Monday, February 11, 2008

“Deserves Got Nothin to Do With It”

First of all, let me get this out of the way—I am NOT opposed to the death penalty. I'm not a "hang 'em high" guy, but a fairly administered, properly tried and convicted, and humanely executed prisoner convicted of a heinous crime is not a problem for me. Sorry if that's contrary to the rest of my (or your) liberalness, but that's the way I feel. What I am opposed to is the manner in which the death penalty is employed in this country...racial bias, bullshit trial processes (ie: Texas), and horrendously cruel procedures. Death rows are littered with innocent men, and I believe there should be a moratorium on the death penalty nationwide until every one of those problems is addressed. So here's why I bring this up...
US may ask death for 9-11 suspects

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is planning to charge six detainees at Guantanamo Bay for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America and seek the death penalty.

[...] Military prosecutors also will ask for the death penalty for the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, according to a second official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.

Among those held at Guantanamo is Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the attack six years ago in which hijacked planes were flown into buildings in New York and Washington. Five others are expected to be named in sworn charges.

"The department has been working diligently to prepare cases and bring charges against a number of individuals who have been involved in some of the most grievous acts of violence and terror against the United States and our allies..."

[...] The men would be tried in the military tribunal system that was set up by the administration shortly after the start of the counterterror war and has been widely criticized for it rules on legal representation for suspects, hearings behind closed doors and past allegations of inmate abuse at Guantanamo. Original rules allowed the military to exclude the defendant from his own trial, permitted statements made under torture, and forbade appeal to an independent court; but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the system in 2006 and a revised plan has included some additional rights...

This is crap. NONE of these guys should be executed. Period. Bush has made such a mockery of the judicial process in handling every aspect of this that I'm not even sure the words "judicial process" apply. It is a kangaroo court in every sense of the phrase. Coerced confessions, torture, no evidence, secret witnesses, trials without the defendants, no appeals, no review, no disclosure. There is no reason to believe any of the evidence, testimony or verdicts in any of this. None.

There is no doubt in my mind that people involved in the 9/11 attacks deserve the death penalty—if properly and fairly tried and convicted. None of these men were. None of them.

This is a feel-good, red-meat-to-the-base exercise and political move on the part of the Administration to impact the election, give the appearance of progress and closure, and an issue to use as a wedge. There is nothing about justice associated with it.

Thanks for fucking that all up too, Mr President.

22 comments:

VMH said...

a fairly administered, properly tried and convicted, and humanely executed prisoner convicted of a heinous crime is not a problem for me.

But what does that system look like? A system that is 99% effective kills 1 innocent out of 100. 99.9% is 1 in 1000. What is an acceptable error rate?

And setting aside the pragmatic, philosphically my oppostion to the death penalty is because what it says about me more than it says about the criminal. The guilty deserve it but I choose not to take a life, mainly based upon a belief that I am better than those who choose to take life.

steves said...

I'll have to poke around, but I believe there is some research that shows there is not a racial bias in the death penalty. That being said, I am opposed to the death penalty. I suppose if they came up with a system to guarantee that the innocent wouldn't be put to death, I may change my mind, but the fact that they have exonerated people on death row is enough to tell me it isn't worth it.

I believe there are some people that deserve to die, but our system is inadequate.

Mr Furious said...

I believe there are some people that deserve to die, but our system is inadequate.

Boil my post down, and that's what you get.

I'm just not philosophically opposed like many lefties. It's a practical objection for me.

As for your non-racial bias research, I'd be curious to see it, but I can tell you right now, I likely won't believe it.

John Howard said...

I'm just not philosophically opposed like many lefties. It's a practical objection for me.

Yeah, me too. I have no problem executing someone if you can be absolutely sure that they killed someone, and that they knew what they were doing, but there's way too much chance of executing an innocent person for me to be ok with it.

What is an acceptable error rate?

That's what it ultimately comes down to, there just isn't one for me. Even on in a billion. It sounds ok, unless you're the one, then it sucks pretty badly. And someone is that one.

he guilty deserve it but I choose not to take a life, mainly based upon a belief that I am better than those who choose to take life.

I don't really get this argument. Taking the life of a murderer is not the same as taking the life of an innocent victim. If you're just looking to be better than the murderer, then that's enough of a distinction to me.

Mr Furious said...

Here's a ruling from the NEbraska Supreme Court addressing the use of the electric chair:

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Nebraska was the last state to use the electric chair as a method of execution--until the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional today. From Justice William Connolly's opinion:

“We recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer. But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it. Condemned prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes. And the evidence clearly proves that unconsciousness and death are not instantaneous for many condemned prisoners. These prisoners will, when electrocuted, consciously suffer the torture that high voltage electric current inflicts on the human body. The evidence shows that electrocution inflicts intense pain and agonizing suffering. Therefore, electrocution as a method of execution is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Nebraska Constitution.”

