Fighting Crime Without the Death Penalty


This was the answer given by Former Detective Superintendent Bob Denmark of Lancashire, England when asked what people in the UK thought about the execution of Teresa Lewis. “[People] are no safer now than we were before her death,” added Ronald Hampton, a former D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Community Relations Officer and past Executive Director of the National Black Police Association.

Denmark, who has investigated over 100 homicides in the U.K. as well as genocide in Africa, and Hampton were joined by Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey and Senior Portuguese Public Prosecutor Antonio Cluny at the National Press Club yesterday to share European and American law enforcement perspectives on fighting crime with and without the death penalty.  They discussed whether the death penalty helps or hurts in keeping citizens safe, healing victims, and using crime-fighting resources efficiently.

The short answer to those questions: no. We are no safer because the death penalty is enforced, victims are not healed due to the long and drawn-out process of the death penalty, and our financial resources are not being used effectively. They should be used to train and educate police forces and communities, instead of for “deterrent” purposes.

We are inundated with facts and statistics that tell us the death penalty serves no deterrent function.  What is more powerful, though, is listening to a man who has investigated over 100 homicide cases tell you that he thinks the deterrence argument for the death penalty is “ridiculous.” A child molester, Denmark elaborated, is not deterred from his crimes by the fact that a homicidal terrorist is on death row for his murders. Offenders don’t premeditate getting caught.

But we’ve heard the deterrence argument before, and the obsolete nature of the death penalty goes far beyond its uselessness in preventing crime. Cluny noted that in Portugal, where the death penalty was abolished in 1864, violent crime rates are significantly lower than in other countries, including retentionist countries. Yes, murder still occurs in Portugal, but no one has tried to reintroduce the death penalty. “The first human right,” Cluny said, “is the right to live.”

Alex Trimble contributed to this post.

Portugal’s Bold Initiative Highlights U.S. Hypocrisy on Guantanamo

Last week Portugal offered to accept some Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release by the Pentagon but who cannot return to their home countries. In a letter to his counterparts in other European Union countries, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado urged them to do the same. Portugal’s commendable initiative is based on a recognition that it is no longer acceptable for European governments to sit back and carp from the sidelines.

(c) US DoD

(c) US DoD

Closing Guantanamo simply cannot be accomplished without other governments’ assistance in resettling some of the detainees.  According to the New York Times, Luis Serradas Tavares, a legal adviser in Portugal’s foreign ministry, acknowledged that the Portuguese people probably would be hesitant to accept detainees who had been labeled dangerous terrorists by the U.S., but he added that his government was nevertheless willing to do so because “the U.S. has assured us that these people are the least dangerous people.”

It is past time for the U.S. to follow its own advice to European governments and Portugal’s example. In the case of 17 Chinese Uighurs, who belong to a persecuted ethnic, religious (Muslim), and linguistic minority in China, the U.S. continues to vehemently oppose efforts by their lawyers to get them admitted into the U.S. Most of the Uighurs have long been cleared for release, and they never should have been sent to Guantanamo in the first place.

In classic Orwellian fashion, the Pentagon has reclassified them as “no longer enemy combatants” (NLEC). There is a community of Uighurs in the Washington, DC, area that is fully prepared to assist the Uighur detainees, including by providing housing and employment assistance to help put these men on the path to becoming self-supporting. Releasing them into the United States clearly is the best option for them, as there are very few other places where there is already a well-established Uighur community that speaks the same language and can provide such a range of support services for these men.

However, the U.S. persists in keeping the Uighurs in a “Catch-22” bind by arguing both that (1) the Uighurs no longer pose a threat to U.S. national security but (2) they are inadmissible under U.S. immigration laws, which automatically deem foreign nationals who have received “weapons training” abroad to be dangerous. (At least some of the Uighurs allegedly received some training in the use of firearms in Afghanistan after they fled there from China.)

This matter is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The rest of the world is watching to see what the U.S. does about the Uighurs, whose plight Amnesty International has called a “monstrous absurdity.” As U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina found in October, the U.S. government has never produced a shred of credible evidence that the Uighurs in any way pose a danger to the U.S. As long as the U.S. continues to stubbornly insist on its internally contradictory argument, reluctance by other governments to follow Portugal’s example is likely to persist.