blogadmin | 15 February, 2009 00:28
Have you ever wondered what the U.S. would say if forced to defend the death penalty to Europe and other regions that have outlawed the punishment as barbaric?
Wonder no more.
Kyle Scott, charges d'affaires of the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, recently delivered a formal response to the European Union's statement of concern on America's use of the death penalty.
Kyle Scott, left, charge d' affaires of the U.S. mission
to the OSCE. At right, German Ambassador Heiner Horsten.
The statement, delivered Feb. 12 in Vienna, went, in part, like this: "We would like to thank the European Union for its routine expression of concern regarding the death penalty in the United States.
"As we have stated on many occasions here in this forum, the use of the death penalty in the United States is a decision of democratically elected governments at the federal and individual state levels. It is not prohibited by international law, nor does capital punishment violate any OSCE commitments. The people of the United States, acting through their freely elected representatives, have chosen, in most states, not to abolish the death penalty.
"The U.S. judicial system provides exhaustive protections to ensure that the death penalty is not applied in an extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary manner. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that capital punishment itself does not violate the U.S. Constitution. Capital punishment may only be carried out subject to the extensive due process and equal protection requirements, and after exhaustive appeals.
"And I would also point out, as we have on numerous occasions, that capital punishment continues to be the subject of vigorous and open discussion among the American people.
"Madame Chairwoman and fellow delegates, while we very much respect the importance that the European Union attaches to this issue and the passion with which they hold those views, we would ask that the European Union's passion not overtake their checking of facts."
The Way Things Work
Scott went on to defend specific state actions in death penalty cases and sum up the way things work in the U.S.: "(T)he United States is a country governed by the rule of the law."
As sincere as Scott may have been in responding to the EU's statement, certain omissions left me concerned that non-Americans would still have an incomplete picture of the death penalty in the U.S.
So I did what any good American would do -- what President Obama would want me to do. I pitched in.
A busy person like Scott surely hasn't the time to clarify and amend things he said days ago, so I resolved to assist him on a volunteer basis by emailing the current president of the European Union, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, just to fill in a few holes.
Mirek Topolanek, Czech Prime Minister and
current European Union President
My email went, in part, like this: "Many Americans agree wholeheartedly with you that the death
penalty should be abolished.
"I felt compelled to write after reading the confusing statement made Thursday by U.S. Mission to the OSCE Chargé d'Affaires Kyle Scott in response to the European Union's stated opposition to the Death Penalty.
"Mr. Scott said, 'The people of the United States, acting through their freely elected representatives, have chosen, in most states, not to abolish the death penalty.' While this is technically true, it hides the fact that, of the 38 states that permit the death penalty, 23 did not execute a single person this year or last.
"His statement is also misleading in its implication that a majority of citizens in death-penalty states support . This is not necessarily so. Exonerations of people on death row, revelations of poor representation and prosecutorial misconduct, and lack of sound evidence that it deters crime have caused Amercians to lose faith in capital punishment, according to a recent survey, which found that 58 percent believe it is time for a moratorium on the death penalty while the process undergoes a careful review.
"Lack of confidence in the death penalty is likely to be higher now. The poll was taken in 2007, and sentiment against it has deepened since then.
"A survey in the death penalty state of Colorado found recently that 63 percent of citizens believe that the three million dollars the state spends per year on the death penalty would be better used to close unsolved murder cases.
"Legislative initiatives to ban or suspend the death penalty are gaining ground in a number of state legislatures.
Even in Texas
"Even in states like my own, Texas, where a majority of citizens voice support for the death penalty, I believe the support is shallow at best, especially among citizens who possess information about the often arbitrary and unjust way in which it is imposed.
"Mr. Scott's assertion that, '(t)he U.S. judicial system provides exhaustive protections to ensure that the death penalty is not applied in an extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary manner,' is true only technically. In many cases, those protections are ineffective because of the way they are, or are not, applied, or because they are undermined by the federal.
"The AEDP was supposed to streamline what critics regarded as frivolous, interminable appeals of death sentences. Since it went into effect, however, the law has been the target of bitter criticsm from attorneys for death row prisoners who have been hindered or prevented from introducing exculpatory evidence because it came to light too long after a prisoner's trial.
" 'We would ask that the European Union's passion not overtake their checking of facts,' Mr. Scott admonished in his response. Perhaps it is Mr. Scott who should exercise caution, lest his passion for presenting the U.S. government's point of view overtake his providing all of the relevant facts."
I hope Kyle Scott doesn't feel obligated to recognize or thank me in any way for adding to his statement about how the death penalty works in the United States.
It's all in a day's work for any patriotic American.
Elizabeth Ann Stein produces EXECUTION WATCH on KPFT FM Houston 90.1, HD-2 and www.executionwatch.org. The program, hosted by Ray Hill, airs at 6 p.m. Central Time any day Texas executes someone. It is designed to counteract the virtual news blackout in the mainstream media when prisoners are executed. She has worked as a political reporter for United Press International, police reporter at a daily newspaper, and an editor for PC Week.