Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Shame of Botched Executions

              Capital Punishment in the United States; 2014                                                                   
Key: Red; death penalty applied  Yellow; sentence of death but not applied  Blue; no death penalty  

The US state of Oklahoma was the first to introduce lethal injection in 1974. The method was considered a final solution to the problem of making inflicted death painless. Many of us have experienced surgery under total anesthetic, when it seemed that only a few moments of consciousness preceded oblivion to further suffering. Why is it that the most technically evolved nation on earth is making a botch of executions and causing intense suffering to those subject to lethal injection? The response given is that countries in the European Union which manufacture ingredients of the triple cocktail used to induce death are no longer willing to engage in the awful business of judicial killing and deny the supply. And what of the immense resources of the US itself and its flock of Nobel Prize winning chemists?
Example of botched executions
Clayton Lockett, 38 years old, was condemned to death in the year 2000 for the rape and murder of a young woman. In spite of several appeals against the conviction his execution began at 18.23 hours in the state penitentiary of Oklahoma, with a first injection. At 18.33 he was declared unconscious and the following two chemicals were injected.
Three minutes later the condemned man began to move, breathing heavily, clenching his teeth and trying to raise his head. He was heard to say the word “man”. At 19.06 he finally died of a heart seizure.
The New York Times suggested that in view of the failure of the sedative given in the first injection he would have suffered suffocation and atrocious pain. In the makeshift execution procedures that follow the US adoption of lethal injection as the method used in all executions, there have been several botched executions. Lethal chemicals are being sourced from unapproved manufacturers, and records of purchase destroyed to avoid investigation.
Many reject the death penalty on the basis of an appreciation that all life is sacred, and that punishment should never be reduced to vengeance. The fact that it appears impossible to avoid execution that avoids extreme pain may convince others that Capital Punishment is a barbarity that we must not tolerate. There are many arguments against the death penalty, primarily the undoubted execution of the innocent, and the argument that while legal systems that are inevitably defective, death is an absolute. As was remarked hundreds of years ago, the executed remain guilty for ever.

Vietnam has already experienced a botched execution following the use of inadequate lethal chemicals. Thailand has adopted lethal injection after tuition in US practice. This will inevitably lead to botched executions that plague the mentor country. Nor is it acceptable to return to the barbaric machine gun of the past which, on occasion, also encountered horrific failure. Stop now, there is no guarantee of painless death.

Executions in Indonesia


A drug war implies killing. On 18th January Indonesia, executed six persons convicted of drug crimes, including five foreign nationals and two women.  An editorial in the Bangkok Post set the context; “In a span of more than thirty years, Southeast Asian countries have executed several hundred people convicted of serious drug offenses. Only a tiny handful have been actual traffickers. Most of those hanged, shot or drugged have been “mules”, the lowest ranking of all drug sellers.”
The executions led to protest from around the world and a spokesperson from the Embassy of Indonesia in Bangkok wrote to the newspaper to explain the action. She insisted that Indonesia was exercising its constitutional duty to impose stern actions within the framework of Indonesian laws, which had respected right of appeal and requests for pardon. The action was described as a “last resort” in the face of a threat to the nation posed by drug offences predicted to rise to five million cases in 2015 and causing an average of 1,500 deaths every month.
But entirely missing from the explanation was any justification for the executions as providing a remedy for Indonesia’s drug problem. In 1764 the great criminologist Cesare Beccaria declared that capital punishment failed as a deterrent and today there is no serious denial that the death penalty fails to deter crime. Moreover, it is widely upheld in current international law that the lingering application of capital punishment can only be inflicted for the crime of premeditated homicide.
By ignoring the lessons of criminal history, Indonesia repeats the mistakes of the past. But, in addition, it commits the mischief of giving relevance to the death sentence in a region that clings hopelessly to this discounted practice. Many Asian countries maintain a grim partnership in retaining capital punishment, and there are others who will be emboldened to cover their failure to counter a drug culture by availing of a “last resort”, at the cost of a few bullets, vials of poison, or a length of rope.  The failure of Indonesia’s new president, Joko Widodo to lead Indonesia forward is a huge disappointment.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Death Penalty in US for 2014 – a 20 year low

