As voters in the United States go to the polls, Amy Goodman is joined by Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, and Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, for a look at some of the most important decisions they will make—not for president, governor, Senate or congressional races, but on more than 160 ballot initiatives in 35 states, more than in any election in the last decade. Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in nine states, and income inequality and economic insecurity are at the heart of many other measures, along with initiatives on guns, public education, the death penalty and Colorado’s Amendment 69, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment which would finance universal healthcare. (Democracy Now!)
- Seventeen Ballot Initiatives to Watch If You Care About Inequality
- Legalizing Pot and 10 Other Ballot Issues to Watch on Election Day
‘Egypt and Nigeria accounted for well over 1,000 of the death sentences announced last year, more than a third of the world’s total, Amnesty International says in its latest annual report on the death penalty.
The London-based human rights group expressed alarm at the 28 percent jump in death sentences: 2,466 people in 55 countries were condemned to death in 2014. At least 607 people were executed in 22 countries last year.
[…] The countries with the most recorded executions last year were Iran with at least 289, Saudi Arabia with at least 90, Iraq with at least 61 and the United States with at least 35, the rights group said. In Iran, hundreds more executions were “not officially acknowledged” and the total could be as high as 743, the organization said.’
- Man Who Filmed Execution Is Arrested, Saudi Outlets Say
- Woman Is Publicly Beheaded in Saudi Arabia’s Tenth Execution of 2015
- Saudi Arabia’s Beheadings Are Public, but It Doesn’t Want Them Publicized
- ‘Saudi human rights record worst in region: 1 beheading every 4 days’
- Saudi Arabia beheads over 80 people in 2014, highest level in five years
- When It Comes to Beheadings, ISIS Has Nothing Over Saudi Arabia
- Public executions in Saudi Arabia
‘Authorities in Saudi Arabia publicly beheaded a woman in the holy city of Mecca this week, according to footage sent to MEE on Thursday and local media reports.
Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, a Burmese resident of Saudi Arabia, was convicted of torturing and killing her seven-year-old step-daughter and executed by the sword on Monday.
Footage of the execution shows Basim being dragged into a street and held down by four police officers.
“I did not kill, I did not kill,” she is heard to shout repeatedly.
Basim then screamed as a sword-wielding man struck her neck. Second and third blows completed the beheading and authorities swiftly removed her body from the road moments later.’
‘A 14-year-old black boy sent to the electric chair for the killing of two white girls has been exonerated – 70 years after his death.
George Stinney Jr was arrested, convicted of the South Carolina murders in a one-day trial and executed in 1944 — all in the span of about three months and without an appeal.
Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen threw out the conviction on Wednesday, saying the state had committed a great injustice.
She described the speed at which Stinney’s sentence was carried out as shocking and unfair.
The teenager was the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century.’
‘As protests continue over the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the United States is facing pressure internationally over its failure to put a halt to police brutality. In a new report, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expresses deep concern over the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.” The Committee also criticizes a number of other U.S. practices on torture and imprisonment, Guantánamo Bay, and the custody of migrants including children in “prison-like detention facilities.” We discuss the report’s findings with Dr. Jens Modvig, member of the Committee against Torture and one of two rapporteurs for its report.’ (Democracy Now!)
‘On a winter morning in 1963 Harry Allen hanged Russell Pascoe, the penultimate execution of his 23-year career. Fifty years after the final hanging in the UK, prison officer Robert Douglas recalls being present for the last hours in the short life of a condemned man.’
‘This week Private Eye reported that in the 21 months between James Foley’s capture in November 2012 and his subsequent beheading by Isis militants on August 19 2014, Saudi Arabia beheaded 113 people.
It added that Saudi Arabia was “visited by President Obama this year to ‘underscore the importance of the bilateral relationship’ between their countries.”
According to Amnesty International at least 79 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2013 and between 1 January and 18 August this year 34 more people were executed, making a total of 113. This does not include any estimates for executions at the end of 2012.’
Saudi Arabia remains on U.N. Human Rights Council despite 19 beheadings, including one for “sorcery”
‘Ask any human rights organization where they stand on chopping off people’s heads and they’ll probably say such actions constitute a violation of human rights.
