Torture, War, and Capital Punishment
Linkages and Missed Connections
May 2008. The presidential primary campaigns are in full swing in the United States. Mortgage foreclosures, high gas prices, the war in Iraq, and health care dominate the campaign debates and policy pronouncements. Meanwhile, crucial decisions are made by current incumbents of the three branches of government and its administrative and military agencies about the constitutionality of forms of state execution, specifically lethal injections, and forms of “unlawful enemy combatant” interrogation, specifically waterboarding. The Supreme Court has recently released its decision on the lethal injection protocol challenge (Baze v. Rees); another death-row inmate (three in the past several months) in North Carolina is released because of prosecutorial withholding of evidence potentially favorable to the defendant, a new study is released finding racial disparities in capital sentencing, the Justice Department finally releases the previously classified March 2003 John Yoo memorandum on “Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held outside the United States,” seven alien enemy detainees at Guantanamo have been officially charged with war crimes and, with the prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty, are set to be tried after many years of detention and after some of them had been subject to harsh interrogation methods (deemed by many to be torture). On the campaign trail, precious little is said about these consequential actions and decisions. Yet they raise critical issues about the self-understanding of the United States, the limits of state violence, the rule of law (including international law), and human rights—all topics a public might legitimately expect its candidates for office to engage. In their totality, they present a picture of where this country now stands on the road to abolition.