Judith Brown
Young enough not to quit and old enough to know better.

To pardon or not to pardon: that is the question

I do not believe in presidential pardons. They are partisan and have very little to do with justice. The Justice Department sheds an interesting light on presidential pardoning and inadvertently on the presidents themselves. The current DOJ listing (updated January 10, 2017) includes all those pardoned by presidents since Bush senior. To give a short perspective; in January 2017, President Obama pardoned 64 individuals. 28 of them were incarcerated for dealing cocaine and other substances, 30 involved fraud and embezzlement of individuals or the US government. The last six included smuggling, citizenship fraud, dumping of hazardous waste, making false statements, and court marital.  The court martial was Manning; the leaker of government classified information to Wiki leaks that listed names of operatives overseas. A treacherous affront to all those who serve and face danger every day. The Commander-in-Chief obviously did not give treason much thought. The hazardous waste pardon was hypocrisy at its best; especially from a president who touted the environment and climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism. But I digress.

Bush junior pardoned 18 individuals before he left office in January 2008. Two involved substance abuse. Two soldiers were pardoned for being AWOL (absence without leave), nine committed fraud or embezzlement, one was in for possession of a firearm, another exported military aircraft to the enemy (how, I have no clue), and one was incarcerated under the Archeology Resource Protection Act.  Not much provocative controversy but the question still remains: What do presidents find compelling enough to pardon? Is there a criteria? Why would a president pardon cocaine dealers? They distribute poison and kill neighborhoods.  Chicago comes to mind. Why would anyone want to pardon those who defraud private citizens and taxpayers? Pardons are often strategic partisan plays; especially for presidents at the end of their term. But what do they gain? What is the angst behind the pardon?

The pardon of Joe Arpaio is causing more heartburn and indigestion than a conservative on The View.  Who is Joe Arpaio? Why does he conjure up so much admiration or hatred all at the same time? Joe Arpaio’s call to fame was his boot camp-like incarceration of prisoners, and the rounding up of illegal immigrants in his county of Maricopa, Arizona. As a deterrent factor to the local population (a large portion being Latinos),  Joe introduced turn-of-the century (20th that is) incarceration. Prisoners were given striped uniforms (often with pink underwear) and often chained together when working on public land. They were housed in Army tents and given basic food without meat. Joe was also famous for “rounding up” illegal immigrants for deportation. Some hailed him as a hero while others condemned him as a criminal thug. One thing was for sure: he was unique. According to the US Constitution, prisoners have basic rights. One right that has been argued and debated in the case against Joe Arpaio is the right to humane facilities and conditions. This right includes “punishment that can be considered inhumane treatment or that violates the basic concept of a person’s dignity may be found to be cruel and unusual.” (2017).  Did Joe Arpaio deny prisoners civil rights under the Constitution?

Francesco Chairez published a compelling essay on The Washington Post of his experience as a guest in one or more of Joe Arpaio’s prisons.  (The year I spent in Joe Arpaio’s tent jail was hell. He should never walk free. August 26, 2017).  Mr. Chairez described in detail poor conditions especially in the infamous jail tents. The tents out in the Arizona desert could harbor temperatures of up to 120 degrees. The inmates could not find respite (according to Mr. Chairez) and water was only available through vending machines. Mr. Chairez described the tents as “Army” tents. Pausing and playing devil’s advocate, I must remind Mr. Chairez that our soldiers have lived and still live in these tents in hot and hostile territories like Afghanistan or Iraq in temperatures as high or higher than he mentioned. In uniform and boots, our soldiers carry on them more than 50 extra pounds of armor and supplies when on missions, on patrol, or engaging the enemy. Are these military conditions violating the basic concept of dignity? Should prisoners be treated better than soldiers in the service of their country? Some food for thought when mulling over prisoners’ rights. I digress.

Mr. Chairez lamented that prisoners were not permitted newspapers. Unfortunately, newspapers are not included in any rights because they fall under “the limitations of prisoner rights” category. Mr. Chairez pointed out that Sheriff Arpaio made “sweeps” of restaurants and establishments that employed illegal immigrants scaring some of them into moving to New Mexico. Mr. Chairez called this “racial profiling”. My question to Mr. Chairez: If illegal immigrants in these areas are from Latin America, should Joe Arpaio have gone after Swedes? This article was followed by several comments both supporting Mr. Chairez and debunking him. Mr. Chairez claims that he was put in jail for a DUI (driving under the influence), but a comment placed him in jail for assault. Regardless of the reason for his incarceration, the basic reason behind the article is Joe Arpaio’s penchant for cruel and unusual punishment, and racial profiling.

