Monday, April 16, 2001

America can reclaim
moral high ground by
banning death penalty

The issue: Timothy McVeigh is
scheduled to be the first American
in four decades to be executed
by the federal government.

TIMOTHY McVeigh's execution next month will tarnish the U.S. government's claim to be the model practitioner of human rights. While most of the world has become more civilized in recent times, at least on this issue, the United States has added to the list of crimes that allow it to take a person's life. Executions will become part of America's increasingly violent fabric unless they are brought to an end.

McVeigh's execution will be shown by closed-circuit TV to relatives of the Oklahoma City bombing for which he was responsible, but it will not be televised to the general public. However, it will be no less part of a Jerry Springer-like circus to which many Americans are accustomed.

Just as they cling to Wild West notions of an armed society, they look to the death penalty as a fitting climax at the OK Corral.

Compounding this barbarity is the utter tragedy that sometimes the wrong person is put on death row.

Twenty-three prisoners later found to have been innocent were executed from 1900 to 1987. Last week, Donald Manuel Paradis walked out of an Idaho courtroom as the 96th death-row inmate released since 1973 because post-trial evidence proved their innocence.

The number of innocents still awaiting exoneration is unknown.

The federal government has not executed anyone in 40 years. Juan Raul Garza, convicted in Texas of murdering three other drug traffickers, had been scheduled to be put to death in December, but President Clinton postponed Garza's execution after receiving disturbing information about racial implications of the federal system of lethal retribution.

McVeigh is one of only three white inmates among the 24 men on the federal death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Of the seven military servicemen awaiting execution, only one is white. The same racial imbalance has been present in state systems, which have executed more than 700 people since the U.S. Supreme Court once again made capital punishment legal in 1976. Of inmates now on state death rows, 36 percent are black, although blacks comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population.

Hawaii has no death penalty so has been able to watch this from afar. The U.S. Justice Department seems to have avoided seeking a death sentence in the 12 states without capital punishment until last month, when it tried but failed to convince a federal jury in Massachusetts to order the execution of a nurse convicted of giving lethal injections to four patients.

In the Massachusetts case, Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Welch called the murders barbaric and morally repugnant. The description may be apt, but the question is whether justice is served when the government retaliates with a barbaric and immoral act.

More than half the countries of the world agree that it is not, having abandoned capital punishment either by statute or in practice. That leaves the United States in the company of China, Iran and Iraq among the countries that many regard to be violators of human rights.

The United States never will be able to legitimately claim the high ground and lecture other countries on morality until it abandons the right to execute its own people.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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