January 19, 2009

With a reeking pile of misery as his legacy already, George W. Bush gave a last finger to the rule of law and immigrant-rights groups -- and tossed a big bone to the mouth-foaming, immigrant-bashing nativists who have taken over the GOP -- on his way out the door today:

In his final acts of clemency, President George W. Bush on Monday commuted the prison sentences of two former U.S. Border Patrol agents whose convictions for shooting a Mexican drug dealer ignited fierce debate about illegal immigration.

Bush's decision to commute the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who tried to cover up the shooting, was welcomed by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. They had long argued that the agents were merely doing their jobs, defending the American border against criminals. They also maintained that the more than 10-year prison sentences the pair was given were too harsh.

Apparently "just doing your job" is now the handy Conservative Get Out of Jail Free card. Certainly that's been Bush's justification for his own lawbreaking, and so it makes a certain sense that he would apply it now.

But there was never any excuse for these Border Patrol agents' behavior. They not only clearly abused their police powers, but committed even further crimes in trying to cover it up.

The most thorough evisceration of the Ramos/Compean martyr myth was Alex Koppelman's superb Salon piece of last year:

At trial in the federal courthouse in El Paso, Border Patrol agents from the Fabens station took the stand to testify against Ramos and Compean. Fellow agents, including one who had observed the shooting, contradicted Compean's story about where he was and how he was positioned when he fired his weapon. The agent who had helped Compean hide shell casings admitted it under oath. Prosecutors showed that Compean had repeatedly changed his story about the shooting and that it didn't match Ramos' account. They were also able to show that although Compean had discussed the shooting with other agents after it happened, it wasn't until his arrest that he began claiming that Aldrete-Davila had had a gun.

The prosecution's version of events was convincing enough for the jury, in March 2006, to find Ramos and Compean guilty of all but assault with intent to commit murder. Most media coverage of the case was local, and it comported with the jury's verdict: a bad shooting, a coverup and damning testimony from fellow agents that led to an uncontroversial conviction. Seven months later, a judge sentenced Ramos and Compean to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively.

But by the time of their sentencing, the right wing had discovered the agents and begun constructing a new narrative. Ramos and Compean's newfound supporters soon settled on a radically different version of the shooting, cobbled together from speculation, rumors, misstatements of fact and various unproven assertions cherry-picked from the case the defense presented at trial.

As with nearly every myth emerging from the mists of Greater Wingnuttia, this one involved a familiar cast of media characters. Jerome Corsi of Swiftboating and "Obama Nation" infamy -- you know, the guy who never met a fact he couldn't falsify -- and Lou Dobbs played key roles in mainstreaming the Ramos/Compean story as a case of the Bush administration kowtowing to Mexican interests.

Then, of course, you had guys like Glenn Beck promoting the story as evidence of the return of the New World Order -- not to mention an opportunity to promote membership in the John Birch Society.

Incidentally, the White House is saying that these are the last pardons or commutations that Bush is planning. I guess this means that Politico list of 10 pardons to watch for -- which does include Ramos/Compean at No. 7 -- is probably defunct.

UPDATE: As one might guess, the Greater Wingnuttia is ecstatic. Check out the report from Neil Cavuto on Fox News:

This is especially precious for the exchange he has with the head of Mothers Against Illegal Aliens, who not only shares with us a paranoiac tale about how a burglary at Mrs. Ramos' home was actually a "hit" attempt, but seems to have managed to hang onto one of those bridesmaids outfits from the '70s, which is a rare feat.

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