Hermits Rock

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Sister Helen Prejean, writing in 2005 for the New York Review of Books:

George W. Bush during his six years as governor of Texas presided over 152 executions, more than any other governor in the recent history of the United States. Bush has said: “I take every death penalty case seriously and review each case carefully…. Each case is major because each case is life or death.” In his autobiography, A Charge to Keep (1999), he wrote, “For every death penalty case, [legal counsel] brief[s] me thoroughly, reviews the arguments made by the prosecution and the defense, raises any doubts or problems or questions.” Bush called this a “fail-safe” method for ensuring “due process” and certainty of guilt.

He might have succeeded in bequeathing to history this image of himself as a scrupulously fair-minded governor if the journalist Alan Berlow had not used the Public Information Act to gain access to fifty-seven confidential death penalty memos that Bush’s legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, whom President Bush has recently nominated to be attorney general of the United States, presented to him, usually on the very day of execution. The reports Gonzales presented could not be more cursory. Take, for example, the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man of thirty-three with the communication skills of a seven-year-old. Washington’s plea for clemency came before Governor Bush on the morning of May 6, 1997. After a thirty-minute briefing by Gonzales, Bush checked “Deny“—just as he had denied twenty-nine other pleas for clemency in his first twenty-eight months as governor….

As far back as 1855, the US Supreme Court saw compassion and mercy as central to the exercise of gubernatorial clemency. This means that governors and their boards are free to consider any basis for mercy: mental handicaps, mental illness, childhood abuse, incompetence of defense counsel, remorse, racial discrimination in juries, signs of rehabilitation[—Hem, hem!—, arbitrary judgments about a sentence’s severity -g].

In her essay, which I do recommend, Prejean continues by contrasting the case of Henry Lee Lucas, Governor Bush’s lone pardon, with that of Karla Faye Tucker, the lone woman executed while Bush was governor. Then, she concludes:

As governor of Texas, Bush tackled the social problem of street crime by presiding over the busiest execution chamber in the country. At the time of the thirteen death row exonerations in Illinois, Bush stated publicly that although states such as Illinois might have problems with a faulty death penalty system, he was certain that in Texas no innocent person had ever been sent to death row, much less executed. That remains to be seen. What is clear is that he had, as governor, no quality of mercy.

Also apropos, Scott Eric Kaufman surveys of the state of perjury—or is it the perjurious state?—ca. 1999.



Let us also not forget when he famously mocked Karla Faye Tucker’s tearful plea for clemency. He’s really an awful person. If Bush is an example of a Good Christian Man©, then let Christianity perish forever.

Ah, yes. Prejean mentions it. It is not a scene I remember; but then, I didn’t have much of a political consciousness before 2000.

I think it was first revealed in a lengthy piece Tucker Carlson did on GWB in 1999, where he tagged along with him, did several interviews, etc. This, along with the general adolescent petulance he showed throughout the piece, really soured me on GWB even before I’d formed a political opinion of him.

I know there are a thousand Op-Eds being written right now that range from the incredulous, to the indignant, to the disappointed to the ecstatic (I don’t even want to link to those) to the many, many others who are weighing the in/significance of bush’s act.

But the one I want to read—or write, if I have time—is the one that constructs a narrative about Bush’s mucky, completely nonsensical beliefs about justice. The editorial I imagine would then make some extraordinarily cogent point with regard to his reading of The Stranger last year.

Go for it sucka!