Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Further Death Penalty Reading

The Oklahoma butcher shop has really lit up the death penalty literature the past few days. Here are some suggested reads:

Kathleen Parker in today's WaPo:

I am no passionate opponent of the death penalty. I am rather a dispassionate objector to the premise that taking another’s life, no matter how undeserving he or she may be to draw another breath, brings anything resembling justice to a society too in love with revenge.

Rationally, there is no redeeming return on a death warrant. Instead, by condoning state executions, especially under such controlled, calculated circumstances, we are passively complicit in the taking of a defenseless life. We don’t inject the cocktail, obviously, but by our consent to murder — even if we call it justifiable — we are part of the lion’s den.
Richard Cohen also in the WaPo:
The policy review of executions is inaction in the guise of action. What more is Obama going to find out about capital punishment? He even wrote in his book “The Audacity of Hope” that “the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime.” He already knows that executions can be botched. He already knows that they soil the very government that conducts them, and he already knows that murder is usually a state crime. The president has very little direct authority in this area. The president, though, does have moral authority.

With Obama, it’s just the opposite. His convictions regarding capital punishment waver. He supports it, but only when the crimes are, as he said last week, like “mass killings, the killings of children.” Still, his statements are so laden with caveats and conditions that it seems fair to say that Obama, as befits his background and education, would not weep if the United States joined most of the world and abolished capital punishment. We keep interesting company — North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia and some others. This is not our crowd.

The president doesn’t need a policy review about capital punishment. He just needs the guts to oppose it.
For those unfamiliar with the columnists, neither Parker nor Cohen are what you'd call "liberals" on the political spectrum.

And last, the Constitution Project's 2014 Irreversible Error Report:
Due to foreign and some domesticdrug manufacturers now refusing to provide drugs if they are to be used for executions,prisons have also encountered difficulty in obtaining some drugs previously relied on for this purpose, thus creating acute shortages. In light of these shortages, some states have proceeded with executions using drugs never before used to execute humans. They have also used drugs whose safety and effectiveness cannot be assured because they are manufactured by“compounding pharmacies,” which are not subject to FDA regulation.

The National Academy of Sciences and other well-regarded experts also have raised significant new questions about the scientific reliability of certain forensic disciplines, calling into doubt the convictions in hundreds, if not thousands, of capital and non-capital cases. Faulty eyewitness testimony and false confessions are now known to contribute greatly to wrongful convictions. Perhaps most disconcertingly, in the face of continued evidence of error, mistake and fraud in the administration of the death penalty, the Committee has observed some legislative and court developments that hinder the promotion of fairness in capital cases.
As I've maintained since I began this blog in 2007, the adherents of the death penalty are a loud, vocal and mobilizing group. The wretchedness of homicide and the innocence of victims puts them on a moral plane high above the "elitists" who are opposed to the death penalty. The push back will be fierce.

Dismantling the machinery of death in the U.S. will not happen quickly or easily, no matter how many innocent people we put to death, or how many guilty we butcher in the process. It's a long road the abolitionists know too well.

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