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Dead Man Walking, 20 Years On June 20, 2013

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Published on Thursday, June 20, 2013 by TruthDig.com 

  by  Amy Goodman

Thirty years ago, a Catholic nun working in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans was asked if she would be a pen pal to a death-row prisoner. Sister Helen Prejean agreed, forever changing her life, as well as the debate on capital punishment in this country.

Her experiences inspired her first book, “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,” which has just been republished on its 20th anniversary. She was a pen pal with Patrick Sonnier, a convicted murderer on death row in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison. In her distinctive Southern accent, she told me of her first visit to Sonnier: “It was scary as all get-out. I had never been in a prison before. … I was scared to meet him personally. When I saw his face, it was so human, it blew me away. I got a realization then, no matter what he had done … he is worth more than the worst thing he ever did. And the journey began from there.”

Photo: michele molinari/cc/flickr

Sister Helen became Sonnier’s spiritual adviser, conversing with him as his execution approached. She spent his final hours with him, and witnessed his execution on April 5, 1984. She also was a spiritual advisor to another Angola death row prisoner, Robert Lee Willie, who was executed the same year. The book was made into a film, directed by Tim Robbins and starring Susan Sarandon as Prejean and Sean Penn as the character Matthew Poncelet, an amalgam of Sonnier and Williams. Sarandon won the Oscar for Best Actress, and the film’s success further intensified the national debate on the death penalty.

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world still using the death penalty. There are currently 3,125 people on death row in the U.S., although death-penalty opponents continue to make progress. Maryland is the most recent state to abolish capital punishment. After passage of the law, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wrote: “Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it cannot be administered without racial bias, and it costs three times as much as life in prison without parole. What’s more, there is no way to reverse a mistake if an innocent person is put to death.”

Studies of the racial bias abound. The Death Penalty Information Center, citing a recent Louisiana Law Review study, reports that in Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97 percent higher for crimes in which the victim was white than those where the victim was African-American. Nationally, 75 percent of the cases that resulted in an execution had white victims.

Although Colorado is not one of the states to abolish the death penalty, Gov. John Hickenlooper used his executive authority to grant a temporary reprieve to one of the three death-row prisoners there, saying, “It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives.”

This week, Indiana released a former death-row prisoner. Paula Cooper was convicted for the 1985 murder of Ruth Pelke. Cooper was sentenced to death at the age of 16, and was, at the time, the youngest person on death row in this country. Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, actively campaigned for clemency for her: “I became convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my grandmother would have been appalled by the fact that this girl was on death row and there was so much hate and anger towards her.” He went on, “When Paula was taken off of death row in the fall of 1989, I thought, ‘Well, that’s it. She’s off of death row. My mission has been accomplished.’”

Nevertheless, Pelke joined a march from Florida’s death-row prison to Atlanta, on which he met Sister Helen Prejean. “After 17 days of walking down the highways with this nun, you get a real education about the death penalty. It was on that march with Sister Helen Prejean where I dedicated my life to the abolition of the death penalty,” he said. “As long as there’s any state in this world that’s killing their own citizens, I’m going to stand up and say that it’s wrong.”

Prejean said one of her greatest regrets was that she failed to reach out to the families of the murder victims while she was spiritual adviser to Sonnier and Willie. She went on to found Survive, an organization to support families of murder victims like Pelke. She wrapped up our conversation this week by saying: “I’ve accompanied six human beings and watched them be killed. I have a dedication to them to do this; I can’t walk away from this. I’m going to be doing this until I die.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2013 Amy Goodman



Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.


Human Rights Watch decries U.S. prison system January 31, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 10:25 AM EST

The NGO’s World Report criticizes mass incarceration and U.S. record of torture and extrajudicial killing



Human Rights Watch decries U.S. prison system (Credit: Shutterstock)

Human Rights Watch Thursday published its annual World Report, in which it lays out a pointed critique of the U.S. prison system. The enormous prison population  — the largest in the world at 1.6million — “partly reflects harsh sentencing practices contrary to international law,” notes the report.

