[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Sep 7 19:19:21 CDT 2007
Paying the penalty
Clive Stafford Smith has spent 25 years representing defendants facing the
death penalty in the US. Now he has returned to the UK and turned his
attention on Guantanamo Bay. Anita Rice reports
Clive Stafford Smith is pretty chipper when meeting the Gazette at the
private club he has nominated after explaining, somewhat embarrassed,
that he is an honorary member as the venue for this interview. The
British government has just requested the return of 5 British residents
from Guantanamo Bay, having previously refused to intervene because they
were not UK passport holders.
'It's fantastic,' he says. 'The current administration cant come out and
say "We had a problem before, and the problem was John Reid and Tony
Blair." It is trying to act like it is a result of an American shift. It's
not. It's a result of a British shift. We'll have to see where it goes but
its my "be nice to the government week.'"
Being nice to the government is not something the 48-year-old human rights
lawyer and founder of legal charity Reprieve is famed for, having acted
for some of the most reviled people on the planet killers on death row
and terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.
Mr Stafford Smith was brought up in England but has dual US/UK
citizenship. He became obsessed with capital punishment or rather its
abolition after writing an essay on the subject at Radley College public
school. After rejecting a place at Cambridge, he studied in the US,
originally intending to train as a journalist before changing to law.
'There are other ways of sinking even lower in the publics estimation,' he
notes with a smile.
He has courted controversy and taken considerable flak for it ever
since. John Sinquefield, an assistant district attorney in Louisiana, has
clashed frequently with Mr Stafford Smith in court. He is quoted as saying
that not only has Mr Stafford Smith chosen to use his talents to represent
'very evil people,' but that his courtroom tactics do damage to victims
and victims' families.'
Mr Stafford Smith robustly denies both charges, saying: 'I put whatever
limited talents I have to defend people who are hated.' Has he ever
doubted what he has achieved? Only, he says, if he has failed in court.
'There is nothing worse in life than listening to a jury sentence someone
to death 12 people could have made the right decision instead they do
that, and that is hard.'
As for damaging courtroom tactics, he points out that, apart from anything
else, it is quite simply poor strategy to treat victims or their families
badly in court. 'I talk to the victim's family in every case the fact
that you're opposed to the death penalty doesnt mean youre in favour of
these poor victims being abused,' he says.
'I do not mean this as a personal issue with John Sinquefield, but
prosecutors do far more harm to victims by constantly filling them up with
all this hatred. I've never yet seen a victim who has had a cathartic
experience because of the death penalty. What it does is fill them with
this venom that makes their lives so much harder to get through.'
He then launches into a story about Lorelei Guillory, who may soon be the
subject of a BBC film, whose 6-year-old son was murdered by one of her
clients, Ricky Langley. Ms Guillory visited Langley in prison and ended up
testifying for Mr Stafford Smith.
He says: 'I asked her one question in court: "Do you have an opinion as to
whether that guy over there, who killed your son, was mentally ill?" Her
response was this: "Yes, as a matter of fact I do. I think that Ricky
Langley has been crying out for help since the day he was born and, for
whatever reason, his family, society and the legal system has never
listened to him. As I sit on this witness chair, I can hear the death
throes of my child, but at the same time I can hear that man crying out
for help and yes, I think he was mentally ill when he did it."
'That to me is incredible compassion. And when we think about what we try
to encourage people in our world to do, are we trying to encourage them to
be compassionate like Lorelei Guillory or vengeful? I know what the answer
is. We all know what the answer is.'
That may be, but US public opinion is not on his side. More than 1,000
people have been executed since the reintroduction of capital punishment
in 1976. A Gallup poll earlier this year suggests that 65% of Americans
back capital punishment for convicted murderers. The Bush administration
wants to speed up executions by removing several layers of appeals.
Opponents say he is out of touch, but Mr Stafford Smith asserts that the
death penalty is nothing but the politics of hatred. He illustrates his
point by recounting how an 18-year-old accused of murder awaiting trial in
a Louisiana jail was the subject of a 'shock-jock' radio phone-in. Callers
were nominating which body part should be ripped off him that day.
