New Voices - International

Attorney General Wants to Avoid "Martyrdom" for Guantanamo Prisoners

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey (pictured) said that he hopes that the Guantanamo prisoners accused of terrorism do not receive the death penalty in the upcoming Military Commission trials because it would give them the martyrdom that they want.  In a recent talk to British economic students, Mukasey said he supports the death penalty, but, "In a way I kind of hope from a personal standpoint ... I kind of hope they don't get it. Because many of them want to be martyrs ....”

Prosecuting attorneys for the military have asked to seek the death penalty for 6 prisoners in Guantanamo accused of terrorism. The Department of Defense has not yet announced whether they will approve the military commission trials as capital cases.

(“Mukasey: Avoid death, martyrdom for 9/11 accused,” by Terry Frieden,, March 14, 2008). See New Voices and Federal Death Penalty.

Nobel Laureates Oppose Death Penalty, Decry Execution of Juvenile Offenders

A gathering of Nobel Laureates in Rome concluded with a common statement calling for abolition of the death penalty and specifically decrying the death penalty for juvenile offenders. The statement noted "the death penalty is a particularly cruel and unusual punishment that should be abolished. It is especially unconscionable when imposed on children." Among those in attendance at the summit were Mikhail Gorbachev, former Israel Prime Minister Simon Peres, the Dalai Lama, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Lech Walesa, Betty Williams, Jody Williams, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, and a number of organizations that participated in the summit.

(Fourth World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, November 30, 2003) See Juvenile Death Penalty and International Death Penalty.

Australian Judge and Parent of Bombing Victim Rejects Death Penalty

Brian Deegan, a magistrate in South Australia who lost his son in the October 2002 Sari nightclub bombing in Bali, recently stated that he believes the terrorists who commited that crime should not receive the death penalty, but should be sentenced to a term of life in prison without parole. In an opinion piece in The Australian, Deegan noted:

The Bali bombers who murdered my son last October are evil extremists, but they don't deserve the death penalty.
. . .
Indeed, I have no problem with the idea that he [Amrozi] and his accomplices should remain in prison for the rest of their lives. But the prospect of their judicial murder is something I want no part of.
. . .
As a measure employed to dissuade potential criminals, the death penalty has been an abject failure. This is borne out by statistics that point to the commensurate rise of murders and executions in countries where capital punishment is awarded.
The argument in favour of executions remains difficult to reconcile with the universal revulsion generated by periods in history when society thought nothing of hanging a child or burning a witch. We read with disgust, or perhaps with guilt, of the stoning of adulterers, the removal of a thief's hand or the decapitation of a blasphemer. Yet we find it palatable to break a man's neck, to poison his veins or to electrocute him.
The suggestion that Amrozi and his fellow evildoers should face an Indonesian firing squad is unconscionable because that would make the punishment as barbaric as the crime. What the Bali bombers did to my child and to the hundreds of others defies description. But the October 12, 2002, terrorist attacks do not give anyone the right to repeat such a vile act.

(The Australian, July 9, 2003).

Business Leaders Criticize U.S. International Record

  • James R. Jones, Co-chair of Manatt Jones Global Strategies LLC: "The U.S. government needs to enforce the right of immigrants and other foreign visitors to contact their native country's consular offices at times of arrest much better than we do presently. . . . [W]e should do it for the benefit of U.S. citizens traveling abroad who should expect the same legal rights."
  • Tony Smith, Partner at Schmeltzer, Aptaker & Shepard: "The U.S. record is terrible . . . . Clearly, Americans are at risk, as more and more travel and do business in foreign countries."
  • Robert C. Helander, Managing Partner of InterConsult LLP: "Observing a suspect's Miranda rights is not sufficient in the case of a foreign national from a country with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations . . . [T]here needs to be better training and communication between the federal authorities and the local and state levels of policing."
  • (Latin America Advisor, August 27, 2002).

