A near-invisible Bush phones friends and rivals

21st January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The only world leader to comment on Bush's outreach, Israeli President Shimon Peres, praised Bush's support for Israel and for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Washington -- Hours before leaving office, American President George W. Bush bid farewell to friends and rivals on the world stage and used his last act of clemency to help two former Border Patrol agents.

Bush, who stayed out of sight at the White House, placed a dozen telephone calls to current and former world leaders to thank them for working with him over the past eight years and for their hospitality when he visited.

He spoke to leaders of Brazil, Britain, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, as well as former Mexican president Vicente Fox, said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.

"In all the calls, the leaders thanked President Bush for his work and for the spirit of cooperation and friendship developed over the last eight years," said Johndroe.

The only world leader to comment on Bush's outreach, Israeli President Shimon Peres, praised Bush's support for Israel and for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"Had the world acted against Hitler the way you did against Saddam Hussein, the lives of millions would have been spared," Peres said.

Johndroe said Bush had no additional calls planned before handing power to Barack Obama at midday on Tuesday.

In his final use of the presidential powers of clemency, Bush commuted the sentences of two former Border Patrol agents from his home state of Texas, who faced more than 10 years in prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler.

The incident and the subsequent trial of the agents, Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos, sparked fierce debate about undocumented immigration, with many of Bush's fellow conservatives up in arms at their conviction.

Two senior White House aides said the commutations were expected to be Bush's last acts of clemency, leaving high-profile convicts such as Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in jail and taking no more steps to help convicted aides like I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The two Border Patrol agents were convicted of assault and violating the civil rights of Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, who pressed charges against them after he was shot while attempting to smuggle a van filled with about 700 pounds (300 kilograms) of marijuana into Texas near El Paso.

Davila, who said he was unarmed, was shot in the buttocks after he abandoned the truck and fled back across the border to Mexico.

Prosecutors said the agents "crossed the line" and broke the law by firing on an unarmed and fleeing suspect.

Bush believes the agents received a fair trial and a just verdict, a White House official said on condition of anonymity. However, the president and others were concerned with the length of the sentence and the fact that the men must remain in isolation for all but 30 minutes a day for their own protection, the official said.

The official noted a broad degree of support for clemency among both Republicans and Democrats, including incoming White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Bush’s actions mean that Compean, who faced 12 years in prison, and Ramos, who faced 11 years in prison, will see their sentences in the February 17, 2005 incident expire on March 20, 2009.

Both men will still face three years of supervised release and a 2,000-dollar fine.

Bush issued 189 pardons and commuted 11 sentences in his eight years in office.

Former president Bill Clinton issued 396 pardons and commuted 51 sentences in his two terms.

Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, issued 74 pardons and commuted three sentences in his four years in office.

Olivier Knox /AFP/Expatica

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