[FOUNTAIN]Beg your pardonThe perpetually lit fire in the Temple of Vesta was considered to represent Rome’s fortunes as a city. The six Vestal Virgins, who tended the sacred fire, were sanctified. Even a condemned man being taken to the execution ground was pardoned if he was lucky enough to come across one of the Vestal Virgins on the way. The rulers exploited such a “miracle” to win loyalty from the people.
Enlightenment-period philosophers such as Emmanuel Kant, Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham opposed the concept of a pardon because it seriously undermined the constitution. However, the system of amnesty survived. The motive of amnesty is to realize justice more completely by making up for the shortcomings of the law within the frame of the constitution.
The most disgraceful kind of pardon is one that can be bought with money. The medieval church covered the cost of wars or other expenses by selling indulgences. Former U.S. President Richard Nixon aroused suspicion that he might have received money for his campaign when he arranged a presidential pardon for mafioso Angelo DeCarlo.
Someone who pardons himself or his own political allies also deserves criticism.
Former U.S. President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Mr. Nixon, as soon as he took office. It became one of the reasons that led to his loss to Jimmy Carter, a relatively unknown politician at the time, in the next presidential election.
The chief executives could abuse the system and pardon themselves.
The Supreme Court of Argentina revoked pardons of former junta commanders, ruling them unconstitutional, and put them on trial again.
Last-minute amnesties are also irresponsible. Only a few hours before leaving the office, former U.S. President Bill Clinton granted 141 pardons and 36 commutations, and his move started a discussion to revise the Constitution to prevent the abuse of the presidential pardon.
It is also taboo to grant a pardon immediately after a court decision, because it has the effect of reversing a criminal trial.
In Korea, thousands of convicted criminals are pardoned on every national holiday.
In 2004, the National Assembly revised the law on clemency to require the president to consult with the legislature in advance, but then acting president Goh Kun vetoed the change.
To mark this year’s Liberation Day, the president is planning special pardons again. I wonder which taboo will be broken this time.
by Kim Jin-kook
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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