'The degree to which people are willing to hate someone they have never
met, who is presumed innocent, to the extent that they talk about ripping
body parts off that is the distillation of hatred and that is what the
death penalty is all about, he says. 'It is a superior attitude where we
look at someone and say "you are inferior and do not have the right to
live." I just think that attitude is reprehensible and it is used by
government to distract people from the real issues, as if executing
someone is going to make the world a better place.'
So how to convince a reluctant public that nobody is beyond the pale?
Consider, says Mr Stafford Smith, the most despicable thing that you have
ever done and imagine it was the only thing that anyone knew about you and
that you were to be judged on it.
We've all done something bad but we're all better than our worst 15
minutes,' he says. 'Thats why I like doing death penalty cases because
half the trial is about what happened to someone. It is not about whether
you did something it is about why that happened. The frailties of
humankind are fascinating. I dont want to be sentimental because I have my
Unlike in the UK, US prosecutors are elected and so promises to be tough
on criminals tend to go down well with voters. Mr Stafford Smith says the
system is not weighted to either ensuring the right person is locked up or
exonerating people once a mistake has been made.
He says: 'What is our goal as a prosecutor? Is our goal to get as many
people in prison as possible, in which case they are very good at it, or
is our goal to get the right people in prison, in which case they are not
very good at it.'
Equally scathing about life without parole 'also disgusting' Mr Stafford
Smith often stands accused of being a 'bleeding heart' liberal, attracting
criticism for claiming many of his clients were mentally ill. With a trace
of annoyance, he says: 'I'm not willing to make a sweeping statement that
everybody who has committed a crime has got a mental illness, because the
sanest of people are capable of committing murder. Everyone is. But, on
the other hand, I think a huge number of things currently defined as
"evil" are the fruits of mental illness.'
Having spent years defending people regarded by many as beyond redemption,
he has now turned his attentions to campaigning for prisoners he declines
to use the term 'detainees' held at Guantanamo Bay. He and a group of
other lawyers sued the US government to provide prisoners with some,
albeit limited, legal representation. He has defended more than 60 inmates
including the British former captive Moazzam Begg and the five British
residents still incarcerated there.
In terms of representing 'the hated', Guantanamo has plumbed new depths
for Mr Stafford Smith. His disappointment with the previous UK leaderships
response to Guantanamo and the 'War on Terror' another term he refuses to
use is clear: 'What has either Guantanamo or Belmarsh done for the
security of America or Britain? What have they done to exacerbate
hostilities between Muslims and non-Muslims? It's obvious, and you're just
left wondering why it is not obvious to George Bush and Tony Blair."
Recurrent proposals to introduce 90 days' detention without charge for
terror suspects are, he says, 'simply absurd.' He adds that the
governments job is not to prevent hypothetical crime from possibly
happening, but to make society safe something he insists cannot be
achieved by 'antagonising a large number of people and turning them into
enemies.' The government has, he says, a lot to answer for.'
Mr Stafford Smith is talking about getting round to qualifying to practise
in the UK time permitting. He thinks Britain, and Europe, will be
increasingly important in terms of litigation on torture in the future.
'Britain does tend to respect the conventions on torture, as Pinochet
found to his cost,' he says. 'Europe is the place where all these
torturers are going to end up being prosecuted.' Mr Stafford Smith
believes Guantanamo will be closed within a year one cannot help but
sense that this veteran campaigner is eyeing up his next challenge.
l Clive Stafford Smith's book, Guantanamo Bay and the Secret Prisons, is
published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Executions worldwide 2006
l China: 1,010+
l Iran: 177
l Pakistan: 82
l Iraq: 65+
l Sudan: 65+
l USA: 53
l Saudi Arabia: 39+
l Yemen: 30+
l Vietnam: 14
l Kuwait: 10+
[source: Amnesty International-----Note: + indicates the actual figure may
l Born near Newmarket, Suffolk in 1959.
l Left Radley College with ten O Levels and 4 A Levels before studying at
the University of North Carolina and Columbia University, New York. Took
bar exams in Louisiana.
l Spent 9 years as a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights
before launching the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a non-profit law
office representing poor people in death penalty cases.
l Founded Reprieve, a charity campaigning against the death penalty in
l Awarded an OBE for humanitarian services in 2000.
l Returned to the UK in 2004 to become Reprieves legal director, now also
representing prisoners held on Guantanamo Bay.
