[OP_ED] President Obama: Use Pardon Power to Right Festering Wrongs
With Donald Trump and the Republican controlled Congress lined up with lynch mob like fervor to kill President Obama’s signature health care reform – Obamacare – there is a way for Obama to both ‘trump’ his adversaries and solidify an extraordinary legacy through simple strokes of his pen.
Legacy conscious Obama should grant presidential pardons to two persons recognized internationally as American political prisoners. Ending the decades long incarceration of these two now elderly men would epitomize the American ideals of justice and fairness so often extoled by Obama and his Republican adversaries.
Each of these prisoners and their far-flung supporters have sent formal pardon requests to Obama, This president has established an unprecedented distinction for himself through granting over one hundred pardons and over one thousand sentence commutations. While Obama’s pardons/commutations have mainly sought to right wrongful criminal convictions his actions have focused on Drug War related cases not politically driven prosecutions.
One of these men is Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Puerto Rican nationalist convicted in 1981 and sentenced to 55-years for the rarely invoked crime of seditious conspiracy: trying to overthrow the U.S. government by force. Curiously, the now 74-year-old who challenged what he considered the ‘colonial status’ of Puerto Rico was not charged with any act of actual violence like bombings. Support for Rivera’s release includes a few members of Congress, three Nobel Peace Laureates, Puerto Rican government officials and foreign presidents.
The other man is Leonard Peltier; the Native American activist sentenced to life in prison for killing two FBI agents during a 1975 confrontation on a reservation in South Dakota. Illegal actions by federal agents that sabotaged the fair trial rights of this now 72-year-old included perjured testimony and withholding evidence. After Peltier’s conviction federal authorities admitted they lacked proof that Peltier actually shot those agents. Peltier, like Rivera, has far-flung support for his release, most recently from the federal prosecutor who supervised a fight to keep him incarcerated.
America has a sordid history of denying the existence of persons imprisoned to punish their political activism.
In 1978, for example, the then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations ignited bi-partisan demands for his impeachment (or immediate termination) because he stated during a media interview that America held hundreds of “political prisoners in our prisons.” In 1979, investigators from the United Nations found “clear and convincing evidence” of political prisoners in America. Those U.N. investigators criticized America’s targeted mistreatment of Native American activists and Puerto Rican nationalists.
While releasing Rivera and Peltier is a proper exercise of the letter-&-spirit of presidential pardon power such an action would surely trigger outrage, particularly among conservatives.
The often politically timid ‘No Drama Obama’ may fear the vilification heaped on prior presidents for end-of-term controversial pardons. But Obama has endured incessant vilification from his partisan enemies throughout his two-term presidency.
Pardoning Rivera and Peltier is the right thing to do and long overdue!