The Great Experiment?September 22, 2010
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.