Illegal immigration is the emotional bane of every civil minded individual. We can see the lawless side of it but we also see the human and humane side to it.  Who can blame families mostly from impoverished South American countries from attempting to make a better life for their themselves? A father or a mother often go through hell and back to give the kids what they themselves were deprived of. What causes these families to cross borders and take on so much danger to come to America? Why not go through the legal route?

The legal route is so convoluted and long that some of them would either be dead or their kids taken by evil cartels as foot soldiers.  The US immigration bureaucracy has been the cause of illegal immigration debacle for the past 50 years. It took me 35 years of repetitive applications to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to finally become naturalized; and I was a military wife with a husband in the US Air Force to boot. My documents were lost several times in between duty stations, and to add insult to injury,  the INS would not give exemptions to the military. I therefore have a personal affinity with these “illegals” because the system sucks and has sucked for many years.

Most of those labeled “illegals” are hardworking families trying to follow their American dream toward a better life. Who can argue with that? Treating them like vermin is not only un-American, it is simply wrong. Although Joe Arpaio was bent on following the immigration law, his methods were questionable. He seemed to cherish the thug-like methods of “sweeping”.  But was he racist? The racist card is too often and too easily waved in one’s face when and where minorities are involved. Truthfully and sans emotion we must admit that the majority of illegal immigrants are from South America. If law enforcement is expected to enforce the immigration law fairly, they are compelled to search for illegal immigrants in areas where they are likely to be. That is not racist; that is logical.  As far as profiling is concerned; forget about traveling to Israel because authorities profile. On a recent trip to Israel we were told in no uncertain terms that profiling is conducted at the airport. The Israeli authorities have built a matrix of potential dangerous individuals. It works. I would rather be inconvenienced than blown up. Profiling is disingenuously portrayed as racist generally by those who have never been on the other end of a terrorist attack. Far from being exclusive, profiling is inclusive because it protects everyone.  Why waste time, treasure, and lives in “searching” those who do not fit a profile? Did Joe Arpaio profile within the edges of the law? Did he profile to genuinely enforce the law or to harass? A fine line exists between upholding the law and using it for personal narcissist  gratification. An even finer line exists between enforcing the law and purposely persecuting the vulnerable and scared. The jury is still out in regard to Joe Arpaio.

But was the pardon of Joe Arpaio justified? Apart from the fact that he is 85 years old and keeping him in jail on tax payers’ expense could be construed as futile; I personally think that Joe Arpaio did not warrant a presidential pardon. But then I think that those pardoned in the past should have paid their dues to society. Joe Arpaio, if not crossing the line on Constitutional rights. stepped in many a murky water of unethical practices; accomplishing very little in deterring either crime or illegal immigration. His staunch supporters claim that he held the “laws of the land” in combating illegal immigration. They fail to understand that those same laws must first be upheld by law enforcement agencies who we trust to enforce them. The driver who drives legally through a green light but fails deliberately to stop for a pedestrian who crossed at a red pedestrian light, is still charged with negligence.  Doing the right thing should be paramount to law enforcement. It is commendable of Joe Arpaio to uphold the “laws of the land,” but he seemed to take too much pleasure in inflicting unnecessary discomfort and often pain. His initial intentions might have been justified but somewhere along the way he turned rogue. His interpretation of the law became self-serving and sensational rather than practical or civilized. He was pardoned because he was a loyal supporter to Mr. Trump and played the same immigration tune. If all else is inane, one thing is for certain: Mr. Trump values loyalty; and Joe was loyal.

At 85, I do not envision Joe Arpaio going on a campaign trail for either Mr. Trump or anyone else. He will probably write and publish a book. He will remain an enigma of our turbulent times. There can never be a middle ground with Joe Arpaio. Maybe that is the common denominator between Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio. Both are controversial, both are provocateurs, both conjure up hatred or adoration, both are self-centered, and both stubborn and steadfast in opinion and ideology. There is no middle ground for these two men. One thing I know for sure: just like the “leaks”, Russia, and Charlottesville; Joe Arpaio will eventually fade into another Trump controversy until the media finds something else to turn into a circus, or until a mysterious tweet appears in the middle of the night.

About the Author
Judith was born in Malta but is also a naturalized American. Former military wife (23 years), married, and currently retired from the financial world as Bank Manager. Spent the last 48 years associated or working for the US forces overseas. Judith has a blog on www.judith60dotcom Judith speaks several languages and is currently learning Hebrew.