The 2013 World Report, a 665-page tome which assesses human rights progress in the past year in 90 countries, highlights particular issues undergirding the U.S.’s blighted carceral system. It notes that “practices contrary to human rights principles, such as the death penalty, juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement are common and often marked by racial disparities.” Via HRW:

Research in 2012 found that the massive over-incarceration includes a growing number of elderly people whom prisons are ill-equipped to handle, and an estimated 93,000 youth under age 18 in adult jails and another 2,200 in adult prisons. Hundreds of children are subjected to solitary confinement. Racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately represented in the prison population.

HRW cite statistics often used to show racial disparities in the U.S. prison system. For example, while whites, African Americans and Latinos have comparable rates of drug use, African Americans are arrested for drug offenses, including possession, at three times the rate of white men.

“The United States has shown little interest in tackling abusive practices that have contributed to the country’s huge prison population,” said Maria McFarland, deputy U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately, it is society’s most vulnerable – racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, immigrants, children, and the elderly – who are most likely to suffer from injustices in the criminal justice system.”

Although noting some progress in 2012 (both D.C. and Connecticut joined the ranks of 16 states to have abolished the death penalty), HRW also stressed continuing injustices in U.S. immigration policies, labor issues and treatment of minorities, women, the disabled and HIV positive individuals. The report was particularly critical when reviewing the U.S.’s counterterrorism policies. The NGO noted in a statement:

Both the Obama administration and Congress supported abusive counterterrorism laws and policies, including detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, restrictions on the transfer of detainees held there, and prosecutions in a fundamentally flawed military commission system.  Attacks by US aerial drones were carried out in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, with important legal questions about the attacks remaining unanswered.

The administration has taken no steps toward accountability for torture and other abuses committed by US officials in the so-called “war on terror,” and a Justice Department criminal investigation into detainee abuse concluded without recommending any charges. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence completed a more than 6,000-page report detailing the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program, but has yet to seek the report’s declassification so it can be released to the public.

The World Report explicitly mentions Obama’s signing of the NDAA in 2011 (an act he repeated this year), noting, “The act codified the existing executive practice of detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge, and required that certain terrorism suspects be initially detained by the military if captured inside the U.S..”

Next week, the lawsuit against Obama over the NDAA’s definite detention provision will be back in federal court as plaintiffs including Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky seek an injunction prohibiting indefinite detention of civilians without charge or trial.

Comments from HRW’s McFarland point out what’s at stake for the president here: “The Obama administration has a chance in its second term to develop with Congress a real plan for closing Guantanamo and definitively ending abusive counterterrorism practices,” McFarland said. “A failure to do so puts Obama at risk of going down in history as the president who made indefinite detention without trial a permanent part of U.S. law.”

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com. More Natasha Lennard.

US Joins with Iran, N. Korea, Syria in Opposing Abolition of Death Penalty November 20, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
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Roger’s note: the United States government via its military actions, arms exports and financing of other governments’ (such as Israel) military adventures, is responsible for thousands of criminal deaths.  Most of the States execute hundreds of mostly Afro-American, Latino and indigenous inmates.  And that’s not to mention wholesale torture.  But abort a three-month old fetus?  Murder!!! 


Published on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 by Common Dreams

As world makes progress towards abolishing state-sanctioned murder, US remains defiant

  – Common Dreams staff

The US on Monday once again voted down a resolution at the UN calling for an international moratorium on the death penalty. In doing so, the US joined nations it often critcizes as human rights “outliers” like Iran, North Korea, Syria and China in opposition to a growing global trend away from the practice.

 A record number of countries voted to abolish the death penalty, but the US sided with Iran and North Korea on the issue. (Photo: Eric Risberg/AP)

Though the US often loudly criticizes other nations for their human rights records, the US in recent years has lost its moral footing in the wake of torture scandals, its continued position on the death penalty, and because of many policies practiced under the umbrella of what it calls the “war on terror.”

US allies in the European Union, as well as Israel, Australia, Brazil and South Africa were among the growing number of nations who voted in support of the resolution, which grew to 110 nations this year from 107 when the resolution was last put to a vote in 2010.

