So President Bush has commuted the two-and-a-half year prison term facing Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, calling the sentence “excessive”.

Excessive? This is the United States, the world leader in incarceration. In late 2006, the USA boasted 7 million men and women – three percent of its population – behind bars, on probation or on parole.

“I respect the jury’s verdict,” said Bush (for his extraordinary statement in full, click here) but .. “I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.”

Bush’s sensitivity seems particularly odd, since he built his career out of law and order, systematically clearing Texas’s Death Row of the pathetic gaggle of the sad, the mad and the bad who ended up there. As governor, the Texacutioner served as the last court of appeal for 153 men and women – and sent 152 of them to their graves. According to his appointment logs, it rarely took more than 30 minutes for Bush to declare “nothing excessive” in those particular sentences.

The future President famously displayed his brand of compassionate conservatism by mimicking the death row prisoner Karla Faye Tucker. An appalled journalist wrote:

“‘Please,'” Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “‘don’t kill me.'” I must look shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.”

Scooter faced some gaol time, not the electric chair. What made that so unfair?

Well, for a start, he’s rich and white, which immediately differentiates him from most of the people in the US justice system.

More than that, though, Libby knows where the bodies are buried. If he goes to gaol for lying about the machinations behind the Iraq war, it sets a terrible precedent for whole Bush administration.

As Andrew Sullivan writes: “We now know full well what [Bush’s] beliefs are: the law is for other people, not himself, his friends or his apparatchiks.”

And that’s why Paris Hilton spent more time in the Big House than Libby ever will.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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