« Rolling Stone laments enduring casualties of drug war's mandatory minimums | Main | Distinctive religious perspective on the drug war for the season »

October 8, 2014

Criticizing the tenure of AG Eric Holder based on the death penalty as a human rights issue

This extended New Republic commentary authored by Mugambi Jouet, somewhat inaccurately titled "What Eric Holder — and Most Americans — Don't Understand About the Death Penalty," takes shots at Holder's specific record on the death penalty:

Attorney General Eric Holder's recent resignation announcement prompted a flurry of assessments on his six years of service under President Obama. He let Wall Street off too easy. He was a hero to the poor. He compromised civil liberties in the name of national security—and defended civil rights better than any attorney general before him. But the debate over Holder’s record has overlooked one of the most important aspects of his legacy. Holder has been profoundly at odds with the rest of the Western world on one of the most significant human rights issues of our time: the death penalty.

All Western democracies except America have abolished capital punishment and consider it an inherent human rights violation. America further stands out as one of the countries that execute the most people. Thirty-nine prisoners were executed by the United States in 2013. While that figure marked a continuing decline in the annual number of U.S. executions, it still placed America fifth worldwide, right behind several authoritarian regimes: China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

No federal prisoner has been executed since 2003, yet Holder’s decisions could ultimately lead this de facto moratorium to end, as he authorized federal prosecutors to pursue capital punishment in several dozen cases. "Even though I am personally opposed to the death penalty, as Attorney General I have to enforce federal law," Holder has argued. Prosecutors actually have the discretion not to pursue the death penalty at all — at the risk of losing popularity — since enforcing the law does not require pursuing capital punishment as opposed to incarceration....

Holder notably approved the decision to seek the death penalty in the federal trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of perpetrating the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 — and whom a majority of Americans want to be executed. Nevertheless, the state of Massachusetts has abolished the death penalty and only 33 percent of Boston residents support executing Tsarnaev as opposed to sentencing him to life in prison without parole. However, Holder’s decisions supporting capital punishment have hardly been limited to terrorism cases. For example, he authorized the recent decision to seek the death penalty for Jessie Con-Ui, a Pennsylvania prisoner accused of murdering a federal correctional officer....

The death penalty is rarely framed as a human rights issue in America, unlike in other Western democracies. That's partly because the principle of human rights plays a very limited role overall in the legal and political debate in the U.S., where "human rights" commonly evoke foreign problems like abuses in Third World dictatorships — not problems at home.

The situation is different on the other side of the Atlantic, where the European Court of Human Rights tackles a broad range of problems facing European states, from freedom of speech to labor rights, discrimination, and criminal justice reform. National human rights commissions also exist in multiple countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, and New Zealand. These bodies focus mostly or exclusively on monitoring domestic compliance with human rights standards. On the other hand, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, an arm of the U.S. Congress, focuses on the human rights records of foreign countries.

The relative absence of human rights as a principle in modern America is remarkable given how U.S. leaders actively promoted the concept in its infancy. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invoked “human rights” in his “Four Freedoms Speech” of 1941. Eleanor Roosevelt was among the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. As the human rights movement progressed in later decades, Martin Luther King said in 1968 that “we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights.”

Even though Holder regards King as one of his models — and despite his proposals to make the U.S. penal system less punitive and discriminatory — the nation’s first black attorney general hardly put human rights at the center of his agenda.

The death penalty is far from the only human right issue where America stands apart from other Western democracies. America effectively has the world’s top incarceration rate, with 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. America is likewise virtually alone worldwide in authorizing life imprisonment for juveniles. Its reliance on extremely lengthy periods of solitary confinement has been denounced by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. The extreme punishments regularly meted to U.S. prisoners are generally considered flagrant human rights violations in other Western countries. Nevertheless, Holder argued that America has “the greatest justice system the world has ever known.”

By the same token, no other modern Western democracy has gone as far as America in disregarding international human rights standards as part of anti-terrorism measures. This trend has been epitomized by indefinite detention at Guantanamo and the torture of alleged terrorists under the Bush administration. These practices have sharply divided U.S. public opinion but only a segment of Americans have depicted them as “human rights” abuses....

[T]he limited weight of human rights in the U.S. legal and political debate is not without consequences. Human rights are a far stronger basis to oppose practices like the death penalty or torture than the administrative arguments frequently invoked in America. The human rights argument against such practices is largely based on the premise that they violate human dignity....

Holder's narrow focus on problems with the administration of capital punishment suggests that he is among the many U.S. public officials and reformers who believe they have no duty to assess the “moral” issues regarding the death penalty. Whether this stance is justified or not, it seems quite exceptionally American in the modern Western world. Most contemporary European, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander jurists probably would disagree with the notion that it is not their duty to assess whether executions violate human dignity.

Martin Luther King, who considered the death penalty an affront to human dignity, argued that “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” Perhaps Eric Holder — and his boss, Barack Obama — would have been willing to argue that the death penalty is dehumanizing if they did not fear losing popularity.

