Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You don’t need a justification for clemency

At 8.35am GMT, former gang leader Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin prison in Northern California, having been convicted 24 years ago of four murders. The Militant Pine Marten will not argue whether or not he was guilty, since it lacks any real knowledge of the evidence presented or the circumstances, but that isn’t strictly relevant here. Suffice to say that Williams always denied his guilt.

Williams’ last chance for a stay of execution was an appeal for clemency to the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican Governor of California by the Grace of Loki the Trickster God presumably. It’s quite often suggested in the media that although Schwarzenegger is part of the Republican top brass, he’s actually a closet liberal. Certainly socially, he’s perceived to be rather more liberal than George Bush, but then that’s not terribly difficult. The problem is that I haven’t seen any evidence of his alleged liberal leanings. Stepping in to stop gay weddings in Sacramento doesn’t strike me as very socially liberal, and approving the state-sponsored killing of a man who may have been a murderer, and may or may not have been repentant isn’t very liberal either.

I’m not idly questioning the jury in this case’s integrity or judgement, I’m basing what I say on Schwarzenegger’s own words. Last week, the governor said that he was "agonizing" over the case. Well you don’t agonize over things that you’re certain of, and even within a legal system that allows the State to take away its’ citizens’ lives, surely being unsure of their guilt is reason enough to show clemency? However it does not appear that Schwarzenegger thinks like that, stating, "I could find no justification for granting clemency".

This is an abhorrent statement. You don’t need to justify clemency. But you do need to explain why you let someone die, and you’d better be damned sure that he’s guilty. Something which Schwarzenegger was not. So why did he sanction Williams’ death? The obvious explanation is that he did it to align himself with influential figures and sections of the Republican Party grassroots, which is understandable in the context of political skulduggery. Only political machinations in a democracy don’t usually involve anyone’s death, especially not in a country that is the self-appointed global guardian of freedom, democracy and the legacy of the Enlightenment. For a group of proselytising Christians, Bush and his friends seem to have surprisingly little grasp of the concept of forgiveness. This continuing appetite for judicial revenge all seems a bit ‘Old Testament’.

In two years’ time, Bush will leave the White House, and his gang of neocon zealots with him. They haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory. At which point there’s a good chance that Schwarzenegger will be secure among the Republican nomenklatura whether he demonstrates a little effortless magnanimity or not. He can afford to make a point, to affirm what he stands for, if he really is a liberal Trojan donkey in the midst of the Republicans. But maybe he’s just a Macchiavellian greasy pole climber. Either way, I doubt that it will have been worth going to bed every night knowing he wasn’t quite sure if that man should have died or not.

"Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad." - Conan The Barbarian, 1982

"Yes we bloody well will." – The Militant Pine Marten, 2005


Anonymous said...

Hi mr Militant, sean here...

Reading your full blog on the issue, you seem to regard being anti-CP, as some sort of Liberal badge of honour and truth?

Well its not, In the US, polls have always shown a majority of republicans and democrats support CP, as well as the majority of atheists, Infact the support for CP is higher amongst those who dont attend chruch against those who do.

You will find a Gallop poll here.

and you will find a "classical" liberal view on CP here.


Pine Marten said...

Hello Sean.

I'd be interested to find out how the question about whether or not survey respondents were liberals was phrased. I suspect it was something like "Would you say you're a conservative, a moderate or a liberal?" Saying that one is a liberal means nothing unless one actually holds liberal views. By and large, support for capital punishment is not a tenet of American liberalism as a political philosophy. Although there is no universally accepted definition of American liberalism, I think that this Wikipedia entry is a good attempt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_liberalism#Philosophy_of_American_Liberalism
I certainly would consider being in favour of capital punishment to be a pretty illiberal position, hence the claim that Schwarzenegger cannot realistically claim to be a liberal. Maybe more liberal than George Bush though.

As to the matter of whether or not capital punishment is right or not, well, you can't prove it either way. You can muster the vast body of arguments for and against, wheigh them up, and on finding that they are strictly speaking inconclusive, you have to take a leap of faith one way or the other.

Qaz said...

Hi again...

>>By and large, support for capital punishment is not a tenet of American liberalism as a political philosophy<<

Is it a tenet of any other political philosophy?..seems to me life and death issues such as this and abortion ect. are matters of conscience.

I was mearly pointing out that support for CP is wide amongst all sections of society.

Infact I would go further, I would suggest that in every part of the world, in every culture, support for CP would be between 65 and 80%.

Its Europe thats odd in this argument, If you say that Iran is the ultra-conservative model of justice and Europe is the ultra-liberal model, then America is about in the middle, afterall since 1976, there has been (all aprox) 100k murders, 5500 death sentaces, 1000 executions and 3500 still on death row, Its hardly hang em and flog em is it?