Norway wrote on its Twitter account was “a great result.”

In May, the US annual human rights report criticized Iran, Syria, China and other countries for human rights abuses, and “had particularly harshly worded condemnation of Iran and Syria,” countries the US said it was “watching,” The Guardian reported.

Yet the US has also been subject to criticism from Amnesty International and other groups over such abuses as domestic executions, extrajudicial drone strikes overseas, wars of aggression and its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Norway, along with France’s new government, campaigned for the full General Assembly to pass a resolution in December calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.

The vote is non-binding, but diplomats say it would increase moral pressure. As The Nation reports:

The vote tears apart traditional alliances at the United Nations. The United States, Japan, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe were among 39 countries to oppose the non-binding resolution in the assembly’s rights committee. Thirty-six countries abstained.

Some 150 countries have abolished or instituted a moratorium on capital punishment, according to Amnesty International.

The organization reports that  China executed “thousands” of prisoners in 2011, and other countries executing at least 680, “with Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia major users of capital punishment.”

In the United States, Illinois last year became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty.

I am still Troy Davis and I am still committed to taking the death penalty system down! September 23, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Uncategorized.
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I am still Troy Davis and I am still committed to taking the death penalty system down!
Georgia — we’ve got unfinished business.
One year ago today, you did the unthinkable. You executed a man even though the case against him had fallen apart. You had the chance to commute his sentence to life to avoid the risk of executing someone for a crime he may not have committed, but you dashed that option. Add to that, you carried out the execution in my name.
For the rest of our lives, we are left to wonder: Did Georgia kill an innocent man?
roger, I remember the intense mix of emotions I felt on September 21, 2011. I remember the anger and horror. But most of all, I remember feeling a strong resolve come over me to take the death penalty system down!
Georgia officials — we’re not letting you off the hook, but this time we’re also involving the U.S. Department of Justice to give Troy Davis’ case — and others — the scrutiny they deserve. Investigate the execution of Troy Davis and patterns of government misconduct in death penalty cases.
We’ve been busy over the past year — building a stronger case for why the death penalty system must be abolished. You see, all of the alarms we sounded in the case of Troy Davis — including alleged police coercion of witnesses — are many of the same alarms we’ve sounded before in other instances where people’s lives are on the line.
In far too many cases, death and doubt go hand-in-hand: from Troy Davis to Robert Waterhouse, who was executed in Florida on Feb. 15 of this year, despite the fact that evidence from the crime scene had been destroyed before it could be subjected to DNA analysis. Let’s not forget Reggie Clemons, who is fighting for his life right now, despite the fact that the case against him was likely built on police brutality and an abusive prosecutor.
That’s why Amnesty International, along with the NAACP, is taking 10 well-documented capital cases, including Troy’s, to the very top of the justice system — and demanding not just answers, but accountability.
Help us put the justice system in check!
The death penalty is fundamentally flawed because it’s fallible — it makes mistakes. Since 1973, 140 people have been released from death row due to evidence of innocence.
When the death penalty system gets it wrong, there’s no going back. Guilty or innocent, the death penalty is a terrible power that shouldn’t belong to government.
It’s okay to remember the sadness and anger we felt one year ago, but it’s more important that we remember Troy’s dying wish — “to not give up the struggle for justice…to keep fighting for the other Troy Davises on death row.”
With your support, we intend to do just that. Keep Troy Davis’ struggle for justice alive!
In Solidarity,
Laura Moye Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director Amnesty International USA
P.S. Please share this imagewith your friends and family today. Tell them all about Troy Davis.

