Before leaving for the holidays, US President George W. Bush on Tuesday commuted the prison sentence of a drug offender and granted 19 pardons, including one to a man who helped the Jewish resistance in the 1940s.
With this latest batch, which includes forgiveness for convictions ranging from gun and drug violations to bank and mail fraud, Bush has granted a total of 191 pardons and nine commutations. That's fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their two terms.
Included in the latest list is Charles Winters, who is considered a hero in Israel.
Winters, who died in the 1980s in Florida, was in the airplane business after World War II. He bought up former military cargo planes
Winters, a Protestant from Boston, could fly his planes in and out of the region without interference from authorities. In 1948, three of his planes left Miami, picked up weapons in Azores and Czechoslovakia and then left the planes and arms in Palestine.
Winters was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act, fined $5,000 and sentenced to serve 18 months in prison. The act is designed to ensure that financial assistance and arms are not provided to parties in foreign conflicts where the US has not taken sides.
Two others, Herman Greenspun and Al Schwimmer, also were convicted of violating the act, but they did not serve time. President Kennedy pardoned Greenspun in 1961. President Clinton pardoned Schwimmer in 2000.
'Punishment unduly harsh and unjust'
Reginald Brown, an attorney who worked on the Winters pardon, said Bush's pardon "rights a historical wrong and honors Charlie's belief that the creation of the Jewish state was a moral imperative of his time. ... Charlie Winters helped shape human history for the better."
Film director Steven Spielberg wrote a letter to Bush appealing for a pardon for Winters.
"There are probably many unsung heroes of America and of Israel, but Charlie Winters is surely one of them," wrote the director of "Schindler's List" and other Oscar-winning movies. "While a pardon cannot make Charlie Winters whole, and regrettably he did not live to see it, it would be a fitting tribute to his memory and a great blessing to his family if this pardon is granted."
The only other pardon granted posthumously in recent years was given to Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. Flipper was drummed out of the Army after white officers accused him of embezzling about $3,800 from commissary funds. Flipper initially discovered the funds missing from his custody and concealed their disappearance from superiors, hoping the money would return.
He was court-martialed, acquitted of embezzlement but convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer, and dishonorably discharged. Flipper went on to a successful civilian career as an engineer and expert in Spanish and Mexican land law. He wrote several books and worked as a special assistant to the US interior secretary.
In 1976, an Army board commuted Flipper's dismissal to a good conduct discharge, concluding that his conviction and punishment were "unduly harsh and unjust." In 1999, Clinton granted him a full pardon.