WASHINGTON -- In a gesture of forgiveness for a decades-old offense, President Bush on Tuesday granted a pardon posthumously to a man who broke the law to supply aircraft to Jews fighting in Israel's 1948 war of independence.
Charles Winters, a Miami businessman considered a hero in Israel, was listed in a batch of 19 pardons and one commutation that Bush issued before leaving for Camp David to spend the holidays. No high-profile lawbreakers were on the list.
Winters' son, Jim, had found out about his father's daring missions and imprisonment only after his death in 1984.
"I'm overwhelmed," Jim Winters, a Miami maker of artistic neon signs, said in a telephone interview. "It happened 16 years before I was born. He went to jail and he didn't want his kids to know. He was old-school and proud."
Winters, a Protestant from Boston, was convicted in 1949 for violating the Neutrality Act for conspiring to export aircraft to a foreign country. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 18 months in prison. 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.
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 190 pardons and nine commutations. That's fewer than half as many as presidents Clinton or Ronald Reagan issued during their two terms.
Well-known names were not on Bush's holiday pardon list. There have been efforts to get Bush to pardon former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, who was convicted in 2000 with four others in a scheme to rig riverboat casino licensing; disgraced track star Marion Jones, who lied about using steroids; Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, former U.S. Border Patrol agents who were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler in 2005 and trying to cover it up; and Michael Milken, junk bond king who was convicted of securities fraud.
In his most high-profile official act of forgiveness, Bush saved Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, from serving any prison time in the case of the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
Libby was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice. Bush could still grant him a full pardon, although Libby has not applied for one.