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Guilty or Innocent, Who the Hell Cares?

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Am I Too Late for the Gonzales Death Penalty Fight?

I certainly hope not, but it's been four or five days and news gets old pretty quick. Alberto Gonzales, who never met a death-row inmate he wouldn’t put away in a heartbeat, has now given himself the ability to ‘fast-track’ executions through the Justice Department.

Fast-track. Get 'em dead quicker, courtesy of your ever-efficient, no-holds-barred Justice Department. Just another little unnoticed paragraph the DOJ slipped into the Patriot Act. You remember the Patriot Act—it’s the panic legislation no one dared vote against (and no one bothered to read), that we now have to live with.

Except for those on any of the nation’s various death rows. They can die with it.

How many are there? Thousands no doubt. California has almost 700, currently waiting in the wings. Illinois had 156 before George Ryan commuted their sentences.
Advocates of capital punishment claim it deters crime, prevents recidivism, and is an appropriate form of punishment for the crime of murder. There’s absolutely no doubt about death preventing recidivism, along with tooth decay, heart attacks, bad breath and adultery.

We might want to take some hints from China. Along with being our favorite target for civil rights abuses, they are the world’s foremost proponent of capital punishment. Over 3,000 last year. The Chinese don’t mess around and they have a lot to teach us. Listen up, Alberto.
(Wikipedia) In China, some inmates are executed by firing squad, but it has been decided that all executions will be by lethal injection in the future. These lethal injections are often performed via mobile Iveco execution vans.
Well, there you have it—sort of like the BookMobile. There’s always someone with a better way. We have long had wheat harvesters, who follow the crops across the Dakotas with huge combines, saving farmers the individual cost of expensive machinery.

Now, taking a leaf out of the China book, the various states that still have capital punishment, can shut down their local death chambers, stop worrying about the medical controversy surrounding doctors unwilling to carry out lethal injections, avoid the placard-carrying objectors and just dial up Death-On-Wheels.

Alberto’s beloved Texas--a leadership state if there ever was one--leads the parade in killing its citizens as well. 370 in the past thirty years. One a month and an extra ten for good luck.

Gonzales himself was George Bush’s personal Dr. Death during the prez’s days as governor of the Lone Star State. 152 walked that last mile in the bush years, a record for governors.
(Atlantic Monthly) On the morning of May 6, 1997, Governor George W. Bush signed his name to a confidential three-page memorandum from his legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, and placed a bold black check mark next to a single word: DENY.
It was the twenty-ninth time a death-row inmate's plea for clemency had been denied in the twenty-eight months since Bush had been sworn in. In this case Bush's signature led, shortly after 6:00 P.M. on the very same day, to the execution of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded thirty-three year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old.

Hmmmm. And we accuse China of civil rights abuse. Mentally incompetent. Another bold move for humanity by virtue of the Bush bold black check-mark. Helluva job, George.
(Washington Post) Some Democratic lawmakers have questioned Gonzales's judgment about the death penalty, including his refusal to hear the concerns of a federal prosecutor in Arizona, Paul K. Charlton, who argued against pursuing a death sentence in a case in which no body had been recovered.

Charlton and several other U.S. attorneys were fired last year in part because of clashes with Gonzales and his aides over death penalty issues, according to documents and testimony. Both Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, have supported the aggressive use of death penalty authority in the federal courts.

So, now to hell with the federal courts. This worst of all Attorney Generals in the history of the United States is, by virtue of pulling a fast-one in the Congress, is going to have his way. A way that works against the national will, which is moving ever away from killing in the name of the state. The very phrase “killing in the name of the state” sounds like something more of Russia or Uganda than America. Except they’ve grown past it in Uganda, now that Idi Amin is gone.

According to Wikipedia, executions are known to have been carried out last year in the following 26 countries: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, North Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, the United States of America, Vietnam, Yemen.

What excellent company we keep. With the exception of Japan, not a country you would allow your daughter to date. China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan all beat Alberto at his own game, but he’s not a guy to play second banana in the killing fields. He’s fourteenth banana by all other measurements of executive and legal acumen, but by god, Gonzales is a killer par excellence.
(Atlantic Monthly) During Bush's six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas—a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history. Each time a person was sentenced to death, Bush received from his legal counsel a document summarizing the facts of the case, usually on the morning of the day scheduled for the execution, and was then briefed on those facts by his counsel; based on this information Bush allowed the execution to proceed in all cases but one. The first fifty-seven of these summaries were prepared by Gonzales.
Then he went on to sit on the Texas Supreme Court.
(Washington Post) Kathryn Kase, a Houston lawyer who serves on the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' death penalty committee, said the Justice Department's proposed regulations are "severely lacking" because they do not provide enough oversight to ensure that defendants are receiving adequate legal counsel.

"In our judgment they allow states to . . . claim they have a capital representation case that is functional, when in fact it might not be functional at all," Kase said. "It may not prevent people from being wrongfully sentenced to death."

How many wrongfully on death row? How many innocent men and women, railroaded by aggressive prosecutors and deficient counsel? No one knows.

DNA evidence proved the innocence of eleven men on the Illinois death row alone. Governor George Ryan declared a blanket commutation of all death sentences for those in the Illinois prison system as he left office. He declared that the rate of DNA reversals of guilt threw an unacceptable cloud over all capital cases.

One wonders how long we Americans will be willing to stand alongside the likes of Somalia (and Alberto Gonzales) in the ritual state killing of our citizens—guilty or innocent.
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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