What if he was innocent?
http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=ckLSIaMQLeJVLdN1E&s=enJLLSOqGaJLIPOkHiG&m=beKNJYPuEdKOL4KOne year ago today, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, despite issues of unfairness and overwhelming doubts about his guilt. Today, we’re taking our case for accountability to the top of the justice system!


http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=8qKKJYPAIaLNK3PNF&s=enJLLSOqGaJLIPOkHiG&m=beKNJYPuEdKOL4K http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=btIQK7MMKdKTIdO0E&s=enJLLSOqGaJLIPOkHiG&m=beKNJYPuEdKOL4K

http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=emKWKgNYIgIZKnNdG&s=enJLLSOqGaJLIPOkHiG&m=beKNJYPuEdKOL4K http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=9hJMJ1PEKbJQL0OKH&s=enJLLSOqGaJLIPOkHiG&m=beKNJYPuEdKOL4K
© 2012 Amnesty International USA | 5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001 | 212.807.8400


Uganda Gay Pride September 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, LGBT, Uganda.
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Moore, Glover, Stone, Greenwald, Wolf, Ellsberg Urge Correa to Grant Asylum to Assange June 24, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
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Roger’s note: It is hard to believe that Correa will not come under tremendous pressure from the US government not to grant asylum to Assange.  As far as I can see the most leverage the US will have has to do with trade.  At present the US grants Ecuador privileged status with regards to export tariffs.  Should the US withdraw this privilege, it will have an impact of Ecuadorian exporters, how much I am not sure.  On other hand, accepting Assange is likely to be popular in Ecuador and internationally and would enhance Correa’s international profile.  And Correa can not be ignorant of the fact that Ecuador may very well be Assange’s last chance to avoid US “justice.”  Even if Assange somehow makes it to Ecuador, given the obsession of Obama, Holder, Congressional leaders, and — last but not least — the CIA, I doubt if the hunt will be over.  All Obama has to do is brand him as terrorist, and the US — which respects no national boundary or sovereignty — will have the “legal” pretext to nab or murder him.

opednews.com, June 24, 2012

By Michael Moore, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Naomi Wolf, et al, Just Foreign Policy

The following letter has been circulated mostly in the United States by Just Foreign Policy. It will be hand-delivered to the Embassy of Ecuador in London by Just Foreign Policy Policy Director Robert Naiman on Monday, June 25.

We will also hand-deliver the online petition circulated by Just Foreign Policy, which has now been signed by more than 4,000 people. That petition — which you can still sign — is here:

June 25, 2012

Dear President Correa,

We are writing to urge you to grant political asylum to Julian Assange.


As you know, British courts recently struck down Mr. Assange’s appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he is not wanted on criminal charges, but merely for questioning. Mr. Assange has repeatedly made clear he is willing to answer questions relating to accusations against him, but in the United Kingdom. But the Swedish government insists that he be brought to Sweden for questioning. This by itself, as Swedish legal expert and former Chief District Prosecutor for Stockholm Sven-Erik Alhem testified, is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate.”

We believe Mr. Assange has good reason to fear extradition to Sweden, as there is a strong likelihood that once in Sweden, he would be imprisoned, and then likely extradited to the United States.

As U.S. legal expert and commentator Glenn Greenwald recently noted, were Assange to be charged in Sweden, he would be imprisoned under “very oppressive conditions, where he could be held incommunicado,” rather than released on bail. Pre-trial hearings for such a case in Sweden are held in secret, and so the media and wider public, Greenwald notes, would not know how the judicial decisions against Mr. Assange would be made and what information would be considered.

The Washington Post has reported that the U.S. Justice Department and Pentagon conducted a criminal investigation into “whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violated criminal laws in the group’s release of government documents, including possible charges under the Espionage Act.” Many fear, based on documents released by Wikileaks, that the U.S. government has already prepared an indictment and is waiting for the opportunity t o extradite Assange from Sweden.

The U.S. Justice Department has compelled other members of Wikileaks to testify before a grand jury in order to determine what charges might be brought against Mr. Assange. The U.S. government has made clear its open hostility to Wikileaks, with high-level officials even referring to Mr. Assange as a “high-tech terrorist,” and seeking access to the Twitter account of Icelandic legislator Birgitta Jónsdóttir due to her past ties to Wikileaks.

Were he charged, and found guilty under the Espionage Act, Assange could face the death penalty.