One of the anomalies of capital punishment is its persistence in the US, in contradiction to claims to respect human rights and a culture of democracy.  The reasons for the persistence are complex and certainly related to a historical culture of violence which reigns in that country.  Unfortunately, US adherence to the death penalty gives credence to claims by many remaining retentionist countries that their practice is acceptable by human rights standards. Be that as it may, statistics for the death penalty reveal that in 2014 death sentences in the US have reached a 40 year low (72) while executions, in steady decline since 1999, were the lowest in 20 years (35). 80% of these executions were in the states of Missouri (10), Texas (10), and Florida (8); 3 were in Oklahoma, 2 in Georgia, 1 each in Arizona and Ohio. One can say that the death penalty is now applied, not in the US in general, but in certain aberrant states.
Two factors may be identified as contributing to the decline of executions on the US. The first is that the drugs used in inflicting the punishment are no longer available, especially sodium thiopental, a fast acting general anesthetic, used to make execution painless. Export of this component of the drug cocktail used in executions has been banned for export by European Union decree. US executioners have been forced to replace the sodium thiopental  by locally made equivalents. The result has been several protracted executions that led to terrible agony of the person being executed. The sensibility of citizens was outraged and such cruel and unusual punishment met with increasing disapproval.
Another factor in the decrease has been the execution of the mentally defective. A Supreme Court ruling in 2002 held that execution of those having an IQ level of approximately 70 was unconstitutional due to diminished responsibility. Nevertheless, states strongly favouring capital punishment continued to execute borderline cases. However, an increased distaste for execution of the young and mentally defective is helping to lower rates of killing by the state.
It is our hope that Thailand takes note of this trend, cease using US practice as a model, and hasten the day of renouncing capital punishment totally and forever.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Statistics of Prisoners Condemned to Death, 31st October 2014

Source: Department of Pardons

Stage of trial
        Drug related

Appeal court
100         25        125
170        8         178
Supreme court
 19            0          19
 49         0           49
Court complete
 94          14        108
129        1         130
213         39        252
348        9         357

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rape = Capital Punishment: Justice to Whose Benefit

 On 18th November 2014 the Faculty of Social Administration, Thammasat University, held a seminar relating to the theme of problems in the Thai justice system on the theme, “Rape = Capital Punishment: Justice or whose benefit”. The seminar was organized by graduate students of the faculty and attracted a large attendance of graduate students from the Faculty and related disciplines.
The theme is very relevant to a plague of rape murder cases which have recently occurred in Thailand, especially of young Thai girls and foreign tourists. The rape murder of Nong Gaem, a girl child, on an overnight train caused impassioned public reaction calling for the execution of the rapist. The 13 year old child was raped and murdered in a sleeping carriage and her body thrown out of the carriage window.  Police arrested a train employee who was employed as a train attendant, despite previous accusations of rape against female train employees. Other recent cases involve the rape murder of foreign tourists, especially in a recent case on the island of Koh Tao, where the investigation and arrest of two Burmese nationals who worked on the island, was seriously mishandled and where the arrest and accusation is widely suspected of torture of those arrested which led to a confession. The suspects have since retracted their confession which was made without legal representation and conflicts with earlier police announcements. The accusation has been defended by the Prime Minister, leader of the military junta which overthrew the democratically elected government on the 22nd May of this year. The case remains in limbo as the prosecutor questions evidence submitted by police. The accusation has been questioned by the Burmese government and by the UK whose citizens were victims of the rape murder incident.
The case raises the whole question of rape murder and the rejection of Capital Punishment as a solution to such crimes. In an opening address on the problem of rape murder, Dr. Danthong Breen presented the case of the notorious rape murder of a young Indian woman in New Delhi on the 16th December 2012. While there are many similar cases in Thailand, the details of the cases are obscured by biased police reporting, and the practice of presenting details of so called re-enactment of the crime, staged by the police, as evidence of the original crime. The Delhi case involved six men on a bus who viciously raped a 23 year old woman who boarded the bus with a male companion, was raped and assaulted, resulting in her death in a Singapore hospital on 29th December. Her companion was beaten unconscious, and both were thrown from the bus. The case resulted in the imprisonment of a 17 year old by a Court for Juniors, the death in prison for unresolved reasons of the leader of the group, and a death sentence handed down by India’s Supreme Court on the other four accused after a trial which presented incontrovertible evidence against them. India’s policy of applying the death sentence in the “rarest of rare” cases has led to suspension of the death penalty to allow appeal. In defence of the accused their lawyer laid blame for the rape murder on the victims saying that an unmarried couple should not have been on the street at 9.30 pm; he also blamed the male companion for not having sufficiently protected his female companion. The Prime Minister of India assured that all possible efforts will be made to ensure the safety women in India. The Government of India responded with passage of several new sexual assault laws, including a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for gang rape. The Finance Minister commented that “one small incident of rape in Delhi is enough to cost us billions of lower tourism returns”. The dying rape victim expressed to her mother the wish that her assailants be punished by death.
Thailand has yet to react with measures to counter rape crime.
A senior police officer on the discussion panel revealed that research on convicted rapists indicated that they especially victimized girls with long hair, which made it easier to hold them during the rape. They also targeted girls engaged in telephone conversations as they walked alone. The telephone was an added prize to the act of rape.
Statistics on rape crime reveal that the crime is most frequent in Sweden and the Nordic countries, in France, the UK, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, so that it is hardly due to underdeveloped legal systems or low level of education. It is truly a global problem. Statistics from Muslim countries where rapists are subject to the death penalty indicate that capital punishment is not a solution but rather a contempt for women and their low status in society.
Unfortunately the seminar allowed little time for questions of suggestions from the young audience. The problem remains, a truly horrible reflection on society and its legal systems. However, speakers at the seminar remained adamant that the death penalty offered no solution and involved an ever greater violation of human rights.