Of guilt, culpability and capital punishment
Politics and expediency can never excuse the death penalty; nothing can
I learned on February 9 that the Government of India had executed Afzal Guru in Delhi. Afzal Guru had allegedly confessed then later recanted his confession and denied both plotting the attack and ever being a member of Jaish-e-MuhamMad, the militant group which carried out the attack. A man who was accused of also plotting the attack had his sentence reduced to 10 year in jail.
I am a criminal defense lawyer who has represented over a dozen men condemned to death in the United States. What is dismaying is that some of these men were later found to be innocent, and that prosecutors suppressed exculpatory evidence and proffered false scientific and testimonial evidence to procure the convictions of men who turned out to be innocent. Indeed, in my country 142 people have left death row because they were proven innocent.
There can never be sufficient certainty in the guilt of anyone in terms of moral or factual culpability such that anyone merits the death penalty. Certainly far too often the process of conviction and sentence to death involve matters kept secret by the Government, and too often counsel for the accused is either complicit or woefully inadequate. Believe me I am not being self-righteous here; my country has executed far more people than India in recent decades and indeed incarcerates more prisoners per capita than any country on earth. But is it not striking that the archaic and brutal death penalty persists in some of the most technologically advanced countries – the United States, China, Japan and India – as well as some of the most authoritarian regimes which make no pretense to democracy?
India must know that the execution will exacerbate tensions in Kashmir because it confirms India’s extant oppression and failure to accord respect for the citizens of Kashmir. India imposed a curfew to suppress political outrage at its autocratic act of brutality. And the execution feeds the support for Pakistani militants and other militants who would seek violent means to achieve justice – and as we know justice almost never is a precipitate of such violence. The high percentage of Indians who favored executing Afzal Guru is no excuse for perpetuating this barbaric and unnecessary practice. The imposition of death by the state is too often the imposition of martyrdom and serves neither as deterrent nor object lesson. We do not teach non-violence by state violence of any kind.
No one is suggesting that the nine innocents killed in 2001 should not have been vindicated, but lifelong incarceration is a severe punishment and leaves open the chance that innocence can be demonstrated. Clemency was an opportunity to accord respect to independent Assembly Member Sheikh Rashid and to the people of Kashmir who sought clemency but were the victims of the sort of parliamentary diffidence that led to Britain’s last execution of 19-year-old Derek Bentley in 1953. Politics and expediency can never excuse the death penalty; nothing can. What would Mohandas Gandhi say?
(Jim Drummond is a criminal defense lawyer from US. He has written this piece exclusively for GK. Courtesy Nyla Ali Khan)
Lastupdate on : Wed, 13 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 13 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 14 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST
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