Dear Mr. President,
Forty-five years ago I was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act. Some time later, after completing my parole and graduating from law school, I received a letter from President Carter inviting me to apply for a Presidential pardon. At the time, this opportunity was being afforded to all those who had been convicted of Selective Service Act violations.
But in my case, I believe the offer was a mistake. Indeed, I had been convicted of violating the Selective Service Act, but not for refusing induction into the armed services or refusing to register for the draft. My conviction was for attempting, along with several others, to steal Selective Service files from a draft board office, in particular, to steal all the 1-A files, that is, the files of those young men who were subject to immediate induction.
In response to the invitation to apply for a pardon, I wrote President Carter a letter, telling him that I thought he had made a mistake. I wrote that I thought he was confused — that the government should be applying to me for a pardon, not the other way around. And I wasn’t prepared to offer my government a pardon at that time.
I did not hear back from the President.
Well, I’m getting older now, and for several reasons, I have reconsidered. First, I don’t want to die holding this grudge that I have held onto for nearly half a century.
Second, in the last several years, I have heard many talks, seen a few films, and done some reading about forgiving those responsible for genocides, mass atrocities, and large-scale human rights violations. Often, these have given me much to think about.
Third, I was greatly moved by your visit late last year to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. That was the very prison in which I had begun serving my five-year sentence in November 1971. It was called El Reno Federal Reformatory at that time. I was amazed that you were the first sitting President to have ever visited a federal prison. Your visit showed me you were aware that but for accidents of circumstance often beyond our control, our life experiences could just as easily have been interchanged with those much less fortunate.
So I have decided that it would now be appropriate for me, as an individual, to invite you, as the U.S. government official most responsible for our foreign policy, to apply to me for the pardon that I was unwilling to grant at the time of that exchange of letters with President Carter.
Now, I have never entertained a request for a pardon before, so I don’t have any forms for you to fill out. But I think a simple statement of why the U.S. government should be forgiven for its actions throughout Southeast Asia during those several post-World War II decades should suffice. References to specific crimes would help. I don’t intend to give a blanket, President Nixon-type pardon for everything my government did or may have done. Let’s keep it to the offenses that we know about.
You should also know that this pardon, should it be granted, would come only from me. I have no authority to speak for others harmed by U.S. actions — whether in the U.S. armed forces or in U.S. prisons, or the millions of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians who suffered as a result of our crimes.
But maybe there’s an analogy in the realm of pardons to that saying that if you save one life, you save the entire world. Maybe if you receive a pardon from a single person, from me, it can bring you comfort equivalent to having been pardoned by all the relevant parties, if not the entire world.
Please also be advised that this pardon does not apply to more recent U.S.
crimes, some of which, e.g., failure to seek accountability for U.S.-committed torture, more directly implicate you, Mr. President.
I hope you give strong consideration to accepting this invitation to apply for a pardon for our government’s crimes. Please be assured that, unlike any Supreme Court nominee, your application will be dealt with promptly and forthrightly. You certainly can expect a response from me before the end of your term of office.
I look forward to hearing from you, and I’m sorry it has taken me so long to extend to you this invitation.