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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Battle Death Penalty - Challenger - Second Rebuttal

Speaking of attacking sources, did I ever tell you how much I like Nebraska? No? Regardless, the people there deserve equal access to the protections Rosemary has been discussing when it comes to the death penalty. After all, 23 men have been executed in that state in the 20th Century.

What’s interesting is that Rose went out of her way in her opening statements to point out that (a) lethal injection is a really friendly way to kill prisoners, and (b) ALL states have lethal injection as an option. My own stated feelings about lethal injection aside, I really have to call Rosemary out on this issue. As a point of fact, the ONLY form of execution in Nebraska is electrocution (remember my first rebuttal and the 5 minutes of smoking and burning before death?), which another 7 folks are eagerly awaiting on death row right now in that state. How did I find out that Nebraska ONLY allows electrocution and doesn’t have lethal injection as an alternative choice? Why, I clicked on Rose’s initial post where it said “All states have lethal injection as an alternative choice” in blue letters. I suspect this was a rushed oversight, but the point was hers to win in an uncontested and unfounded manner until I clicked.

Maybe a small point to the average reader, but, then again, maybe not so small to those seven folks about to fry for five minutes before death, blessedly, releases them.

For her part, Rose aptly pointed out that I drew upon the Death Penalty Information Center in my opening statement. She also pointed out, equally aptly, that the Death Penalty Information Center is biased.

Then she made it sound like every link in my opening statement was to the DPIC or some equally biased organization, which is an overstatement meant to lead judges to think it’s true. I am comfortable with how often I drew on the admittedly-biased DPIC.

This just in: I didn’t seem to reference the DPIC at all in my rebuttal, did I? I suspect that Rose read Thief’s comments on my opening and threw it out there to see if it would stick.

Not to mention that, while the DPIC is biased in belief, the statistics they provide are accurate and dependable. A group can both believe something AND be right about it.

Rose also implied that the “eye for an eye” concept appeared first in my posts.

It may be true that I used the literal phrase “an eye for an eye” first, but our archaic death penalty system uses it as its source. The 1690 laws Rosemary cited originally come directly from that turn of phrase. Every debate on the topic at some point goes back to the concept of “an eye for an eye,” even if the term is not used.

Rosemary uses the word “justice” when referring to the death penalty, as if killing someone who kills is a one-for-one repayment. A rose by any other name, Rose, would smell as bad when being electrocuted.

I revere the Bible. But the simple truth is that our concept of state-sanctioned killing as justice is not only a lie, but one based on outdated Bible texts that need to be thrown out of our legal system. Separate church and state once and for all. Only then can we get to the truth: killing a killer is not a just retribution.

I see now that it is past time to disabuse the Iron Blog readership of the widely-believed but completely untrue idea that the Bible somehow SUPPORTS the death penalty, since our death penalty system is founded on that Biblical claim.

The problem is that we are basing a system of killing on a book most people don’t read, and didn’t read for non-political purposes when the death penalty was put in place.

For instance, the “eye for an eye” statement itself is most often taken out of context. This guideline was part of the Talion (legal retribution) Codes, which sought to limit vengeance, not legislate it.

Since time is short, but the end point is critical, I will skip the many sidelong and indirect references condemning the death penalty in the Bible and focus on the two capital crimes cases presented therein, as well as Jesus’ direct comments about the issue.

The first example comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 8, the “woman caught in the act of adultery” story, wherein Jesus stops authorities from stoning an admitted criminal to death. “Let him who is without sin throw the first switch… er, cast the first stone.”

The other example of a capital crimes case is the trial of Jesus himself before Roman Procurate Pontius Pilate in Matthew 27. Here is a perfect example of the pitfalls of the death penalty. First, we have a weak-kneed ruler who is swayed by popular opinion and so Jesus receives an unfair trial as a minority Jew. Second, we see the fickle crowd guided not by rational legal discourse but by animalistic need for revenge (“Let him be crucified! Yay!”) when a week earlier, in Matthew 21, the same crowds in Jerusalem had shouted “hosanna” in praise of Jesus – silly crowds. Third, we have an innocent man (perhaps the only one in history to REALLY be innocent, the Bible says) killed by the death penalty. All three points here go right back to my opening remarks.

Finally, to put the issue to bed so we can all get back to whatever it was we were doing, Jesus himself dismisses the old “eye for an eye” laws specifically. In Matthew 5, Jesus gives six updates on the Law of Moses. One of them, in verse 38, says “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you…” and goes on to introduce Jesus’ concept of turning the other cheek.

