JOHN KIRIAKOU: On Pardoning Turkeys

While Joe Biden is busy pardoning two turkeys, how many human beings has he pardoned since becoming president?

(White House photo)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

The White House on Friday revealed the names of the recipients of two pardons President Biden plans to issue—Peanut Butter and Jelly. The pardons are, of course, for two Thanksgiving turkeys, part of a stupid annual tradition where the president saves two turkeys from the Thanksgiving table.

The tradition began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln pardoned a turkey, an act that apparently wasn’t even reported in the media until 1865. By the early 20th century, it was common practice to give friends and family members live poultry as an early Christmas gift and to have them “pardon” the turkey or chicken as part of a “poultryless Thursday,” according to the White House Historical Society. How quaint.

Most American seem to like this tradition. Every year we see pictures of presidents standing outside the West Wing with random citizens, everybody smiling, with two confused turkeys standing on a table on front of them. The President then signs the pardon certificate and wishes everybody a Happy Thanksgiving.

I hate this tradition. I find it to be insulting and demeaning when there are so many formerly (and still) incarcerated Americans who deserve a pardon. And while Joe Biden is busy pardoning two turkeys, how many human beings has he pardoned since becoming president? Zero. Not a single one.

How to Get a Pardon

There is a hard-and-fast process for getting a pardon. First, a person who has been convicted of a federal crime must wait for five years after the expiration of his sentence, as well as any probation or parole. He must then go to the website of the office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney and fill out an electronic application.

The former prisoner must be able to prove that he has shown public remorse for his crime and that he has led a productive and positive life since leaving prison. That sounds easy enough. With recidivism rates under 50 percent, you would think that there were plenty of eligible pardon applicants. But that’s not how the system works in real life.

First, the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney was supposed to be independent of the Justice Department. Indeed, the office was supposed to be housed in the White House as part of the Executive Office of the President. But it’s not. It’s housed at the Justice Department at 905 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington.

When a person applies for a pardon, the application works its way through the Justice Department’s bureaucracy and is then referred to the FBI for a background investigation. Regardless of what the FBI background investigation finds, the investigators always interview the case’s prosecutors and others associated with the prosecution. According to the U.S. Pardon Attorney’s website:

“The Pardon Attorney routinely requests the United States Attorney in the district of conviction or the Assistant Attorney General to provide comments and recommendations on clemency cases … The views of the United States Attorney are given considerable weight in determining what recommendations the Department should make to the President … The Pardon Attorney also routinely requests the United States Attorney to solicit the views and recommendation of the sentencing judge.”

Most Are Ignored

This all sounds like the U.S. Pardon Attorney is trying really, really hard to be fair. In fact, it’s the opposite that’s true. Historically, the investigations have been for the purpose of coming up with reasons—any reasons—to not grant the pardon. So far during the Biden Administration, there have been 191 applications for pardons. Sixty-three have been formally denied. The remaining 128 have been ignored. That’s 0 percent.

During the Obama Administration, there were 3,395 applications for pardons. Two hundred twelve were granted, 1,708 were formally denied, and the rest were ignored. That’s an approval rate of 6.2 percent.

The Trump Administration was a little better, at least on paper, approving 144 of 1,969 applications, for an approval rate of 7.3 percent. Many of those approved by Trump, however, were cronies, political supporters, convicted war criminals and Republican insiders.

The bottom line seems to be this: Our government talks a good talk about rehabilitation, forgiveness, and reintegration into society. But it’s all nonsense. So is what they tell us about correcting injustices. Why else to you think Leonard Peltier is still rotting in prison? Why is Julian Assange on trial for his life? Why is Ed Snowden in exile?

It makes far more sense to me to right those wrongs committed by our courts and prosecutors and to forgive those Americans who may have committed a crime, but who have lived good and productive lives after having paid their debt to society. It makes more sense than it does to have a laugh while pardoning a turkey.

