Welcome to the United States of torture


on 2 May 2008

The awaited decision from the Supreme Court on Baze v. Rees was finally delivered on April 16th. Some would have preferred it later, late May or early June, not that it would have resolved anything, except for another little reprieve.
The oral argument that took place last January had set the tone and did not hint at a potential positive outcome, nonetheless we secretly nourished the hope to see the United States raise its head and formulate a fair reply to the question asked which, unfortunately, still does not touch anywhere near the core of the essential issue: can a democracy, or rather a nation that regards itself as a model of democracy, continue to pretend that capital punishment is constitutional?

A major blow

The shock was not the decision itself because the case, as it was redacted and accepted by the Supreme Court, was quite restrictive. The lethal injection protocol used in Kentucky is not a form of torture if enforced properly, however if errors were made then the risk of torture does exist and therefore a new protocol should be enforced, it is in essence what Baze raised with the Supreme Court. This gave the Justices ample options to deny the request.
However, the 7-2 vote was a major blow, although the opinion is in fact made of six different opinions. The majority opinion was delivered by Chief Justice Roberts and he was joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito; concurring opinions were offered by Justices Alito, Stevens, Scalia joined by Justice Thomas and by Justice Breyer. A dissenting opinion was delivered by Justice Ginsburg joined by Justice Souter. All of this left a number of options available for future litigations on the lethal injection protocol nationwide.

50 to 75 execution warrants this year in Texas

To this day, fifteen execution warrants have already been signed (one in Georgia, one in South Dakota, one in Arkansas, one in Illinois, one in Oklahoma, two in Louisiana, three in Virginia and five in Texas). The number of post-conviction appeals which have exhausted all legal remedies is very high in Texas where we expect to see between 50 and 75 execution warrants signed between now and the end of this year.
The legal battle promises to be a bloody one and although the legal options available to litigate the execution method are very real, the path is going to be very tortuous and collateral damages will be as numerous as they will be irreversible. The abolitionist community in Texas is going to need all the help it can get, not only in the United States but especially from the international community; political, moral, religious and financial support.
Texas is changing, the mentalities are evolving at their pace, but the educational process is going to be a long one. In the meantime, many will die at the hands of the state which believes it is giving society its “justice” when in reality it is nothing more than barbarism and medieval vengeance. Executions in Texas and America in 2008 are so inhumane that that veterinarians refuse to use or sanction the lethal injection combination of drugs to put animals to sleep.

Reality is grabbing us by our guts

From my last visit on death row in Texas this past Friday, I will remember the tense faces, the desperate looks in the eyes and a few rare exchanges between death row prisoners – from one visiting cage to another – discussing their upcoming deaths in the midst of an almost general indifference, abandoned by humanity on the gurney to be slaughtered and disposed of. These past months, we had all forgotten that we were visiting in the house of the living-deads. The break is over. Reality is grabbing us by our guts and squashing our throats.
The death penalty is no fatality nor is it a mere sociological and cultural phenomenon against which we are helpless. The choice of the ultimate punishment belongs to all of us and the comfortable silence that surrounds the American barbarism in Europe cannot provide us with a sense of a good conscience. We all are responsible for the world we live in. While we often feel like a minute grain of sand in an infinite desert, we are nonetheless the growing grain of sand that will end up destroying the machinery of death.

The right to life remains an absolute priority

Today everything needs to be done again and again. The numerous executions to come and the attitude of the American States, which spend without limits to kill in total impunity, do not leave us the luxury of a pause. The right to life remains an absolute priority and as Justice Stevens rightly wrote in his opinion on Baze: “The time for a dispassionate, impartial comparison of the enormous costs that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefit that it produces has surely arrived”. We still hope for a Supreme Court that will honour the constitution of its country and will accept to review, analyse and eradicate capital punishment in the United States; the only possible decision that would give the concept of “evolving standard of decency” its true meaning.
How many more state-sanctioned murders will be necessary for the “civilized” world to raise its head, look at itself in the mirror and take the full measure of its own cowardice? If 405 Texas executions and 1099 US executions are not enough thus far for the global community to do more than express mere verbal opposition or outrage, what is the number of executions needed for concerted actions to say “ENOUGH!”?

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