By Dave Lindorff
Willie James Sauls is unlikely to see the outside of a prison. Last fall a court in the state of Texas sentenced this 37-year-old man to 45 years in jail. His crime: he snatched the purse from an old woman.
In Norway, meanwhile, a court sentenced Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing racist who slaughtered 77 people, mostly teenagers, and injured several hundred, to 21 years in prison, with an option for that detention to be extended by five-year increments if he is determined to be still dangerous. Otherwise, the 32-year-old, if considered rehabilitated, could be released at the age of 53.
In the 1970s and "80s, Germany was rocked by killings committed by a radical left group called the Red Army Faction. Its members killed over 30 people, including prosecutors and industrialists. Eventually its leaders were caught and convicted, but by 2007, almost a decade after the Red Army Faction had announced its own dissolution, those still in prison were pardoned by the country's president.
It is beyond inconceivable to imagine a US president, governor or even a judge, releasing a prisoner from a US jail who had committed the kind of offenses committed by either Breivik or members of Germany's Red Army Faction. It is, in fact, hard to imagine any political leader in the US pardoning purse-snatcher Willie James.
This is, after all, a country that hounded a 26-year-old internet activist, Aaron Swartz, into committing suicide, after a federal prosecutor threatened him with 35 years in jail -- this for the heinous crime of copyright violation (in a protest action he had publicly hacked an MIT server and downloaded hundreds of academic papers which a private contractor wanted to charge for!).
Right-wing Americans love to call the US a "nanny state," claiming that the federal government is always trying to pass laws regulating people's lives. What the US really is, though, is a "puni-state" -- a nation that thrives on vengeance and retribution, and that rejects the whole notion of rehabilitation or character change.