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

13 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: On Pardoning Turkeys

  1. michael888
    November 27, 2021 at 12:19

    Joe Biden had more to do with the War on Drugs than any other politician, doubling the inmate population to TWO Million, mostly non-violent drug offenders. He is The Architect of Incarceration, highest rate of any country. He bragged in 1992 that his crime bill does “everything but hang people for jaywalking.” He has done more to destroy Black communities (convicted felons are mostly unemployable) than any American. He DOESN’T care.

    Yet Kiriakou thinks Biden will PARDON people?

  2. Michael McNulty
    November 26, 2021 at 06:52

    Biden didn’t pardon those turkeys. They outsmarted him.

  3. nwwoods
    November 25, 2021 at 15:40

    I bet my boots those two birds got quietly beheaded, gutted and chucked into the WH freezer within an hour or two.

  4. Vera Gottlieb
    November 25, 2021 at 14:39

    One should understand that the lives of turkey are much more important…Only exception: Thanksgiving.

  5. scc
    November 25, 2021 at 12:34

    There is one person who could easily be pardoned since he is not yet condemned…

  6. November 25, 2021 at 06:55

    Good article. Seems to me the idiotic “tradition” of turkey pardoning is not quite on a disgusting par, but almost, of the Marine’s “Toys For Tots.” I don’t know what advertising hack dreamed it up, but it always turns my stomach. No, no, those in the military aren’t evil or stupid– don’t you see it’s a benign institution? Sure, they kill tots, too, but not in the U.S., so it’s all good.

  7. James Simpson
    November 25, 2021 at 02:58

    Why did anyone think that Biden would be anything other than what he is and has always been? This is a man who is an extreme centrist, who will never lift a finger to help the helpless and will always side with the powerful. Yet supposed socialists like Bernie Sanders or anarcho-libertarians like Noam Chomsky dictated in 2020 that all on the Left must vote for Joe Biden. He’s almost as bad as Trump, continuing Trump’s hate-riddled border policies and operating a bait-and-switch foreign and domestic programme which fools the Left again and again. Well, you got what you voted for.

  8. Andrew (Andy) Alcock
    November 25, 2021 at 01:44

    Surely one person who should be pardoned and have all charges against him dropped is Julian Assange

    The FBI case against him relied on one witness Sigurdur Thordarson – a Norwegian convicted criminal – who admitted he lied.

    All Julian Assange did was what any honest journalist would do and expose corruption, war crimes and human rights violations committed by political leaders including the committed by the US government.

    prosecute the criminals and free all political prisoners who expose them and their crimes!

  9. M Pipkin
    November 24, 2021 at 21:38

    Oh, yes, lighten up. David Brooks just published an article entitled “Believe or not, President Biden
    is getting thing done.

  10. evelync
    November 24, 2021 at 19:32

    I find that turkey pardoning absurd and silly and as you point out, John Kiriakou, they’re “insulting and demeaning” to the human victims who are ignored.

    They seem to make the pardoner giddy with self admiration to be such a lucky executioner to get a reprieve for his non victim.
    To be part of a “happy ending”.

    There are lots of bad ending these days….victims of embargoes and sanctions, victims of wars and coups, victims of unfair court judgments, victims of drones – both the killers and the killed, and victims of an economy that’s gone bad because policies have favored the wealthy.

    So pardoning 2 turkeys for a big public showing is like putting lipstick on a pig….not that I like that expression, but it fits, I think.

    Glad for them – sorry for the millions of victims who aren’t so lucky.

  11. Me Myself
    November 24, 2021 at 14:59

    A well-groomed upper-class turkey, no wonder it got a pardon.

    The thing is with how well politicians keep their promises it’s likely they’re making turkey sandwiches out of it the next day.

    • Bart Hansen
      November 26, 2021 at 08:26

      And, these two turkeys were white. The turkeys that habit our woods are a brownish charcoal color.

      • Me Myself
        November 26, 2021 at 19:14

        What two turkeys are you talking about…? Aaahhh… That is way 2 funny! And true.

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