Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hang Down Your Head George W Bush: full text

Full text from Guardian Comment is Free

"There is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty's deterrent value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty's implementation is irreversible and irreparable," declared the UN resolution passed in committee on Thursday, calling for a global moratorium on capital punishment.

There are many old and highly appropriate proverbs about the company you keep. The vote found the US spinning at the axle of the Axis of Executions, standing firmly alongside China, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria for the right to behead, stone, gas, fry, inject, hang or shoot grown human beings.

And one has to say that these countries put their fangs where their mouth is, since between them they carry out 90% of executions.

In a frenzied last minute attempt to amend the UN resolution to death, the US also supported attempts to insert amendments opposing abortion, "to take all necessary measures to protect the lives of unborn children."

Joining with several other hang 'em high countries in their deep concern for prenatal as opposed to post-natal life, the US envoy Joseph Rees sermonized that "countries that advocate for the abolition of the death penalty should be at least equally scrupulous in showing concern for innocent life."

Of course he unwittingly laid himself open to the reverse charge: that the Republicans who put their heart and soul into anti-abortion resolutions in the US should be at least equally concerned with the deaths of fully-grown humans in executions. It is interesting to contrast the shrill fidelity of some American Catholic bishops on the Pope's views on abortion to their almost complete silence about executions.

In Britain, there are politicians with excellent left-wing credentials who still share the Pope's right-to-life position, which is at least consistent in opposition to both the death penalty and abortion. However, while it is not easy to establish when human life begins in the womb, it is sadly easy to determine when it ends it the execution chamber.

But since these amendments were a cynical attempt to ambush and kill the death penalty resolution rather than protect the unborn, it will not help the Bush administration if ever any of them get to immigration control at the Pearly Gates.

Sadly, the abolition of the death penalty is not a popular issue, even in the UK, where many people support it in principle, even if they almost always oppose it in execution, as it were. In the US it is even foggier. I remember a nice, young, liberal audience opposing ethnic cleansing in the Balkans being quite upset when they discovered that the Hague tribunal had no death penalty.

The issue also gets confused with some on the left, who, for many years have fervently confused the issue of whether celebrity convict Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent, which is debatable, with whether he should be executed. Guilty or not, he should not be.

And, for some reason opposing executions in the US is for some a separate issue from executions in say, Cuba. At least Venezuela is on the side of the civilised angels on this one and supports the resolution, along with most Latin American states, as indeed does the UK and the rest of the EU.

The UN vote, which will now almost certainly pass in the full general assembly and already has the support of the human rights committee, will also certainly provoke the American know-nothings into paroxysms of rage against UN bureaucrats interfering in their country. Of course it is no such thing. It is simply stating the global community's sense of what constitutes civilised behaviour. And if the US wants to join Iran, China, Sudan and Syria, it is its right to do so.

But perhaps American presidents should think twice before invoking international law and moral standards against other countries, such as Iran, Syria and Sudan, as an excuse for action.

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