President George W. Bush’s choice of July 2 — right before Independence Day — to commute former White House aide “Scooter” Libby’s prison sentence for lying and obstruction of justice carries a special irony.

One of the basic tenets of our legal system, which underlies the Founding Fathers’ objections to the arbitrary rule of King George III, is that all people are supposed to stand as equals before the law.

Unfortunately, this has often been violated, as shown by the millions of Americans, many of them working-class people and people of color, who have served far longer prison terms than Libby’s for far less grievous offenses.

Take, for example, the case of Mychal Bell. The 16-year-old African American high school student in Louisiana, was tried as an adult for aggravated battery after a white student who had joined in and supported shocking racist conduct on campus, including the display of nooses, was roughed up by Black students. The white student attended a social function that evening; Bell stayed in jail until his trial because his parents couldn’t come up with the $90,000 bail. When he is sentenced at the end of this month he faces a possible 22-year prison term. Bush should commute his sentence, not Libby’s!

Or consider Bush’s own record while governor of Texas. During his tenure, 150 men and two women were executed in the state. In each case Bush had the opportunity to grant clemency, but he did so only once.

It is also worth noting that Libby’s sentence for lying was commuted by a president who has involved our country in an enormously destructive and completely unjustified war in Iraq on the basis of serial lies, including that Saddam Hussein and al Qaida were in league and that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, not only George Bush but his entire administration is guilty of mass deception involving not only the Iraq war but the wholesale curtailing of liberties at home, including the Patriot Act. Congress needs to take action to restore the rule of law and its equal application to all and it should be on the minds of voters next year.

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