Berlin — What do the USA, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and North Korea have in common?
The answer may surprise you.
The European Parliament answered this question on October 2nd with passage of a resolution singling out that seemingly disparate list for criticism.
The embarrassing common thread among these six countries: an obsession with putting lots of people to death. The US, its key oil ally Saudi Arabia, its major trading partner China, its targeted enemies of Iran and North Korea, and its puppet ally Iraq all endorse the barbaric state-sanctioned practice of the death penalty, and lead the world in applying that terrible and irreversable sanction.
In a long, detailed EU Parliament resolution, approved almost unanimously by 574 members (only 25 opposed and 39 abstained), the members from all over Europe named people languishing on death rows and threatened with execution in several countries.
That EU resolution specifically highlighted two American death row inmates: Mumia Abu-Jamal in Pennsylvania and Troy Davis in Georgia. Both of these black men were convicted of killing white police officers in trials marred by ineffective defense and gross misconduct by police and prosecutors. The twin defects of ineffectiveness and misconduct are a common feature in many of the three-thousand-plus persons on death rows across America, and especially in the nearly 140 cases that have been overturned thanks to DNA testing or other belatedly discovered proof of innocence.
In the Abu-Jamal and Davis cases, federal and state appeals courts in America have dismissed compelling new evidence of innocence and documented legal improprieties violating the constitutional rights of these two inmates.
In the Davis case, a federal judge in June 2010 rejected professions from four persons who said they lied during Davis’ 1991 trial and also rejected testimony from three witnesses who named the real killer, including one witness who testified to seeing the real killer shoot the policeman.
Both Abu-Jamal and Davis has consistently maintained their innocence.
True, as this EU resolution pointed out, the USA cannot match China, which killed about 5000 inmates last year, but it is was still near the top behind Iran, with 402, Iraq at least 77 and Saudi Arabia with at least 69. In the USA the number executed was 52. The EU delegates also voiced regret at the recent executions of Holly Wood in Alabama and Teresa Lewis in Virginia despite both women being mentally retarded.
It was noted that 154 countries have abolished the death penalty completely or almost completely (with occasional exceptions such as for wartime treason). In Europe only Belarus has failed to do so, while the new constitution of far-off Kyrgyzstan just joined the ranks of those countries which generally agree, as the resolution points out, that “the death penalty is the ultimate cruel and inhuman and degrading punishment, which violates the right to life as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, and “detention conditions created by the death penalty decision amount to torture that is unacceptable to states respecting human rights.”
The EU Parliament resolution reports that “various studies have shown that the death penalty has no effect on trends in violent crime…whereas evidence shows that the death penalty affects first and foremost underprivileged people.”
That conclusion in the EU resolution concerning the class nature of the death penalty mirrors findings of a study on death penalty practices in the USA released in April 1932. This study by then noted statistician Dr. Frederick Hoffman documented how capital punishment was “enforced chiefly against Negroes, aliens and the poor, while the rich and influential succeed for the most part in escaping” execution. Not much has changed since then, with 35% of the 3260 people currently on death row in the US being black and 7% percent being Latino, while nearly all, regardless of race, are from low-income backgrounds.
The EU delegates, after listing cases in other countries where pressure is needed, noted that “35 states in the USA still have the death penalty, although 4 of them have not held executions since 1976” and that while executions increased to 52 in 2009, “some states have moved against the death penalty through measures including a moratorium on executions or its abolition”.
The gradual abolition of the death penalty in the USA relates more to money than morality, as cash-starved states can no longer afford the enormous cost of capital prosecutions and specialized death row prison units. The state of New Jersey, for example, halted death penalty proceedings in 2007 upon discovering that it cost $253 million dollars to secure 60 death sentences, fifty of which were later reversed by courts due to various improprieties.
The double reference to the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal indicates the level of concern in many European countries about his case, considered typical for many others. Abu-Jamal’s case, now 29 years old, is nearing some kind of decision, possibly a fatal one. On November 9, 2010 the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals will conduct a hearing to determine if Abu-Jamal will again face execution or will spend the rest of his life in prison. The court system has already rejected all of Abu-Jamal’s appeals seeking to overturn his conviction.
A delegate of Germany’s LEFT party, Sabine Loesing, who was particularly active in getting this resolution passed, told how happy she was that so many from a wide range of political parties had voted for the resolution and added that she would see to it that the pressure on Catherine Ashton, foreign minister of the European body, would not let up so that she raises the position of the resolution whenever she meets with leaders of states – like the USA – where capital punishment still prevails.
VICTOR GROSSMAN is an American expatriat living in Germany. He contributes occasionally to ThisCantBeHappening!