President Obama should pardon the nation’s leading political prisoners and whistleblowers as a lasting legacy, particularly in view of his uplifting promises and his party’s losses Nov. 8.
Justice for those have been framed in high-profile, historic cases — which include the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy — would provide a vital civic lesson as the nation wrestles with what Electoral College winner Donald Trump has called his campaign for “law and order.” Many Americans in the plurality that supported his Democratic rival interpret those words, rightly or wrongly as code for repression.
Such a bold plan for the Obama administration’s final weeks would channel in a positive way much of the sadness, anger and bickering now prevalent among many Democrats who outvoted Republicans nationally but still lost the presidency, Congress and soon the Supreme Court. Also, the pardon power would redress the Obama administration’s failings in several of these specific criminal cases — and provide a road map for the entire nation (including Trump supporters) on how current problems can be solved.
We recommend (and are doing so in lectures in Washington and Dallas this week) that Obama show mercy to still-living defendants in political prosecutions whereby patsies took the fall for major crimes, with brave whistleblowers also crushed as collateral damage.
These injustices cleared the way for more powerful malefactors to escape and continue to discourage honest law enforcers, whistleblowers, and other good citizens.
Our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has documented these abuses extensively. Today, we draw on this previous coverage, which usually contains extensive appendices citing others’ news reports and vital court documents.
Several of the defendants, such as President Kennedy’s former Secret Service protector Abraham Bolden (shown above left), met their unjust fate because their brave whistlebloweing sought to redress some of the nation’s most outrageous scandals, sometimes inflicted by malefactors so powerful as to constitute a “Deep State” of hidden government controllers.
Others defendants, such as Sirhan Sirhan, the accused killer of the leading 1968 Democratic presidential contender Robert Kennedy, appear to have been fall guys set up to hide the intrigues that shape our political landscape today. Even if Sirhan did kill Kennedy, as seems unlikely from the evidence, Sirhan should been released long ago under standard parole guidelines unless authorities had important secret to keep hidden.
The photo of Kennedy’s close friend Paul Schrade at right symbolizes the torment felt by some of those “in the know” about the nation’s deepest mysteries. The photo was taken by an Associated Press pool reporter during a closed February hearing after California authorities again denied Sirhan parole unfairly and with scant explanation. Schrade, shot by Sirhan in the head during the killing in the Ambassador Hotel’s ballroom, is among those who believe was an apparent mind-control victim who was firing a gun from Kennedy’s front but could not possibly also have shot Kennedy from behind at close quarters.
Yet authorities (and a largely docile mainstream media and academia) perpetrate conventional wisdom through the years after destroying evidence, ignoring witnesses like Schrade, and keeping Sirhan behind bars.
Therefore, it would take an act of political courage for President Obama and his team seriously to consider seeking justice by reopening any of these mysteries. But the important point is that action by Obama would primarily serve to lessen public’s plight, not just that of a few defendants.
That would make just resolution all the more impressive and otherwise meaningful as his legacy, especially for a president who said during his transition into his first term that his plan was to “look forward, not backward” at alleged government misconduct (interpreted to mean that he would essentially ignore previous government crime).
Obama preserved his political capital during his first time by issuing just one presidential pardon, which was far below the number granted by his predecessors. Obama’s first White House counsel, Gregory Craig, has since explained that presidents and governors these days risk hurting their reputations by using their constitutional powers to grant clemency.
So, increasingly few of them undertake a responsibility that Constitution framers regarded as essential for chief executives to grant, as we reported in a 2012 column Presidential Clemency System Broken, Experts Say. The trend illustrates yet-another aspect of the decline of rule of law and is particularly harmful when used to silence those involved in historic events.
Obama granted vastly more clemency actions his second term but took few risks because he and his pardon office at the Justice Department focused on drug and low-profile offenders.
The president reduced 102 sentences last month according to a CNN report, Obama reducing 102 inmates’ sentences, the latest batch in a record-setting effort by the White House to reverse harsh sentences for mostly nonviolent drug offenders. “Obama has now granted clemency to 774 individuals, the vast majority of whom were serving time for nonviolent drug crimes,” the report said. “Just in the past year, Obama has granted clemency to 590 prisoners, the most commutations in any single year of US history.”
Few of the beneficiaries were known to the public. Thus, the president conserved his political capital especially in his first term by studiously avoiding high-profile clemency that might annoy the nation’s power structure, which has been instrumental, if not treasonous, in some of the major cases described below.
The president could simply limp in the of other lame ducks through his remaining weeks and ceremonies (including the annual symbolic pardoning of a turkey at the White House) as he and the nation await the dismantling of his major policies and programs under a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled House, Senate and Supreme Court.
Typical of that is the White House photo above right from last year on Nov. 25. That feel-good moment shows the president, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and National Turkey Federation Chairman Jihad Douglas in the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. A difference this year is that part of the population understandably does not feel good. So, they are unlikely to feel better with more Obama rhetoric, photo ops, and memories of lost causes as the new administration gears up despite losing the popular vote.