Absolute Power Corrupts, Human Rights Protect

November 18, 2011

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  That’s what Lord Acton, an English baron and historian, said back in the 19th century.  A century earlier, and on this side of the pond, Thomas Paine famously wrote:  “An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.”

reggie clemmons
Reggie Clemons

One of the most absolute powers the state can have is the power to kill its prisoners.  There are two death penalty cases featured in this years’ Write for Rights that illustrate how enthusiasm for this ultimate punishment can corrupt the application of otherwise good laws.

Murder is a terrible crime, and making it illegal is a good law.  But in the cases of Reggie Clemons in Missouri, and Fatima Hussein Badi in Yemen, police brutality during the investigations, and over-aggressive prosecutions and inadequate defense during court proceedings have thoroughly derailed any legitimate quest of justice.

Reggie Clemons’ face was so swollen after his interrogation by St. Louis police that the judge arraigning him sent him to the emergency room.  During her interrogation, Fatima Hussein Badi was threatened with rape, and her brother Abdullah, his face bloody from his own interrogation, apparently confessed to the crime to prevent that.  He was executed in 2005.  One of Reggie Clemons’ co-defendants, Marlin Gray, was also executed in 2005, despite being convicted under the same dubious circumstances as Clemons himself.

In both the Clemons and Badi cases a higher court overturned their death sentences, only to be reversed after further intervention.  So Reggie Clemons and Fatima Hussein Badi still face execution.  Please sign up for Write for Rights to join countless others working to prevent these executions.

To prevent future such injustices – to prevent the corruption of laws and to truly uphold human rights – we must take the absolute power of execution away from governments completely.  So please also pledge to work for abolition of the death penalty once and for all.