Criminal justice is not to be had under President Obama. As usual he talks big but acts small.
He recently visited El Reno, a medium security prison in Oklahoma, speaking passionately about the failings of a criminal justice system that has damaged a generation of Americans with far longer sentences than necessary.
So our noble president commuted the sentences of 46 prisoners serving 20 years for non-violent crimes, a piddling amount among 30,000 seeking clemency. This hardly lessens individual woes and U.S. costs of the huge prison population. The prison explosion was caused by the absurdity of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, low-level drug offenses.
Obama also complained at El Reno of intolerable conditions of 80,000 prisoners held in solitary confinement nationwide. He asked rhetorically: “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years?”
No. But Obama’s Department of Injustice, as the New York Times calls it, has worked repeatedly behind the scenes for six years to make sure that tens of thousands of poor people–disproportionately minorities–languish in federal prison for what the courts have declared “illegal and unjustifiable” mandatory sentences.
“The case of Ezell Gilbert is emblematic of this injustice,” the Times editorialized. “He was sentenced to nearly 25 years in prison for possession and intent to distribute 50 grams of crack cocaine. Even the sentencing judge called a quarter of century in prison far too harsh a sentence. Ten years later the Supreme Court confirmed that Gilbert’s sentence was illegal.”
Nevertheless, the Injustice Department convinced a federal judge from Florida that his two appeals were one more than allowed. The “finality” of criminal cases was too important, Obama’s unjust bozos argued, even if clearly illegal. But a federal appeals court rejected the administration argument, granting Gilbert freedom.
Human rights abuse OK
With all of that folly, Obama’s administration finds it easy to send $1.3 billion worth of military aid to Egypt yearly despite Cairo’s frightful human rights abuses.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont makes it clear a federal law he introduced bars military units that have committed atrocities from receiving U.S. aid.
The Obama government violates that law with impunity despite the custom of Cairo’s security forces to kill demonstrators, murder people in custody and slaughter citizens during military operations in northern Sinai Peninsula.
The administration ignores the scorched-policy Egypt uses for militants everywhere.
Still more delay
National security officials concluded that the release of a prisoner held at Quantanamo did not pose a major risk. Predictably, the Department of Injustice is fighting release.
No one heeds retired Justice John Paul Stevens. But his May speech was wise: “Onerous provisions have hindered the president’s ability to close Guantanamo,” he said. “They make no sense and have no precedent in history. Congress’s actions are even more irrational than the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.”
The broad powers of the anti-terrorist act of 9/11 are wielded to wage perpetual war against al-Qaeda. They are used as Obama’s legal rationale for holding people prisoners indefinitely.
Charge them or release them. There is no reason to hold someone in prison for 13 years without charge.
After reopening the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez rightly declared that the United States must hand back Guantanamo Bay at once. And so it must.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. (firstname.lastname@example.org)