And yet, one nation that does a lot of beheadings is on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. Lately, in fact, Saudi Arabia can’t seem to get enough beheadings. Its government has executed at least 19 people using this method since August 4, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Of the 19, eight were found guilty of non-violent offenses; seven for drug smuggling and one for committing sorcery.’
‘[…] In his dissent to the denial of rehearing the issue before the en banc 9th Circuit, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski advocated for use of a firing squad instead of lethal injection.
“Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time,” he wrote. “There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true. The weapons and ammunition are bought by the state in massive quantities for law enforcement purposes, so it would be impossible to interdict the supply. And nobody can argue that the weapons are put to a purpose for which they were not intended: firearms have no purpose other than destroying their targets. Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood. If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”
Kozinski said Arizona “should and will prevail in this case,” but that the state should “own up that using drugs is a mistake and come up with something that will work, instead.”‘
A sharp rise in the number of people put to death in Iraq and Iran caused a global spike in executions in 2013, Amnesty International says. The human rights group annual review of the death penalty found a jump of almost 15% compared with 2012. China is thought to execute the most people, although the exact number of executions there is kept secret.
Elsewhere, at least 778 executions are known to have been carried out in 2013, compared with 682 in 2012. At least 369 people were killed in Iran while Iraq saw a stark rise in its executions, with 169 being killed. “The virtual killing sprees we saw in countries like Iran and Iraq were shameful,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
…Camus’ essay on the barbarity of the death penalty was written in 1956, against the backdrop of the executions of hundreds of dissidents during the Soviet crackdown in Hungary, as well as the execution of Algerian revolutionaries condemned to death by French tribunals. He notes that by 1940 all executions in France and England were shielded from the public. If capital punishment was meant to deter crime, why hold the killings in secret? Why not make them a public spectacle?
Because, Camus argues, deterrence isn’t the purpose of state murder. The real objective is vengeance through the exercise of extreme state power. “Let us recognize it for what it is essentially: a revenge. A punishment that penalizes without forestalling is indeed called revenge. It is a quasi-arithmetical replay made by society to whoever breaks its primordial law.”
Public executions became a threat to the state, because the dreadful act tends to provoke revulsion in ordinary citizens, like Camus’ father, who see it clearly for what it is: a new form of murder “no less repulsive than the crime.” A form of murder that is performed, in theory, in the name of the citizens and for which they are complicit.
This kind of state-sanctioned killing, Camus reasoned, leads only to more murder, a vast panorama of murder. “Without the death penalty,” Camus writes, “Europe would not be infected by the corpses accumulated for the last twenty years on its soil.”
So what would Albert Camus, the great moralist of the 20th century, think about the latest innovation in administrative murder, Obama’s drone program, a kind of remote-control gallows, where the killers never see their victims, never hear their screams, smell their burning bodies, touch their mutilated flesh?
With lethal-injection drugs in short supply and new questions looming about their effectiveness, lawmakers in some death penalty states are considering bringing back relics of a more gruesome past: firing squads, electrocutions and gas chambers.
Most states abandoned those execution methods more than a generation ago in a bid to make capital punishment more palatable to the public and to a judicial system worried about inflicting cruel and unusual punishments that violate the Constitution.
But to some elected officials, the drug shortages and recent legal challenges are beginning to make lethal injection seem too vulnerable to complications.
The US government says it will seek the death penalty against Boston Marathon bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement: “The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.”
Seventeen of 30 charges against the 20-year-old – including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill – carry the possibility of capital punishment.
The bombings killed three and injured more than 260 in April 2013.
Mr Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty and no trial date has been set.
[…] Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in all 32 states in which the death penalty is permitted, and for several years they have been struggling to obtain the drugs they need.
States employed similar three-drug lethal injection formulas for decades, until the US company that made one key ingredient, sodium thiopental, stopped supplying it. Manufacturers in Europe, where the death penalty is outlawed, have since sought to block the use of their products for executions in the US.
State authorities have reacted in two ways: by using new drugs or combinations of drugs, and occasionally sourcing them from compounding pharmacies.
Support for the death penalty is at a four-decade low in the United States, though most Americans — three out of five — still favor it, a new Gallup poll out Tuesday found.
