The Court skirts the issue

The Supreme Court ruled June 20 that it is unconstitutional to execute mentally deficient prisoners, mentally deficient being defined at scoring less than 70 on a standard IQ test.

On June 24 the Court again ruled on the death penalty, deciding that the Sixth Amendment’s stipulation that “the accused shall have the right to trial by an impartial jury” meant that a judge could not impose death if a jury had not so recommended. Judges determine sentences in nine states, some with jury recommendations, some without; almost 800 prisoners in those states face death. Juries are far less likely to impose the death penalty than are judges.

These measures are good as far as they go, but look under the surface and the spectre of death and injustice reappears. How can you justify taking the life of a prisoner who “scored” 73 on an IQ test while sparing one who scored 69? Are the prisoners in states where judges have made the decisions mandating their deaths to receive new trials?

Are the decisions retroactive? If not – and they usually are not – it would seem unjust in the extreme to execute one whose trial and conviction occurred before the decision and pardon another whose conviction came perhaps only a few days later.

Neither of these decisions touches on the existence of the death penalty itself. They have whittled away at it, perhaps in response to increasing public discomfort and questioning of its fairness and infallibility.

It is as if they are trying to guarantee its fairness, which is an illusive goal. It remains to be seen whether these decisions are steps toward the final recognition that the death penalty is, by its very nature, hopelessly flawed, as well as an abomination to be shunned by humanity.

Or are they steps simply skirting the issue until the tide of public opinion changes. The growth of the anti-death penalty movement will certainly be a factor in that process.


Bush Mideast policy a non-starter

The struggle for a just peace in the Middle East suffered two setbacks last week: The first, the long-awaited speech on Mideast policy by President Bush; and second, the return of Israeli tanks and troops to Palestinian cities. Both show an arrogant disregard for world public opinion and international law.

According to his handlers, the president still supports the “two states for two peoples” concept laid out in the Oslo Accords of 1993. The speech, with its long list of what the Palestinian people must do and near total silence on the responsibilities of the Israeli government, indicates the far-right Christian and Zionist ideologues and the U.S. armaments industry won this round.

The Bush plan puts the burden on the Palestinian people, not on the Sharon government to end the occupation, the starting point for any negotiated settlement.

How can the Palestinians be expected to carry out elections while the Israeli military confines more than 700,000 people to their homes under curfews that can last for days and that disrupt the lives of roughly two million people in the West Bank? And the answer is: they can’t.

It is the height of imperial arrogance for anyone outside the Palestinian people to choose their leader. That choice lies with the Palestinians only.

Although Bush told Israel to release frozen revenues, end building settlements and negotiate the future of Jerusalem and refugees, he set no timetable. Thus, he gave the Israeli military an opportunity to grab all they can and establish the “facts on the ground” for when peace talks eventually take place.

Bush’s vague promise of a state without territory and without protection from further Israeli incursions, all conditional on overthrowing Arafat, is a non-starter.

The demand to end the occupation of Palestinian territory, backed up by the power of the purse, by stopping the $5 billion of U.S. aid to Israel, is the starting point. The call to send international peace-keeping forces, without U.S. troops, must be heeded as well.



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