US Courts Best Equipped To Fight Terror

Yesterday in Manhattan federal court, with a minimum of fuss, Arid Uka was charged with first degree murder.

Uka, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, allegedly murdered two US servicemen and wounded two others in an assault on a bus full of USAF personnel at Frankfurt International Airport in March 2011.

Uka reportedly told German authorities that he was seeking revenge for the US invasion of Afghanistan and had been stirred to action after watching videos on YouTube. He claimed to be acting alone and said that he was not affiliated to any terrorist group.

Uka is currently detained in Germany and the United States is seeking his extradition to stand trial in New York. No one in New York has bleated about security fears or called for Uka to be sent to GTMO. The wheels of justice grind on slow and sure.

What a contrast with Kentucky where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been calling hysterically for two Iraqi refugees recently arrested in his state to be shipped to Guantanamo post haste without due process of law so that he can sleep safely in his bed at night once more.


The Great Experiment?

In a recent report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  the US touted its human rights record and argued that:

The American experiment is a human experiment; the values on which it is based, including a commitment to human rights are clearly engrained in our own national conscience…

Yet US commitment to the death penalty, which only a shrinking minority of other nations still supports, belies these grandiose words.  A commitment to executions fundamentally conflicts with a commitment to human rights.

There have been around a thousand executions since former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously declared that “the death penalty experiment has failed,” arguing succinctly that “…the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.”

A new short Amnesty International document illustrates just how pervasive these errors are, drawing just on cases from this month.  In Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and Washington state we have seen executions scheduled, and sometimes carried out, despite blatantly atrocious lawyering, clear racial bias, and defendants whose diminished capacity should have made them ineligible for the death penalty.  These cases show that our capital punishment system continues to be “little more than a lottery, with outcomes affected by issues such as prosecutorial resources, electoral politics, race, defence representation, jury composition, and so on.”

And just yesterday we saw an inmate, Brandon Rhode, rescheduled for execution three days after his life was saved following a suicide attempt.  The cruelty and absurdity, and completely arbitrary nature of American capital punishment has been on full display this month.  If the US wants its “commitment to human rights” to be taken seriously, it will have to give up its experiment with the death penalty.

Suicide By Court

Lethal injection kit © AI

Lethal injection kit © AI

On November 21, Kentucky is set to execute Marco Allen Chapman, who was sentenced to death for the murder of two children in 2002.  He rejected efforts to defend him at trial, and has refused to pursue any appeals.  Since the moment of his arrest, when he asked police to shoot him in the head, Chapman has been trying to commit “state-assisted suicide”, or “suicide by Court”.  Next Friday, Kentucky may well grant him his wish.

Such voluntary executions are not a rare occurrence.  About 130, or more than 10% of all executions since 1977, have been “volunteers”.  In some states with a small number of executions (Connecticut, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota), “volunteers” have been the only prisoners successfully put to death. 

The state should not be in the business of killing, even (or maybe especially) when a prisoner wants to be killed.  The state’s participation in this kind of lurid charade is unseemly and degrading.  Tell Kentucky Governor Beshear to prevent this “voluntary” execution!