(source: The Law Gazette)
Ex-soldier ignores DNA test, calls prisoner 'father'
A former soldier says he knows that a man on death row is his father,
despite a DNA test to the contrary.
Stars and Stripes earlier this week published a story about former Staff
Sgt. Aaron Bates, who was in Seoul to attend the premiere of "My Father,"
a movie based on his relationship with the death-row inmate.
The newspaper was then alerted about a question of paternity based on DNA
Bates, however, maintained in a follow-up interview Wednesday that "no DNA
test is going to prove my love for my father. All the hard facts outweigh
the DNA testing."
The prisoner, Sung Nak-ju, was sentenced to death for the 1994 killings of
his 49-year-old girlfriend and her 14-year-old daughter.
Bates, who was adopted as a 5-year-old from a Gwangju orphanage by an
affluent American couple, began looking for his biological parents while
stationed at Camp Humphreys as a medic in 1996.
He found nothing until 1998, when a prison dermatologist spoke with Sung
The doctor called another dermatologist in Chicago, who phoned Bates
Sung and Bates began corresponding in early 1999.
In 2001, Bates submitted a hair sample wrapped in a tissue for DNA
testing. The test results indicated that Sung was not Bates' father.
However, Bates points to pictures Sung had of him as a 6-month-old that
only the orphanage and his adoptive parents had.
Sung had additional photos and knew Bates birth date, Bates said.
"A young picture of him looks like a spitting image, (although) he did say
I looked more like mom," Bates said. Bates birth mother died from an
illness when he was about 7 months old, he says.
The matter of DNA test results is included in the movie.
Bates, in promotional interviews with South Korean media, maintains that
Sung is his father.
"[The DNA test] is not a big issue for me," Bates said. "I don't want to
put despair back into the man's life. He has lot of peace and serenity. If
I told him he wasn't my father, I'll have lost years of what I've been
(source: Stars & Stripes)
Pontiff Urges Chaplains to Show Inmates God's Mercy----Address to Congress
on Pastoral Prison Care
Chaplains must be heralds of God's compassion and forgiveness to prisoners
who can be overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, shame and rejection, says
The Pope said this today to the participants of the 12th World Congress of
the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care, being held
in Rome through Tuesday.
About the theme of this year's congress, "Discovering the Face of Christ
in Every Prisoner," the Holy Father said it "aptly portrays your ministry
as a vivid encounter with the Lord."
"Indeed," the Pontiff continued, referring to his encyclical "Deus Caritas
Est," "in Christ the 'love of God and love of neighbor have become one,'
so that 'in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in him
"Your ministry requires much patience and perseverance. Not infrequently
there are disappointments and frustrations."
He continued: "Strengthening the bonds that unite you with your bishops
will enable you to find the support and guidance you need to raise
awareness of your vital mission.
"Indeed, this ministry within the local Christian community will encourage
others to join you in performing corporal works of mercy, thus enriching
the ecclesial life of the diocese.
"Likewise, it will help to draw those whom you serve into the heart of the
universal Church, especially through their regular participation in the
celebration of the sacraments of penance and the holy Eucharist."
Benedict XVI said: "Prisoners easily can be overwhelmed by feelings of
isolation, shame and rejection that threaten to shatter their hopes and
aspirations for the future.
"Within this context, chaplains and their collaborators are called to be
heralds of God's infinite compassion and forgiveness.
"In cooperation with civil authorities, they are entrusted with the
weighty task of helping the incarcerated rediscover a sense of purpose so
that, with God's grace, they can reform their lives, be reconciled with
their families and friends, and, insofar as possible, assume the
responsibilities and duties which will enable them to conduct upright and
honest lives within society."