The ruling doesn't strike down the death penalty, just this particular method. In case you forgot, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections across the country runs afoul of the Eighth Amendment.


--

I pretty much agree wholeheartedly with that ruling. As for the lethal injection, a death row inmate (in Tennessee?)just lost an appeal to the Supreme Court arguing the particular drug protocol was cruel and unusual. Since that particular drug protocol has been banned by Veteranarians for euthanizing animals I tend to agree and thjink that guy got screwed.

People are mistaken if they think lethal injection is necessarily more humane or less cruel. The descriptions of what happens to the person undergoing that three drug cocktail is harrowing.

Mr Furious said...

Getting back to the 9/11 guys, I'm not sure how connected these guys are either...

As for the objections from the rest of the world, if this was an airtight case, I wouldn't care about that. Not right off the bat anyway. It might be worth weighing in the grand picture whether future cooperation from other countries is more important (I say yes) than executing these guys...

Something I'm sure the with-us-or-against-us morons are likely ignoring.

--

Interesting hypothetical...if the Bushies are okay with torture, wouldn't these guys be too valuable to kill? Doesn't it make more sense to keep them around and available? A dead body can't give up any names. Or is it possible, they're not actually useful, have no info, or the torture doesn't really work except to collect false confessions...

steves said...

"As for your non-racial bias research, I'd be curious to see it, but I can tell you right now, I likely won't believe it."

I should note, that there is evidence that the race of the victim plays a role. What evidence do you have that there is a racial bias to executions?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the racial breakdown of those executed is 34% black and 57% white. It should also be noted that blacks account for 47% of murderers and whites 37%. If you look at those numbers, then it appears that white murderers are more likely to be executed.

When I read about an especially heinous crime (especially one involving a murdered child), then my opposition to the death penalty weakens, but then I realize that we can't have a system of justice based on emotion and feelings. In the end, I don't think our society sees any benefit from having the death penalty and I am glad to live in a state that doesn't have it, nor will I vote to reinstate it.

Mr Furious said...

Get back to me with some numbers on the breakdown of death row inmates, and death sentences, not just actual executions...

VMH said...

I don't really get this argument. Taking the life of a murderer is not the same as taking the life of an innocent victim. If you're just looking to be better than the murderer, then that's enough of a distinction to me.

Maybe I can explain better. I am not arguing that a truly guilty person does not deserve the death penalty (at least for some extremely heinous crimes). The person does.

But if we are justified in executing a person but choose not to because we hold ourselves to a higher moral standard. It is not about the criminal, it is about us.

Pragmatically, the problem is society does not have a long enough memory. 'Life means life', not until you find religion or when you become old and pathetic or we don't want to pay to house a person anymore.

And the only exception I make is if a compelling case can be made where the execution benefits the society at a high level.

For example, Is Iraqi society better off since Saddam's execution? I think there might be an argument for that even if you have an issue with how it was carried out.

steves said...

Current death row population:

41.7% black
45.3% white
5% hispanic

There are some studies that show racism to be a factor, so take your pick. Anti-death penalty groups tout one and pro-death penalty groups tout another. I am already against it, so it won't change my mind.

Toast said...

Yeah, me too. I have no problem executing someone if you can be absolutely sure that they killed someone, and that they knew what they were doing, but there's way too much chance of executing an innocent person for me to be ok with it.

Any chance whatsoever of executing an innocent person -- any non-zero value you want to plug into that variable -- is unacceptable to me, especially since there is simply nothing on the other side of the equation in terms of benefit to society to balance out that horrifying outcome (assuming your morality allows you to believe that, in theory, some benefit could provide that balance, which my morality does not).

Man, that was a long sentence.

Smitty said...

I think part of the racal bias argument (which I agree ith, by the way..that the bias exists) resides in the overrepresentation of African Americans (or really any ethnic minority group) in prison.

Blacks account for 12.8% of the the population in America. However, they account for 41.7% of the death row population. Whites account for 80% of the total population, but 45.3% of the death row population.

Smells a lot like bias.

I do recognize that the overrepresentation comes from a ton of variables: poverty, poor economics in certain regions, urban schools, poor schools, etc. But good ol' fashioned racism is certainly a part of it.

The U.S. Government Accounting Office found "In 82% of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.

Since 1976, 15 whites were executed who murdered blacks. However, in the same time period, 223 blacks were executed who murdered whites. Again, it just smacks of bias to me.

I don't think anyone will ever devise a fool-proof capital punishment system. Thus, I can't support this one.

Now, vigilante justice...well...

Chris Howard said...

