Bush commutes sentences of former Border Patrol agents

Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who shot an unarmed drug suspect as he fled back to Mexico, then became heroes on the right, will be released from prison.

Published January 19, 2009 6:30PM (EST)

Anti-immigration forces won a partial victory Monday, as President Bush commuted the prison sentences of two of their heroes, former Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos. Bush didn't go as far as some wanted him to and actually pardon the two men, but he did cut short their sentences. Instead of serving more than 10 years each for having shot an unarmed drug suspect as he fled back to Mexico, they'll be released within the next couple of months.

In this 2007 article, I examined the two agents' case and explored how the right had transformed them from two men who'd been involved in an unjustified shooting, and covered it up, into heroes who feared for their lives as they were doing their jobs. Long story short, people like CNN's Lou Dobbs, Jerome Corsi -- the man who co-authored the Swift boat book and has lately been pursuing rumors about Barack Obama's citizenship -- and Reps. Tom Tancredo and Dana Rohrabacher have badly distorted the facts of the case to make Compean and Ramos seem innocent, despite the fact that the two couldn't even get their stories straight.

As you can probably guess, I'm not happy about this news, at all. This story got to me. I was raised in a law enforcement family, knowing that most law enforcement officials mean well and are just trying to protect us, but that there are some truly bad people within their ranks. I know very well how difficult it is to prosecute and convict a police officer for wrongdoing, and what a striking statement it is when that conviction happens. And I was also raised to know that the job shouldn't be an excuse for wrongdoing; if a cop does wrong, they deserve punishment as much -- or more -- than anyone else. Reading the actual facts of this case made it very, very clear that Compean and Ramos had done wrong and that they knew it and tried to cover it up. That's inexcusable.

In one positive note, the Associated Press reports that Bush is defending the decision to try Compean and Ramos, and says he believes their conviction was just. And an unnamed senior administration official told the AP that Bush's action "does not diminish the seriousness of their crimes," he just believed the sentences were excessive.

Still, I can't help thinking back to the end of that article of mine from a couple of years ago, which closes this way: "[I]f he won't go for a full pardon, there is always the measure that saved Lewis Libby from jail: [California Sen. Dianne] Feinstein has asked the president to commute the agents' sentences. Should that happen, the rewriting of the ballad of Ramos and Compean will be complete."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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