The Pope spoke of the institutions dedicated to protecting citizens and
the common good, nothing that they also "are to aid in rebuilding 'social
relationships disrupted by the criminal act committed.'"
He explained: "By their very nature, therefore, these institutions must
contribute to the rehabilitation of offenders, facilitating their
transition from despair to hope and from unreliability to dependability.
"When conditions within jails and prisons are not conducive to the process
of regaining a sense of a worth and accepting its related duties, these
institutions fail to achieve one of their essential ends."
The Pontiff continued: "Public authorities must be ever vigilant in this
task, eschewing any means of punishment or correction that either
undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners.
"In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture 'cannot
be contravened under any circumstances.'
"I am confident that your congress will provide an opportunity to share
your experiences of the mysterious countenance of Christ shining through
the faces of the imprisoned.
"I encourage you in your efforts to show that face to the world as you
promote greater respect for the dignity of the detained."
"Finally," the Holy Father concluded, "I pray that your congress will be
an occasion for you yourselves to appreciate anew how, in attending to the
needs of the imprisoned, your own eyes are opened to the marvels God does
for you each day."
(source: Zenit News)
The Strange Case of Chinese Executions
Now here's an interesting observation if a bit ironic. China, along with
Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the USA usually end up at the top of the list of
countries where executions happen.
I have seen emails from right-wing Americans float across my inbox,
spitting on public executions of criminals in Iran. I'm not very sure what
are they objecting to. Are they objecting to the execution or the fact
that it's happening in public? If the latter, then it's silly because
that's obviously missing the wood for the trees. But I am digressing.
Many NGOs and Human Rights Activists have been on this case for a long
time, and China obviously is in the crosshairs. Which is why the China
Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese state is now stating that,
"Vice president of the Supreme Court of China Jiang Xingchang said on
Thursday that since January 1, the number of death penalty cases has
continued to decrease. Last year there was the lowest number of the death
penalty cases in 10 years. "
"Jiang Xingchang said that the reform of the capital punishment approval
system has been recognized by the people and has become common knowledge
in various judicial departments and people's courts. In recent years, the
number of death penalty cases with a two-year delay of execution has been
equal to or greater than the number of death penalty cases with immediate
Jiang Xingchang said there has been significant improvement in controlling
the standards of the death penalty. The Supreme Court has paid closer
attention to evidence; and is more careful to ensure fair judicial
"There should be serious consideration of and standard procedures on
whether or not a criminal should be sentenced to death," said Jiang
All very nice and good, but on the same day, this also comes out.
"A letter written by the disgraced former head of China's drug watchdog
Zheng Xiaoyu shortly before his execution in July is being used to warn
local government officials against corruption.
Zheng's letter titled " Posthumous Writings of Remorse" was read to
prosecutors in Bozhou city, Anhui Province, at a routine meeting recently
to encourage the legal officials to draw lessons from the case and
maintain an honest work ethic, Friday's Procuratorial Daily reports."
As long as the Chinese state looks at the death penalty as a measure of
retribution, punishment and a way to teach lessons, the death penalty will
keep on being applied. And as you would have surmised, I am not in favour
of the death penalty at all. The day our legal system is proven 100%
accurate, just and fair, I will agree. :)
All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!
Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the city of London in various capacities in
the financial sector. He has worked and travelled widely around the world.
The articles in here relate to his current studies and are strictly his
opinion and do not reflect the position of his past or current
employer(s). If you do want to blame somebody, then blame my sister and
editor, she is responsible for everything, the ideas, the writing, the
quotes, the drive, the israeli-palestinian crisis, global warming, the
ozone layer depletion and the argentinian debt crisis.
(source: Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the city of London in various
capacities in the financial sector. He has worked and travelled widely
around the world. The articles in here relate to his current studies and
are strictly his opinion and do not reflect the position of his past or
current employer(s).) ----Desicritics)
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