As others have said, being against anything but a perfect capital punishment system effectively makes you anti-capital punishment. I agree that there are some people that deserve to die, but I don't trust the state to make that decision. As Toast alludes to, I really don't see any upside in the death penalty. It's not a deterrent, it's impossible to administer fairly and with perfect accuracy, and even it it was possible to do that, what does society get out of killing that they don't get out of life in prison? If the only answer is revenge, it's a bad idea.

S.W. Anderson said...

Excellent post and discussion. I'm with Furious and the rest on this: no problem with the death penalty in principle, but find the system too flawed overall to be acceptable.

That's why a governor of Illinois shut down that state's death row a few years back. Too many death-row inmates were cleared by DNA or other compelling evidence.

OTOH, I had no problem with California executing Richard Alan Davis, the kidnapper, rapist and murderer of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. There was absolutely no doubt about his guilt. Indeed, he proudly proclaimed it and rubbed it in the face of the girl's parents. Davis was beyond evil. Good riddance.

Probably the main reason pro-death-penalty people hold that position is how for too long too many killers and other violent convicts had a way of being put back out on the street to commit more crimes. If a life sentence would really mean just that, there would probably be less entusiasm for executions.

S.W. Anderson said...

Re: the Guantanamo prisoners who are about to be tried.

What do you suppose the chances are that Bush & Co. wants them tried and executed before the next administration comes in so they won't be around to tell tales about being tortured?

No proof, just a thought.

Mike said...

I'm also firmly anti-death penalty but for different reasons than everyone's laid out here: I'm not at all philosophocally opposed to it. In fact, I'm quite convinced that in an absolute sense, murderers certainly deserve to die.

But my practical objections have little to do with racism or error rate. I simply don't want "the state" to have the power to kill people. I accept -- and embrace -- that one of the legitimate roles of "the state" is protecting the populace. And that's why I accept the power of the state to arrest, try, convict, and incarcerate accused criminals.

But that power to take away an individual's liberty is a great one. I don't take it lightly. Nevertheless, because incarceration is a foolproof method to remove a danger from society, I accept it.

But since execution isn't any more effective than incarceration in accomplishing the only legitimate responsibility of the criminal justice system -- protection -- I can't support it.

steves said...

Mike raises and excellent point and I agree that I am not totally comfortable with the state having this power. It also seems very arbitrary. Whether you get executed depends on a lot of variables:

-Where the crime occured.
-The opinion of the PA.
-The make up of the jury.
-The quality of your attorney.
-The nature of the crime.

Mr Furious said...

Good points all around, people. I'm a bit surprised I didn't get anyone vehemently opposed philosophilcally. For many libs this is a make-or-break issue.

I guess it boils down to being comfortable thinking perhaps some crimes or people deserve to die, versus comfortability with the state carrying it out fairly or having that power...

Boy, Mrs F gets fired up on the subject, she is pretty hardcore pro, and with fewer reservations...she had to deal with a lot of shit as a social worker in NYC and it really opened her eyes to the dark side of human nature and who/what does damage to society.

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So, death penalty in general aside, thoughts specific to this 9/11 case? More or less skepticism or reservations from anyone?

Chris Howard said...

I'm very skeptical about these Guantanamo prisoners. I figure maybe Bush wants to show everyone that hey, we really do have dangerous criminals here. But whatever reservations I have against the administration of the death penalty in general go through the roof for these military tribunals. As you said, I certainly don't trust a rube goldberg kangaroo court system, thrown together for the sole purpose of avoiding true court oversight. And why the death penalty? Again, what is the upside other than vengeance? If these guys are found guilty through a fair due process of law, throw them in the supermax. And I don't care how much money it costs to house prisoners. That's the duty of the state. Besides, a properly administered death penalty system would cost more.

Mike said...

As to the 9/11 prisoners, I'm with you all the way, Furious. As an American -- and as a lawyer -- this whole lack of due process (notice of the charge, right to counsel, open tribunal, rules of evidence, opportunity for review, etc.) combined with a death sentence is medieval justice.

It's an outrage.

I went into the whole death penalty issue because, to me, the Guantanemo question isn't even debatable. Anyone who takes seriously the traditions of Anglo-American law, but doesn't vehemently oppose this abomination, is lying. To himself and to all those who listen.

They want vengeance, not justice. And they should just come right out and say that.

Mr Furious said...

They want vengeance, not justice. And they should just come right out and say that.

In a sense they are (saying as much). It's so transparent that's what this is about, and unfortunately, too much of the country is with them. I'm not sure they'd suffer for it if they said it.

Because Bush fucked up catching OBL and everybody else at the beginning, there has been no closure and and the country is still hungry for somebody's head on a platter.

KSM and the other five chumps will do nicely, and in an election year too. What a surprise.

steves said...

I agree that the current system is messed up, but the use of tribunals for 'unlawful combatants' has a history of being ok (see Ex parte Quirin). The circumstances were different, though. IIRC, they had lawyers, but couldn't appeal the decision of the tribunal.