>>As to the matter of whether or not capital punishment is right or not, well, you can't prove it either way.<< Well I beg to differ, proberbly the greatest philosopher in Western Civilisation Immanuel Kant was very much in favour.


For me the value of CP far outstrips its faults and floors (and there are many, esp in non-democratic nations), as stated above the natural moral law as expressed by most human opinion is that it some circumstances it is just, Man made law has become divorced from this opinion, and for me this is the greatest worry, as it undermines the whole system of law and order, which as we have seen since its abolition (which I would have suppored at the time) has resulted in a culture of "cheap life"

between 65 and 69 the murder rate more than doubled (aprox 125%), this was a state with the same government and laws and the same culture, there is no argument in my opinion that more innocent people die at the hands or violent people than would ever be had they been subject to due process of law.

As for state killing, well the state does not own "justice" it administers it. And I dont see how the State should take moral postitions on anything, including abortion. There are plenty of immoral laws, its up the politicos elected by the people to decide.

Revenge is also something brought up, rightly so...but its only revenge if I take the law into my own hands, If I go thru a process of law, then it becomes retribution.

Pine Marten said...

Dear Gaz,

Unless you can provide some credible evidence that about three quarters of the world population are in favour of capital punishment, I will have to dismiss that statement as unsubstantiated tripe. I realise that communication channels between the people and the political establishments in many democratic countries have been somewhat clogged up of late, but I have a strong suspicion that in most of Europe, the debate on capital punishment is for the time being closed. Indeed, no EU member state can use capital punishment or indeed extradite people to countrues that do. I don't think that by and large, this is controversial. So the US may not be Iran, but then we do have somewhat higher expectations of the US than we do of the Council of Guardians of the Revolution.

I find your natural law argument to be worrying. What does it mean exactly. An eye for an eye and so on? A punishment that more or less matches the offence committed? Whare does rehabilitation fit into that? And if you want to go all theological about it like many American voters do, where's the forgiveness?

Before we continue this discussion (and I'm grateful that you have so far actively engaged in it), may I assume that you're from the US? I'm obviously mot, being a European pine marten.

Anonymous said...

Pine Martin: "..legal system that allows the State to take away its’ citizens’ lives, surely being unsure of their guilt is reason enough to show clemency?"

Dear PM. I would rather live in a state system which permits a legitimate path to judicial execution than a state system which permits defacto but technically illegal state sponsored executions.

Tookie Williams had the benefit of defending his innocence through an established legitimate legal system. His various appeals lasted twelve years. He lost. Contrast that with the treatment of Jean Charles de Mendez, executed by the british police.

Contrast the treatment of Tookie Williams with that of Harry Stanley, shot dead by british police without even the benefit of a trial to establish his guilt.

Contrast the treatment of Tookie Williams with that of James Ashley shot because the police who had raided his house thought he was armed and dangerous. It is worth pointing out here, that he was naked and getting out of bed when he was shot dead.

Tookie Williams was guilty. The inhumain thing about the American judicial system is that it kept him 'hanging' around for twelve years, not quite knowing, will they, won't they. But even so, he was a damn sight more comfortable than any of Tookies numerous victims during their last hours.

This is the latest lefty band waggon to roll by, you seem constitutionally incapable of not running along behind whooping with indignation.

Pine Marten said...

It's not a Lefty bandwagon, it's a full political spectrum bandwagon. But don't worry, I'm certainly not going to defend the British police's unfortunate tendency to shoot people by mistake. Sometimes a dozen times. In the head. At point blank range. Because there's nothing more dangerous than a wounded Brazilian electrician.

Anonymous said...

From Pine Martins original post: "The problem is that I haven’t seen any evidence of his alleged liberal leanings."

That would only be a problem for liberals, wouldn't it? Presumably the consistency that voted for the Republician ticket are quite happy with the state of affairs.

Pine Martin: "But don't worry,"

But you see, I do worry. You get hot under the collar about a convicted murderer in a country which legally permits the death penalty, but you are coy about the state sponsored extra judicial murder in the UK, where the death penalty has been illegal for decades. Now you may be an American, in which case, I can understand your preoccupation with the McBushHaliHitlerCheany evil devil.

Pine Martin: " I'm certainly not going to defend the British police's unfortunate tendency to shoot people by mistake."

Multiple extra-judicial murder, tacitly approved, by the authorities in the UK is presented as a little joke ["...by mistake"]. But Judicial execution for the most serious crime after due process is worthy of a whole blog?

joelando9422 said...
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