The return to solitary confinement of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman for 57 days this fall underscores President Obama’s duty to provide clemency to a victim of America’s most disgraceful recent political prosecution.
At a minimum, Obama (shown in a White House file photo) should commute the remainder of Siegelman’s sentence, now scheduled to extend until mid-2017.
Far better, the president should issue a full pardon to the former governor and his co-defendant Richard Scrushy, the founder and former CEO of HealthSouth Inc.
Scrushy and Siegelmen were convicted of corruption charges in a 2006 federal trial. Scrushy has completed his sentence but is at least as much of a civil rights victim as Siegelman, Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003 and its last Democrat in that office.
Scrushy, a Republican, has consistently argued that his company’s donation to defray costs of a 1998 state referendum proposal was a routine expense for his billion-dollar company and that he was imprisoned only because he refused to take a prosecutors’ plea deal to perjure himself to implicate Siegelman.
Alabama Attorney Gen. William Pryor, a Republican, began investigating Siegelman immediately upon the Democrat’s assumption of office in 1999. Pryor’s crusade was joined by the Bush administration after it took office in 2001. Their massive investigation ultimately ended Siegelman’s viability as a statewide candidate or potential presidential contender. For nearly a decade, Pryor has been a federal judge on the Atlanta-based appellate court hearing Siegelman and Scrushy appeals.
Beginning immediately after Siegelman’s sentencing in June 2007, he has been a repeated victim of solitary confinement for no apparent reason aside from the demonstrated animosity from his presiding trial trial judge Mark Fuller, Bureau of Prisons personnel with unknown motives, and indifference at best by a politically timid Obama White House.
Siegelman is shown in prison Dec. 11 at left with a fellow inmate, Charles Cloud, just after the former governor’s release from “The Hole” at Oakdale’s federal prison in Louisiana.
Siegelman’s family members said they tried unsuccessfully to contact him during that period and could not learn from authorities why he was being held incommunicado as punishment. It is suspected, however, that Siegelman’s response to a question on a phone call with radio personality Thom Hartmann triggered the reaction. Siegelman was discussing prison conditions generally in America but Hartmann asked how he was doing.
Last year at this time, Siegelman also was kept in solitary confinement for more than a month and shunted around the prison system, part of a pattern that first occurred when he and Scrushy were hauled away in chains at their 2007 sentencing by order of their judge, then Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery, even though most white collar defendants are granted bond during appeals.
Vast numbers of legal experts, whistleblowers, journalists and members of the public have denounced the many irregularities of the Siegelman-Scrushy prosecution, as summarized below.
Fuller (shown in his 2013 mug shot after an evening of drinking), had to resign his lifetime appointment to the bench in disgrace this summer.
Although the most public reason was a wife-beating arrest in 2013 not linked to the Siegelman-Scrushy case in obvious ways, little-reported aspects of the judicial scandal involve a longstanding pattern of Fuller’s abusive supervision of the court system. That is directly relevant to the trumped up charges and kangaroo court procedures that convicted Siegelman and Scrushy and financially ruined the families of those two co-defendants who were falsely charged but acquitted.
Thousands of columns, including dozens by this editor, have documented prosecution irregularities and illustrated why the prosecution has become a notorious human rights scandal.
A system that mistreats Siegelman so often so badly with only whitewash oversight by the courts, congress and Justice Department underscores the problems facing 2.3 million other American prisoners and their families. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and one of the largest prison populations. The systems cost taxpayers vast amounts of money for overcrowded facilities and unaccountable procedures that help keep inmates angry, chaotic, and unreformable.
For such reasons, every American who values the Constitution and a rule of law would benefit from presidential leadership in rectifying the injustice in the Siegelman case, as such prominent commentators as George Will of the Washington Post and Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker have written, along with many others.
So, the president and his legal advisors face a tainted legacy on human rights grounds, whatever their efforts and political posturing on other rights issues. Below, we examine the facts, including recent developments in Alabama and at the White House.
- An oped in the Montgomery Advertiser by columnist Josh Moon Dec. 16 directed at President Obama: End the Embarrassment and Pardon Don Siegelman;
- A rebuttal Dec. 24 by former Siegelman prosecutor Stephen Feaga justifying his treatment, Siegelman column riddled with ‘inaccuracies; and
- A recap Dec. 28 by blogger Roger Shuler, who has published hundreds of columns about irregularities in the Siegelman case, Prosecutor Steve Feaga reportedly once pushed for false testimony in the Siegelman case, and now he tries to convince public that convictions were legitimate