Friday, August 31, 2012

Revenge, hypocrisy and the death penalty

Rick Perry has some catching up to do.

Earlier this week the Iraqi government announced that it had executed 21 prisoners convicted of terrorism, including three women. Last Sunday The Gambia executed nine prisoners, including one woman, by firing squad who had been part of the prior regime before the 1994 coup.

Iraq has now murdered 91 prisoners in 2012 - including mass executions on at least three occasions. President Yahya Jammah of The Gambia has announced he plans to empty the nation's death row by executing the remaining 47 prisoners by mid-September.

We have what we like to think is the best judicial system in the world and yet there are men and women freed from prison every year who were exonerated. If we make mistakes like that with our system, what are the chances the judicial systems in Iraq and The Gambia didn't make mistakes, too?

And what about our protections against coerced confessions? Such protections don't exist in Iraq or in The Gambia. Right to counsel? Right to confrontation? Who knows.

This is the gang the United States likes to run around with. Sure, we dress up nice and pal around with England and the Europeans when everyone's looking - but once the lights go out it's off to hang out with our real pals.

The ones we like to criticize for chopping off a convicted thief's hand. How barbaric we say, wringing our hands, when we're in public. But when that door's closed, we have no problem implementing our own version of an eye for an eye.

Our judicial system isn't perfect. No one's is. That's why, even with the number of safeguards that exist, people are wrongfully convicted. Thankfully our system has a means of escape. Even then, however, men and women sit in prison and miss family milestones like birthdays, holidays, graduations and funerals, waiting for the truth to set them free.

What safeguards exist in the Iraqi judicial system? How about the system in The Gambia? Is there any means in those nations to obtain post-conviction relief?

Anders Breivik murdered 77 people, including more than 60 teenagers, in Norway. He was convicted and sentenced to between 10 to 21 years in prison (though Norwegian law allows the state to hold him indefinitely). There will be no hanging. No firing squad. No electric chair. No lethal injection.

The death penalty is, or at least should be, an anachronism for an advanced society. It serves no purpose other than to allow us to experience the thrill of revenge vicariously. Isn't it time we moved beyond that?

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