Prior to that, the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of providing U.S. government documents to Wikileaks, provides an illustration of the treatment that Assange might expect while in custody. Manning has been subjected to repeated and prolonged solitary confinement, harassment by guards, and humiliating treatment such as being forced to strip naked and stand at attention outside his cell. These are additional reasons that your government should grant Mr. Assange political asylum.

We also call on you to grant Mr. Assange political asylum because the “crime” that he has committed is that of practicing journalism. He has revealed important crimes against humanity committed by the U.S. government, most notably in releasing video footage from an Apache helicopter of a 2007 incident in which the U.S. military appears to have deliberately killed civilians, including two Reuters employees. Wikileaks’ release of thousands of U.S. State Department cables revealed important cases of U.S. officials acting to undermine democracy and human rights around the world.

Because this is a clear case of an attack on press freedom and on the public’s right to know important truths about U.S. foreign policy, and because the threat to his health and well-being is serious, we urge you to grant Mr. Assange political asylum.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

 Will Eric Holder Succeed in Executing Julian Assange for Telling the Truth?

 The world’s number one fear regarding Sweden’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange is that Sweden is simply acting as an agent of the United States. In fact the paranoia regarding our government’s desire to silence Assange is so strong that one Australian journalist suggested that Assange might be assassinated by a high power rifle as he leaves the Ecuadoran embassy or die in a Swedish jail incident reminiscent of how Stephen Biko was killed in South Africa. The Administration better pray that Assange is alive in November as voters would likely hold any death of Assange against Barack Obama when the polls open.

The ludicrous extradition and Obama’s obsession with WikiLeaks and Assange play well into these fears. What country (other than Sweden in the Assange case) extradites someone over a broken condom? England, instead of exercising common sense, is willing to allow extradition, but England has a history of going to war and committing crimes against humanity on behalf of the United States. Neither England nor Sweden has a death penalty, but acting as agents of the United States, they could put an honest, innocent man to death simply by extraditing him to the United States.

As Assange is not an American and not physically in the United States, a round-about method is needed for the U.S. Government to apprehend him for extinction. Hence the entrance of Sweden and a claim by a female CIA agent that a condom broke while Assange was having sex with her. This little rouse is enough to launch a hero of the people into a nightmare that could lead to the American death chambers.

Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder can play all the games they want, but they’ve already gone public with enough information to verify all of Julian Assange’s claims that the Sweden nonsense is nothing more than a rouse for the real criminal prosecution awaiting Assange in the United States for going public with evidence of U.S. Government corruption in its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The FBI’s WikiLeaks probe commenced with the arrest of Private Manning in May 2010 after he had allegedly confessed to former computer hacker turned FBI informant Adrian Lamo that he had leaked classified documents.

On November 29, 2010, US Attorney-General Eric Holder told a Washington press conference that the Justice Department was pursuing “an active, ongoing criminal investigation” into WikiLeaks. This was the day after WikiLeaks and its media partners began releasing more than 250,000 State Department cables, showing wrongdoing by the U.S. Government.


Holder was urged to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 in a December 2, 2010, letter from PATRIOT Act and Iraq War proponent Dianne Feinstein (Chairwoman, U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee) and Christopher Bond (Deputy Chairman of said committee). The Espionage Act of 1917 was used to round up thousands of American patriots for their opposition to World War I in a witch hunt that was worse than the one engaged in by Joe McCarthy. Now they expected Holder to use his authority as Attorney General to create a new witch hunt aimed at suppressing international opposition to the current undeclared wars in the Middle East.

It is known that a grand jury was convened in Alexandra Virginia on or before December 22, 2010 and continuing thereafter for the purpose of prosecuting Julian Assange. Therefore, any pretense that the United States is not targeting Assange for a possible life or death sentence is a flat out lie that is disrespectful to the citizens of the United States.

 Guilt or innocence has little to do with whether a person is executed in the United States. It was universally known that Troy Davis was innocent when he was executed with the acquiescence of President Barack Obama. Across America and around the world, people offered up their own lives in exchange for saving an innocent Troy Davis. Following the example of Spartacus, people everywhere took up the slogan, “I am Troy Davis.” Showing that economics matters more than innocence, Obama intervened for economic reasons on behalf of a likely-guilty death row convict the day after Davis was killed.