That was a lot of religious yapping, I admit, but it is important to attend to for this reason: the death penalty is based on a doubly wrong foundation. First of all, it is (and should not be) founded ultimately on archaic concepts from a religious book. Second of all, it is based on concepts appropriated WRONGLY from a religious book. Gads.

The death penalty is not a one-for-one affair. As I said before, killing a killer still leaves a killer behind, only we ironically call this killer “the justice system” and we let it go on killing. The more a person, or a system, kills, the easier it becomes to kill again. That’s the nature of revenge. That’s how killing works – it’s a false equivalency.

Now then, on to Rosemary’s defense of the death penalty, which even the Senate has recently attempted to review, only to be blocked by (this will shock you) the conservatives (didn’t see that one coming, did you?) who rule Congress.

Rose made several good hits, which I shall attempt to dance through briefly and directly:

*Killing, murdering, slaying, life-ending, consciousness-snuffing, halo-empowering, whacking out, ringing down the curtain and joining the Choir Invisible, checking into the wooden Waldorf, voting for Nader: any term for death is fine with me. The victim isn’t likely to walk after from whatever you choose to call it.

*Do I want to dump the appeals process to save money? Heavens, no. I want to dump the executable crime process altogether to save money. Then we would be able to afford bigger cells than the six foot by six foot rooms Rosemary seems to presume all solitary confinement cells need to be. Besides, solitary confinement is only for the extreme and rare cases, like Lemuel Smith. That guy’s a humdinger, no doubt about it, Rose. I doubt he’s typical, though. I expect we could keep those few who refuse to play nice away from the other kids on the cell block.

*Yes, I really am sorry I mentioned the Holocaust, not because I equated it to the death penalty or eating at McDonalds, because clearly I did not. Instead, I’m sorry because I under-estimated how our culture has become so sensitive to the word “Holocaust.” It was part of a list from small to large of ways we justify what our hearts want. To claim I was using it to equate the two is silly, and even if I did think somehow a Big Mac and the Holocaust were equal, it wouldn’t affect my argument about justification at all.

*Yes, I think it is possible for everyone to be rehabilitated, even if not to a degree where they can be let out of solitary.

*How did DNA testing become the magical solve-all in murder cases? It is simply another tool in a lawyers’ tool belt, one which has issues surrounding it like any other. To be frank, the way Rosemary has used it reminds me of the way folks said the invention of the A-bomb would end all wars. That worked out swell.

*O.J. and Chewbacca aside, my point that the poor don’t get the same representation as those with funds abides.

*How did Klingons become an issue? I agree they are naughty, and I disagree with their philosophy. My point in the original quote exactly.

*Do I have proof of someone executed unjustly since 1973? Nope, and here’s why:

“The United States has never admitted that it has wrongfully executed a prisoner. But that is a meaningless statement,” says Professor Lawrence Marshall of Northwestern University School of Law. “After an execution, the investigation ends and the key witness is dead.”

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, states have executed 486 prisoners and have exonerated 75 others. “How can anyone say these are anything but horrible odds,” says famed defense lawyer Barry Scheck. “Divide 75 into 500, it means almost one in six times, we are dead wrong. If you got the wrong results at a hospital one in six times, you’d have no faith in the system,” he says. “You’d demand the hospital be shut down.”

Preach it, Barry.

And then there’s this little gem:

Evidence of innocence is irrelevant! -Mary Sue Terry, former Attorney General of Virginia (replying to an appeal to introduce new evidence from a prisoner sentenced to death).

* While Rosemary pointed to the Matthew Shepard case, it is, like Lemuel, a rare and extreme case of gross (and vengeful!) violence. In most cases, when a prisoner is sentenced to death, the punishment far outweighs the crime:

An execution is not simply death. It is just as different from the privation of life as a concentration camp is from prison. It adds to death a rule, a public premeditation known to the future victim, an organization which is itself a source of moral sufferings more terrible than death. Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated, can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life. –Albert Camus
*“Or when they lie about sex during a civil trial.” Um, did this absurd Clinton reference somehow disprove the point that many killed folks were represented by disbarred lawyers?

*Self-defense (of your person in the street and your country on D-Day) is necessary. However, the definition of self-defense requires no more violence than necessary at the time. Hmm... He’s strapped down and wired in... I can’t call that self-defense, can I?

*There’s nothing wrong with desiring retribution, either, according to Rosemary’s definition. I draw the line at empowering any group of fallible humans to kill other humans, however. That’s NOT Rose’s definition of retribution, because it’s not a one-for-one tradeoff.

Love you, love your show,

Big Dan


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