Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bush's Lasting Legacy Will Be Lethal

Executions To Become Faster, Easier

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he sent more than 150 people to their deaths. He and current attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, would sit down and review each case for a casual 15 to 30 minutes before Bush signed the order that meant another American was going to be executed for crimes they may, or may not, have committed.

In the late 1990s, Bush was asked by a talk show host what he though the last words might have been of a woman who was controversially put to death under a cloud of doubt about her guilt. Bush grinned, and in a mocking, female voice cackled, "Please don't kill me!"

The studio audience was left stunned and silent.

Today, Alberto Gonzales isn't happy with all the ways that condemned men and women can continue their fight for justice long after they've been sentenced. He wants to speed up the whole process, and with the backing of President Bush, the most lethal-injecting governor in modern American history, it's likely the stripping away of rights for repeated appeals will become reality within the next 6 to 12 months.

The United States ranks only below China, Iran, the Sudan, Iraq and Pakistan in the grim table of nations who execute the most citizens per year.

From the UK Independent :

The Bush administration is preparing to speed up the executions of criminals who are on death row across the United States, in effect, cutting out several layers of appeals in the federal courts so that prisoners can be "fast-tracked" to their deaths.

With less than 18 months to go to secure a presidential legacy, President Bush has turned to an issue he has specialised in since approving a record number of executions while Governor of Texas.

The US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales - Mr Bush's top legal adviser during the spree of executions in Texas in the 1990s - is putting finishing touches to regulations, inspired by recent anti-terrorism legislation, that would allow states to turn to the Justice Department, instead of the federal courts, as a key arbiter in deciding whether prisoners live or die.

The US is already among the top six countries worldwide in terms of the numbers of its own citizens that it puts to death. Fifty-two Americans were executed last year and thousands await their fate on death row.

In some instances, prisoners would have significantly less time to file federal appeals, and the appeals courts significantly less time to respond. On the question of whether defendants received adequate representation at trial - a key issue in many cases, especially in southern states with no formal public defender system - the Attorney General would be the sole decision-maker.

Since Mr Gonzales is a prosecutor, not a judge, and since he has a track record of favouring death in almost every capital case brought before him, the regulations would, in effect, remove a crucial safety net for prisoners who feel they have been wrongly convicted.

President Bush has always been a death penalty enthusiast. The 152 prisoners he dispatched to their deaths in his eight years as governor of Texas set a high-water mark unmatched before or since.

At no time has Mr Bush seen any contradiction with his avowed commitment to the sanctity of life. As President he has even instituted a National Sanctity of Human Life Day, which, he has said, "serves as a reminder we must value human life in all its forms, not just those considered healthy, wanted, or convenient".

To even ask if Bush sees any contradiction you have to assume that he actually means what he says about the sanctity of human life.