Executing likely innocents has had a long tradition in the United States. Nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize and saving potentially thousands of lives in Los Angeles was not enough to prevent the execution of Stan “Tookie” Williams. Condemnation from the Queen of England and even Nikita Khrushchev was not enough to save Caryl Chessman. Millions of German death camp victims might have been saved if the United States Government had not stopped Chessman from succeeding in his attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler prior to Chessman’s own execution by the State of California for an act Chessman probably did not commit and that was no longer even chargeable as a crime, not long after the erroneous conviction.

From using its Wall Street connections in preventing donations to WikiLeaks to arresting and torturing American military hero Bradley Manning on suspicion Manning leaked photos Americans NEEDED TO SEE, Eric Holder and the U.S. Government have made it clear they have ZERO TOLERANCE FOR TRUTH.

So with truth and justice still hanging in the balance, Ecuador may be the last hope of those who do not want truth to die. People around the world are praying that President Correa will do the right thing and take a stand for truth and freedom. Interestingly, it has been pointed out that the CIA has operatives in Ecuador and it may not be the perfect place for a CIA target to hang out. Yet, it is the only country offering to stand up for freedom of the press in this instance.

Ecuador has long opposed the death penalty and could really show its opposition to the death penalty through granting Assange asylum or going further and making him a diplomat and providing him with full immunity. Either would allow Assange to continue his work in ferreting out truths that the U.S. Government would rather keep hidden. If Obama ever decides to Hussein or Gadhafi Correa, Correa’s best hope for survival would be an informed public. Without safety for the Julian Assanges of the world, the U.S. is free to plunder Ecuador or other vulnerable countries at will.

The Wall Street executives, who think they own America, and the tyrants, who enforce the will of these spoiled rich elitists, should learn from history. They should read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and ponder whether three hundred million Americans are ready to listen to the words of Thomas Jefferson about patriots and tyrants. People and children are dying of starvation in the streets of America. Hard workers have lost their homes to Wall Street greed. The innocent are being maced and clubbed at their schools and arrested for standing on public property. Cities are enacting ordinances to prevent good Samaritans from feeding the homeless (like similar “Don’t feed the animals” ordinances). Revolution is in the air and it would not surprise me if any action taken against Assange were the catalyst. If Obama has any actual ability to govern and has not completely lost touch with reality, he should end all attempts to persecute Julian Assange and welcome any assistance from Ecuador in protecting this human symbol of everything for which America once stood.


Take action — click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
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The author is the chairman of a liberal Democratic club that is working to move the Democratic Party towards its true base, the people. She has organized major political events and helped elect some of the most liberal politicians in America. Her (more…)


Iran’s Nuclear Scientists are not being Assassinated. They are Being Murdered January 17, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iran, War on Terror.
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Published on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 by The Guardian/UK

Killing our Enemies Abroad is Just State-sponsored Terror – Whatever Euphemism Western Leaders Like to Use

  by  Mehdi Hasan

On the morning of 11 January Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy head of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, was in his car on his way to work when he was blown up by a magnetic bomb attached to his car door. He was 32 and married with a young son. He wasn’t armed, or anywhere near a battlefield.

Since 2010, three other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in similar circumstances, including Darioush Rezaeinejad, a 35-year-old electronics expert shot dead outside his daughter’s nursery in Tehran last July. But instead of outrage or condemnation, we have been treated to expressions of undisguised glee.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the Iranian nuclear scientist killed in Tehran on January 11, with his son, Alireza. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

“On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear programme in Iran turn up dead,” bragged the Republican nomination candidate Rick Santorum in October. “I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.” On the day of Roshan’s death, Israel’s military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, announced on Facebook: “I don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear” – a sentiment echoed by the historian Michael Burleigh in the Daily Telegraph: “I shall not shed any tears whenever one of these scientists encounters the unforgiving men on motorbikes.”

