Independence Day Comes Early for Libby


President George W. Bush, showing more mercy to a felonious liar who hadn’t yet served a day in prison than to the scores of prisoners (some of them mentally ill or retarded) whom he ordered killed while the hangingest governor in U.S. history, commuted Scooter Libby‘s sentence Monday evening.

Too bad — for Libby, that is — because the panel of federal judges that had been selected to hear his appeal included David Sentelle, who notoriously let another high-placed liar, John Poindexter, off the hook for running the illegal Iran-Contra scheme. (Read David Greenberg‘s excellent and concise 2002 reprise of that sorry episode.)

Libby, former chief of staff to the most powerful person in the U.S. government, might very well have won his appeal with Sentelle on the panel.

This way, however, Libby is spared prison time while his appeal would have been heard. My guess is that he will continue on his current roll and that down the road his conviction in the Plamegate scandal will wind up being somehow expunged.

In any case, here’s how Libby would have looked in official military POW garb, straight out of an Army field manual, FM 3-19.40: MILITARY POLICE INTERNMENT/RESETTLEMENT OPERATIONS (the uniform, sans Libby’s head, is here at John Pike‘s If Libby had gone to jail or prison, he wouldn’t have been issued this, but he deserved to for aiding our enemies — after all, Libby, acting on behalf of U.S. CEO Dick Cheney, recklessly outed CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Bush’s handlers spent much more time figuring out how to let Libby off the hook than Bush and his lamest of lame ducks, AG Alberto Gonzales, spent on all of the death row inmates whose appeals for mercy or clemency were summarily rejected after only cursory reviews.

As I noted in December 2004, excellent journalists like Alan Berlow detailed Bush’s sorry execution of his job as Texas governor:

Bush’s typically careless and inattentive behavior, in this instance toward pleas of clemency, was enabled back in his goobernatorial years by his factotum Gonzales. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Alan Berlow pointed out in “The Hanging Governor,” in Salon: “Even Bush’s former counsel, Judge Alberto R. Gonzales, says that a typical execution would receive no more than 30 minutes of the governor’s time.”

Oh, but the Libby case had everyone at the White House worried. As Leonard Doyle of the Independent (U.K.) reports this evening from D.C.:

The decision … caused widespread anger among Democrats and even dismayed some Republicans. But in keeping Libby out of jail the President may have saved himself from revelations by an embittered former aide. He was also bowing to political pressure from conservative bloggers, talk-radio hosts, and senior Republicans.

Libby, 56, a former chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to prosecutors investigating the leaking in 2003 of CIA official Valerie Plame’s identity.

Mr Cheney supported a pardon but President Bush would not go that far, in part because Mr Libby refused to show any contrition. A pardon by Mr Bush would have been viewed as showing disrespect for the US justice system.

Whereas this way, the commutation of Libby’s sentence did nothing more than show disrespect for the U.S. justice system.