Let's hope Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, is wrong when he predicts that Oliver North will never go to trial for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Mitchell expects President Reagan to pardon North before the retired Marine lieutenant colonel's March trial on charges ranging from conspiracy and theft to obstruction of justice.Mitchell's Republican colleague from Maine and co-author of a book about the Iran-Contra hearings, Sen. William Cohen, says he doesn't expect a pre-trial pardon and would not support one.
A White House press spokesman, however, had no comment when asked by the Deseret News if Reagan has ruled out that possibility.
It is easy to imagine reasons why the president would want to keep North out of court. The man who directed the Iran arms sales and Contra fund diversion program has requested access to numerous classified government documents for use in his defense. He has also threatened to subpoena the president and vice president to testify if he's brought to trial.
A post-election pardon would not harm George Bush's electoral chances and, if Bush should win the White House, would rid him in advance of a touchy problem.
But, while a pardon might be politically advantageous to Bush, it would be a disservice to society and to justice. Americans deserve to know the truth about one of the nation's most serious governmental scandals of this century and to submit the actions of their public servants to judgment. If North or any other defendant merits special consideration, there is plenty of time for mercy later.
The idea that a pre-trial pardon is necessary to protect national security is a red herring. The president still has executive privilege and other legal doctrines with which to protect information that legitimately should not be made public.
To suggest that the courts themselves are either without concern for national security or incapable of addressing it is an insult to the judiciary.
Serious charges have been leveled against North. The nation deserves to know whether he violated the law and the public trust.