Mexican President Vincente Fox Says Human Rights is a Key Issue for Mexico

Mexican President Vicente Fox (pictured) recently discussed his decision to cancel a late August visit to Texas after the state's execution of a Mexican citizen. Fox noted:

"When you have commitments, when you believe in values, you live by them. Human rights is a key issue for this government. Precisely because in the past, and with past governments, there was no respect for human rights. . . . We've been promoting the respect for human rights in Mexico and out of Mexico. To be coherent, we did have to take the position we took."

The canceled visit would have taken Fox to four Texas cities and to Crawford, TX, where he had planned to meet with President Bush.

(Houston Chronicle, August 21, 2002). See also, Foreign Nationals.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh, who led two U.S. delegations to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, commenting on the U.S.'s loss of its seat on the Commission:

"Last week's vote is a wake-up call that the era of automatic global deference to U.S. leadership on human rights is over. Our belief in our global exceptionalism has too often led us to vote alone at the commission, falsely assuming that such isolationism has no costs. In the session just past, we stood alone or nearly alone in refusing to support resolutions supporting lower-cost access to HIV/AIDS drugs, acknowledging a human right to adequate food, condemning disappearances and calling for a moratorium on the death penalty."

(Washington Post, 5/8/01)

Death Penalty for Terrorists?

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Jessica Stern, who served on the National Security Council from 1994 to 1995, warned of the danger in executing terrorists:

"As a nation, we have decided that terrorism that results in loss of life should face the possibility of the death penalty. But is this wise?
. . .
[E]xecutions play right into the hands of our adversaries. We turn criminals into martyrs, invite retaliatory strikes and enhance the public relations and fund-raising strategies of our enemies.
. . .
[O]ther countries with far more experience in counterterrorism have concluded that imprisoning terrorists is the better option in the long run.
. . .
Our most powerful weapon against terrorists is our commitment to the rule of law. We must use the courts to make clear that terrorism is a criminal act, not jihad, not heroism, not holy war. And then, we must not make martyrs out of murderers."

(New York Times, 2/28/01) Read the complete op-ed.

International Perspective

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Felix G. Rohatyn, the former U.S. Ambassador to France from 1997 to 2000, and current counselor of the Council on Foreign Relations expressed his concern about America's use of the death penalty:

"During my nearly four years in France, no single issue evoked as much passion and as much protest as executions in the United States. Repeated protests in front of the embassy in Paris, protests at our consulates and, just recently, a petition signed by 500,000 French men and women delivered to our embassy in Paris were part of a constant refrain. My colleague in Germany, Ambassador John Kornblum, had indicated to me that he was challenged as frequently in Germany on this issue as I was in France.
. . .
[T]he United States is seen as executing people who have not had appropriate legal assistance, people who may be innocent, people who are mentally retarded as well as minors. We are viewed as executing disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor people, and there is no compelling statistical evidence that the death penalty is a greater deterrent to potential criminals than other forms of punishment.
Some 300 million of our closest allies think capital punishment is cruel and unusual and it might be worthwhile to give it some further thought."

(Washington Post, 2/20/01) Read the complete op-ed. See also, International Death Penalty.

Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Urges Americans to Rethink Capital Punishment

In an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, Walter Schwimmer, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, wrote:

"The maintenance of the death penalty in the United States is becoming more and more anachronistic. International organizations like the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union have issued calls for a moratorium on executions. There is a clear trend toward abolition, often preceded by the institution of a moratorium.
. . .
"The time has come for Americans to stop and think. Fortunately, this is precisely what a growing number of them seem to be doing. A recent report by the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington refers to polls that confirm that public support for the death penalty is declining. The report speaks of a broad change in the way Americans view capital punishment. More voices are being heard and initiatives taken in favor of a moratorium on executions.
"This movement deserves full support. Establishing moratoriums on executions in Europe has not been an easy process, and there is no reason to think that it will be any easier in the United States. But I have no doubt that willingness to consider the facts can only lead to the conclusion that this madness must end."

(International Herald Tribune, 1/25/01) See also, DPIC's 2000 Year End Report.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, upon receiving 3.2 million signatures of people seeking an end to executions presented to him by Sister Helen Prejean:

"The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. And I believe that future generations, throughout the world, will come to agree."

(Washington Post, 12/9/00).

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