Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Heads in the sand

Heads in the sand

I have long found it morally repugnant that the imposition of the death penalty in the United States is accompanied by extreme resistance to addressing the hard questions that such a policy raises. State governments across the country have mandated capital punishment without bothering to work out detailed policies and procedures -- as if to say that while imposing death on prisoners is A-OK, actually talking about the mechanics of how we do it is unseemly.

The heads-in-the-sand approach may be on its way out -- a dozen states have suspended executions already, and the strange epiphanies keep piling up. In Florida, Jeb Bush is shocked -- shocked -- at a recent botched and gruesome execution, conducted by an untrained executioner -- while in Tennessee, the revelation that executioners in Tennessee rely on "oral tradition" has caused a stir.

Consider this, from an article in the latest New York Times Magazine:

The inability to tolerate a single execution method for very long seems to stem, in part, from the conflicted relationship Americans have with capital punishment. The majority of people continue to support it. But as the untoward executions in Iraq have underscored, we don’t want government-sanctioned killings to look like lynchings, nor do we want those killings to be too brutal or bloody. Further complicating matters, the American public tends to resist engaging with the physical problem of killing people. Unlike China, which methodically tested lethal-injection protocols on humans and now has a suite of hyperefficient lethal-injection vans that drive around the provinces carrying trained teams that execute the condemned, the federal government has never convened a panel to study the practicalities of killing death-row inmates. And unlike officials in Britain, which in 1953 published “The Royal Commission on Capital Punishment,” advising against using lethal injection, neither wardens nor legislators in the United States have ever conducted a professional survey on execution procedures or studied how those practices might be improved. The American Veterinary Medical Association issues and reviews recommendations for euthanizing animals. No one in the United States does anything similar for condemned inmates.

This is the hypocrisy that so offends me -- and should offend us all, regardless of our stance on capital punishment.*

* For the record, I'm against the imposition of the death penalty, primarily because our justice system is and will always be falliable.

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