By H.D.S. Greenway
December 5, 2003
IS America so eager to put people to death?
General John Ashcroft's advocacy of capital punishment is second
to none. He took the unusual step of taking the Washington area
sniper suspects away from Maryland and sent them to Virginia
simply because Virginia was more likely to execute them. And
in Arkansas a paranoid schizophrenic prisoner on death row is
being force-fed antipsychotic medication just to make him sane
enough to execute.
leads the world when it comes to executions, but the United
States is either third or fourth after Iran and possibly Saudi
Arabia. The United States leads the world in executing child
offenders, however, and stands alongside Somalia as the only
countries refusing to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of
Children, which bars child executions.
most of Europe, the death penalty has gone into historical oblivion
along with the rack, the iron maiden, and other medieval methods
of dispatching people. Europeans look with horror at America's
predilection for capital punishment, just as many Americans
look upon stoning a woman to death for adultery in the Third
World. Americans think nothing of criticizing other cultures
and other societies for asking women to wear veils without a
backward glance to those millions around the world who find
capital punishment a lot more repugnant.
country applying for membership in the European Union can hope
to join if it has a death penalty. Legal executions are no longer
considered acceptable as civilized behavior. The European Union
and the 45-nation Council of Europe have called for an end to
capital punishment under any circumstances worldwide. Amnesty
International says 111 countries have given up the death penalty
"in law or in practice."
what? John Ashcroft might say. Europeans are from Venus and
Americans from Mars. Who cares what Europeans think? The United
States is the most powerful country ever known to man. Why can't
it do what it wants? Terrorists deserve nothing less anyway.
when it comes to terrorism, there is a direct and adverse link
between the death penalty and our national security. Harvard's
Jessica Stern, a student of terrorism, writes that "our
insistence on applying the death penalty to international terrorists
is causing us multiple problems. . . . Because of its opposition
to the death penalty, the European Parliament has prohibited
extraditions of terrorists to the United States for trial without
commitment to waive capital punishment."
points out that even Britain, our closest ally, "has put
the United States on notice that British soldiers will not turn
bin Laden over to the United States if they manage to capture
him unless the death penalty is waived."
Kaiser, director emeritus of the German Council on Foreign Relations,
told me that although the Germans work very closely with Americans
combating terrorism, their hands are tied when it comes to extradition
because of America's insistence on death. "But this is
an American problem, not a European problem," said Kaiser.
result is that Al Qaeda operatives are treated in haphazard
ways. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Stern points out, stands accused
of seeking nuclear weapons for Al Qaeda. Yet he will not face
the death penalty because the Germans insisted on a death waiver
before they would hand him over. While Khalfan Khamis Mohamed,
a relatively low-ranking jihadi involved in the Tanzania Embassy
bombing, faced the death penalty, a New York jury sensibly decided
to sentence him to life in prison without parole.
has been described as the jumping-off place for Islamic terrorists
bent on infiltrating and harming the United States. European
cities are ringed by Muslim slums where clerics preach violence
to the impressionable. Many of the 9/11 bombers spent time in
Europe before they entered the United States.
badly need Europe's full cooperation in helping to foil terrorists
and bring them to justice. But the death penalty stands in the
asked Magnus Ranstorp, head of St. Andrews University's Center
for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, if he thought
capital punishment was hurting America's war on terror. "Without
question," he said. The argument that the death penalty
deters crime doesn't apply to terrorists who seek death. "As
a matter of fact, it does the opposite," he said. "It
have to measure justice with effectiveness," he continued,
"and justice is served by life in prison without parole."
capital punishment is actually hurting the United States in
the war on terror, it ought to be abandoned for no other reason
than enlightened self-interest. But try telling that to John
Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.