October 8, 2014 at 09:52 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Criticizing the tenure of AG Eric Holder based on the death penalty as a human rights issue:


No mention of the million plus murder victims, except for a correction officer. What a horrible, cuel, heartless person this author is. The stench of the rent makes the nostril flare. Morally reprehensible.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 8, 2014 3:48:59 PM

Portugal, Spain and Norway have softer penal systems in the world, in fact these are the only European Union countries that have no life imprisonment.
There is not life in Spain. In Spain, the fanaticism of defenders of the rights of criminals is so great life imprisonment that oppose even when there is a possibility of parole. In 1975 the criminal law in Spain professors penal law demanded the abolition of the death penalty and prohibition of all sentences of more Than 20 years. Spain Currently the maximum penalty is 20 years for first degree murder, if it is a multiple murder the maximum sentence is 25 years however Penal Reform in 2003 raises the maximum compliance in a case 40 years. Terrorism important to note That Were These penalties Fully never implemented; In 25 years, When the subject has been convicted of two or more Crimes and Punisher is one of Them by law with Imprisonment of up to 20 years.
In 30 years, When the subject has been convicted of two or more crimes and some of Them by punisher by law is 20 years Imprisonment Exceeding.
40, When the subject has Been Convicted of two or more Crimes and at least two of Them Are Legally punisher by Imprisonment Exceeding 20 years.
40, When the subject has Been Convicted of two or more Crimes of Terrorism in the second section of Chapter V of Title XXII of Book II of this Code and Any of Them by punisher by law is 20 years Imprisonment Exceeding.
You See That Follows the Principle Applies Above here, Though INSTEAD of the limit of 20 years Establishing the 40, But The Substance Remains The Same: Do Not care to kill three to thirty-three or three hundred thirty-three people.Spain penals Laws Are Even Worse Than the England: no life sentence, conjugal visits, gymnasiums, swimming pools (sic) in prisons.USA and Spain Had too many killers eleven who Were Sentenced to Death for Murders initial, kill again after having Been Spared execution: Kenneth Allen McDuff, Darryl Kemp, Joe Morse, Harvey Louis Carrignan, Bennie Demps, Eddie Simon Wein, Mad Dog Taborsky and on and on. These killers and rapists had been executed the first time around, many innocents would have lived.
Clear that after abolishing death the “reformers” would seek to attack LWOP next, then any long prison sentences.
Please, I deeply respect for human rights of the victims also Activists fight against the Death Penalty but want to keep the LWOP. I Just want that victims are not deceived as happened in Spain.

Posted by: Alfonso | Oct 19, 2014 1:00:58 AM

But the mistake of advocates for more lenient sentences to criminals is to ignore the experience of other countries in their policies on crime.Clear that abolishing death after the “reformers” would seek to attack next LWOP, then any longer prison sentences. Amnesty International Campaigns in Japan to abolish the death penalty oppose enter LWOP but also … That is the funny thing according to japanese law a life sentence dog Apply for parole only after 10 years And Also Those under 20 years or Be Sentenced events to the life sentence …
It is true That the lobby in USA PRO-CRIMINAL is ambiguous on LWOP But this is Merely a tactic expect to deletion of the death penalty … to demand the release of Convicted murderers to life Imprisonment. So has-been the case with France, Germany, Spain, etc.

Posted by: Alfonso | Oct 19, 2014 1:02:34 AM

Europe has good and bad points. We have a much more fair , inexpensive and effective than private healthcare U.S. healthcare system. The patients’ rights are better protected than in USA . We also have bad things , unfortunately the rights of victims of violent crimes are violated and ignored. USA is far more advanced than Europe in this regard. Marsy ‘s Law is an example for Spain and for Europe. Victims may appeal the probation and prison permissions benefits of their attackers , according to the draft law of the Statute of the Victims of Crime which was approved a few weeks ago by the Council of Ministers , at the proposal of the Minister of Justice. The project envisages the possibility for victims of terrorist crimes, homicide, assault and sexual offenses punishable by more than five years in prison , ie most serious crimes , or when you try to events likely to derive a danger to the victim. But I do not trust me . Let’s turn to an association in defense of victims of sex crimes : <

” Affected families are desolate and afraid they might recur ,” stressed the president of this organization, Estrella Blanca Ruiz, in an interview with Efe in which advocates inform victims about the location and physical changes of his attackers including Luis Gallego and Pedro Pablo García Ribado , known as the ‘ elevator rapist ‘ and ‘ rapist portal ‘, respectively.

Ruiz regrets that can not legally implement these aggressors as an electronic monitoring bracelet , so urges victims that if they find them and feel persecuted or intimidated attend the bodies and state security forces .

No further believes that the ‘ rapist lift ‘ or ‘ rapist portal ‘ are ready for their reintegration into society and recalls that “have not acknowledged the facts , they have not asked for forgiveness, they are unrepentant , have refused to perform rehabilitation courses and have not compensated their victims . ”

“In many Valladolid were mugged by the ‘ elevator rapist ‘ and psychological issues affected only 18 complaints were recorded sexual assaults in court ,” argues the president of the association for the defense of women.

Believes that ” appears” that the European Court of Human Rights, which annulled the Parot doctrine ” does not care ” if these aggressors ” commit a crime again .”

The president of the association Clara Campoamor also emphasizes that “it is this insecurity that is causing a public alarm .”>>


Posted by: Alfonso | Oct 19, 2014 1:04:52 AM

I read an interesting story about a conference of Amnesty International’s death penalty celeb in Japan. According to Japanese law anyone under 20 years can be sentenced to life imprisonment but to hang if you have more than 18 years. The convicts over 20 years can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment, in the latter case puden eligible for parole after 10 years in prison. Amnesty International was furious because he had submitted a draft law abolishing the death penalty but substitute life imprisonment without parole. The speakers made it clear that under no circumstances accept either the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole.

Posted by: Alfonso | Oct 19, 2014 1:06:07 AM

The abolition and his painful consequences : http://murderpedia.org/male.C/c/chamba-gilberto.htm

Posted by: Alfonso | Oct 19, 2014 1:08:35 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB