Because Josh Marshall has brought this up several times, I think someone ought to respond. Specifically, Josh says today, that
Lawyers for John Walker Lindh (the 'American Taliban'), who has now spent seven years in prison, are asking President Bush to commute his sentence. Not expecting a lot of agreements. And I don't think it's particularly likely. But I think it's the right thing to do.
This has been some sort of cause celebre for Josh. Earlier, Josh asserted that
This guy was simply a victim of Fox News justice, a paroxysm of jingoism that the justice system is supposed to resist and counter rather than enforce. This isn't to romanticize the guy. Like a lot of other losers and goofballs who slip into cults and extremist groups, I'm sure he was a real piece of work, at least at the time. Perhaps he still is. But the evidence that he had ever committed an act that actually transgressed against a real American law was meager at best.
Join me on the flip for why I think Josh's priorities are misplaced.
Whether under an ideal, elightened and nonpolitical view of use of the executive pardon power (that I would support) that has never been actually utilized by any President (republican or Democrat), Lindh deserves a pardon may be a good question. But under the pardon power as actually used by American Presidents, why does Lindh deserve a pardon?
Lindh – despite Josh’s absurd statement that "the evidence he had ever committed an act that actually transgressed against a real American law was meager – was caught in Afghanistan, fighting alongside Taliban and Qaeda fighters, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks (with full knowledge of those attacks) taking up arms against US soldiers, and he knew that is what he was doing. That is what he admittedly went to Afghanistan to do. That is definitely a crime that transgresses numerous US laws.
Now, again, under an enlightened view of the pardon power, maybe Lindh ought to be forgiven. He was young and was obviously a confused dude. Nothing wrong with being Muslim of course, but for some reason he romanticized Osama bin Laden’s perversion of Islam. Although a lot of us romanticize ideas in our youth that we later realize are wrong (many neo-cons romanticized Trotsky in their youths for example), most of us don’t take up arms to advance those ideas.
But here’s my problem with Josh: of all the people who are in federal prisons serving horrific sentences for conduct that is simply not that offensive, Lindh is not even close to the top of what offends me. There are tens of thousands of people in federal prisons serving multi-year sentences for drug crimes that harmed few if any. Many of these people are poor; they are minorities; they had a lot less going for them than Mr. Lindh (who grew up as a pretty rich kid); and I am sure they were just as confused, if not more so, than Mr. Lindh. Why focus on freeing Lindh, and not on those who actually deserve a pardon??