, Libby is more like Bush himself: male, white, wealthy and from a prosperous, pampered, silver-spoon background.