Sixty percent of Americans say they back capital punishment for convicted killers; that is the lowest figure since November 1972 when the death penalty had 57% of Americans’ support, the survey found.
By 1994, eight in 10 Americans supported execution, a high from which it since has edged lower.
About 44% of respondents said the death penalty was not imposed often enough, Gallup also found in its survey of 1,028 people from October 3-6. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four points.
Of the 50 US states, 32 implement the death penalty, while 18 plus the federal capital city of Washington have abolished it.
An unprecedented federal review of old criminal cases has uncovered as many as 27 death penalty convictions in which FBI forensic experts may have mistakenly linked defendants to crimes with exaggerated scientific testimony.
At issue is a once-widespread practice by which some FBI experts exaggerated the significance of “matches” drawn from microscopic analysis of hair found at crime scenes. Since at least the 1970s, written FBI Laboratory reports typically stated that a hair association could not be used as positive identification. However, on the witness stand, several agents went beyond the science and testified that their hair analysis was a near-certain match.
It is not known how many of the cases involve errors, how many led to wrongful convictions or how many mistakes may now jeopardise valid convictions. Those questions will be explored as the review continues. But it has already led to an 11th-hour stay of execution in Mississippi in May, after the Justice Department acknowledged flaws in forensic testimony by the FBI that helped convict Willie Jerome Manning of the 1992 murders of two university students. The 44-year-old had been hours away from receiving a lethal injection. Federal officials have offered to retest the DNA in the case.
The number of other cases under review places the examination firmly at the heart of the debate about the death penalty. The death row cases are among the first 120 convictions identified as potentially problematic among more than 21,700 FBI Laboratory files being examined. The review was announced last July by the FBI and the Justice Department, in consultation with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).
A Chinese court has given former Railways Minister Liu Zhijun a suspended death sentence for corruption and abuse of power, state media report.
Liu was accused of accepting bribes totalling more than 64m yuan ($10m; £6m) over 25 years.
Prosecutors said he awarded government rail contracts in return for bribes.
Liu is the most high-profile official to be tried and found guilty of corruption since Xi Jinping became China’s leader earlier this year.
Mr Xi has called for a crackdown on corruption, vowing to tackle it from the powerful “tigers” at the top to the “flies” at the bottom of the Communist Party.
China’s railways ministry, once a powerful department, was disbanded in March.
It had been criticised for a series of safety scandals, and faced allegations of fraud which were uncovered by government audits.
In a bid to curb the escalating crime rate, Pakistan’s newly-elected government has decided not to extend a ban on capital punishment. But human rights activists have condemned the move as inhumane and retrograde.
Pakistan is going through one of its worst existential crises. The country is facing Islamist insurgency in its northwestern areas bordering Afghanistan and a protracted separatist movement in the southwestern Balochistan province. Islamist militants continue to target civilians in other parts of the country too.
In an attempt to rein in on crime and militancy, the newly-elected government has decided not to extend the moratorium on death penalty, which expired on June 30.
by Evann Gastaldo
If the Missouri supreme court doesn’t start letting the state schedule lethal injection executions again—and soon—the state may be forced to revert to the gas chamber, Attorney General Chris Koster warned this week. The trouble began when drug companies started refusing to sell their products to corrections departments, leading to a shortage of execution drugs, the Guardian reports. Missouri became the first state to switch to a one-drug lethal injection protocol, and planned to use high doses of propofol. But death row inmates challenged the plan, and the state supreme court put executions on hold until the matter is settled.
But the state’s supplies of propofol are expiring, with the last batch set to become useless in 2015. “As each supply expires, the department’s ability to carry out lawfully imposed capital sentences diminishes,” Koster said in a motion filed with the court. “Unless the court changes its current course, the legislature will soon be compelled to fund statutorily-authorized alternative methods of execution to carry out lawful judgments,” AKA the gas chamber. Missouri hasn’t used the gas chamber since 1965, and one attorney helping with the propofol challenge says he doubts the court would allow it to be brought back: “Its use has fallen into disrepute.” Oh, and then there’s the fact that the old gas chamber is now a tourist attraction, the AP notes.