Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dear President Obama: Please Do Just One Noble Thing

Today's Sunday Times contained two stories about manifest injustice--injustice that President Obama has the power to correct.

Nicholas Kristoff wrote a heart-rending essay about Edward Young, a 43 year-old man who was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for possession of seven shotgun shells.  Mr. Young had been convicted of burglary several times as a young man, but he had pulled his life together, was working,
Please do just one noble thting.
and has a wife and four children.  Nevertheless, William Killian, a federal prosecutor, went after him under the Armed Career Criminal Act. According to Mr. Kristoff's article, Mr. Young must serve his entire 15 year sentence;  he has no chance for parole.

And John Grisham told the story of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian man who was sold to the American military under a bounty program while living in Pakistan. The military took Mr. Hadjarab to  Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then moved him to Guatanamo.  He has been imprisoned by the American military for 11 years now, even though he was approved for release in 2007 under the Bush administration. According to Mr. Grisham, Mr. Hadjarab poses no threat to American security whatsoever.

Mr. Kristoff believes Mr. Young should be released from federal prison, and Mr. Grisham thinks Mr. Hadjarab should be freed from Guatanamo.  I feel sure both men are right.  After all, Mr. Grisham is
a highly renowned author; and Mr. Kristoff is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a famous advocate for human rights.  President Obama has the authority to release Mr. Young and Mr. Hadjarab  immediately. Wouldn't it be inspiring if the President pardoned both men? Like right now?

William Killian prosecuted Edward Young for
possession of 7 shotgun shells.
Let's be honest. Even the President's most ardent admirers must admit that Barack Obama has accomplished very little during his five years in office. He promised hope and change, and yet we are still mired in the Afghan War. He promised to shut down Guatanamo, but Guatanamo still operates. He promised to help the middle class, but millions of Americans are still burdened by under-water home mortgages.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons for Mr. Obama's uninspiring presidency.  With the exception of Obamacare, the Republicans thwarted almost all of the President's legislative initiatives.  Wars are not easily gotten out of, and Guatanamo turned out to be far more difficult to close than the President anticipated. Mr. Obama wanted to help middle-class mortgage holders, but the banks wouldn't cooperate.

But surely Barack Obama has the power to perform a few noble deeds, right a few wrongs, and alleviate a little suffering. After all, he is the President. So why not release Mr. Hadjarab from Guatanamo and let Mr. Young out of federal prison? Why not just do the right thing once in a while?

Like millions of Americans, I am disappointed in Barack Obama as a president.  But he could redeem himself substantially in my eyes if he demonstrated a little compassion every now and then. If President Obama made just a few decisions based on sympathy for the downtrodden--whether or not his actions helped him in the polls or juiced his campaign coffers--he would go a long way toward rehabilitating his presidency. So why not release Edward Young and Nabil Hadjarab from prison?


John Grisham. After Guatanamo, Another Injustice. New York Times, August 11, 2013, Review Section, p. 4.

Nicholas D. Kristoff. Help Thy Neighbor and Go Straight to Prison. New York Times, August 11, 2013, Review Section, p. 1.

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