These “men on motorbikes” have been described as “assassins”. But assassination is just a more polite word for murder. Indeed, our politicians and their securocrats cloak the premeditated, lawless killing of scientists in Tehran, of civilians in Waziristan, of politicians in Gaza, in an array of euphemisms: not just assassinations but terminations, targeted killings, drone strikes.

Their purpose is to inure us to such state-sponsored violence against foreigners. In his acclaimed book On Killing, the retired US army officer Dave Grossman examines mechanisms that enable us not just to ignore but even cheer such killings: cultural distance (“such as racial and ethnic differences that permit the killer to dehumanise the victim”); moral distance (“the kind of intense belief in moral superiority”); and mechanical distance (“the sterile, Nintendo-game unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper sight or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the killer to deny the humanity of his victim”).

Thus western liberals who fall over one another to condemn the death penalty for murderers – who have, incidentally, had the benefit of lawyers, trials and appeals – as state-sponsored murder fall quiet as their states kill, with impunity, nuclear scientists, terror suspects and alleged militants in faraway lands. Yet a “targeted killing”, human-rights lawyer and anti-drone activist Clive Stafford Smith tells me, “is just the death penalty without due process”.

Cognitive dissonance abounds. To torture a terror suspect, for example, is always morally wrong; to kill him, video game style, with a missile fired from a remote-controlled drone, is morally justified. Crippled by fear and insecurity, we have sleepwalked into a situation where governments have arrogated to themselves the right to murder their enemies abroad.

Nor are we only talking about foreigners here. Take Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist preacher, al-Qaida supporter – and US citizen. On 30 September 2011, a CIA drone killed Awlaki and another US citizen, Samir Khan. Two weeks later, another CIA-led drone attack killed Awlaki’s 21-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman. Neither father nor son were ever indicted, let alone tried or convicted, for committing a crime. Both US citizens were assassinated by the US government in violation of the Fifth Amendment (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”).

An investigation by Reuters last October noted how, under the Obama administration, US citizens accused of involvement in terrorism can now be “placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions … There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel … Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.”

Should “secret panels” and “kill lists” be tolerated in a liberal democracy, governed by the rule of law? Did the founders of the United States intend for its president to be judge, jury and executioner? Whatever happened to checks and balances? Or due process?

Imagine the response of our politicians and pundits to a campaign of assassinations against western scientists conducted by, say, Iran or North Korea. When it comes to state-sponsored killings, the double standard is brazen. “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them,” George Orwell observed, “and there is almost no kind of outrage … which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side”.

But how many more of our values will we shred in the name of security? Once we have allowed our governments to order the killing of fellow citizens, fellow human beings, in secret, without oversight or accountability, what other powers will we dare deny them?

This isn’t complicated; there are no shades of grey here. Do we disapprove of car bombings and drive-by shootings, or not? Do we consistently condemn state-sponsored, extrajudicial killings as acts of pure terror, no matter where in the world, or on whose orders, they occur? Or do we shrug our shoulders, turn a blind eye and continue our descent into lawless barbarism?

© 2012 The Guardian



Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan is senior editor (politics) at the New Statesman and a former news and current affairs editor at Channel 4. His New Statesman blog is here

Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle on Their Journey From Death Row to the Wedding Altar November 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice.
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www.democracynow.org, November 23, 2011

Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle each served years on death row — Jacobs here in the United States and Pringle in Ireland. Both were exonerated after their convictions were overturned for murders that they steadfastly maintained they did not commit.  They began dating shortly after meeting while both publicly campaigning against the death penalty. Their wedding earlier this month was perhaps the first of its kind — the union of two exonerated death row inmates. Joining us from their home in Ireland, Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle recount their remarkable story from death row to the wedding altar.

Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, was sentenced to death at the age of 28 for the murder of two police officers in Florida. When she was imprisoned, her two young children were cast into the foster care system. Nearly 17 years after her arrest, Sunny’s conviction was overturned on appeal. Her story, along with those of five other wrongfully convicted death row inmates, became “The Exonerated,” a play put on by the nonprofit theater Culture Project.  Sunny is the author of, “Stolen Time: One Woman’s Inspiring Story As An Innocent Condemned To Death.”
Peter Pringle, was accused of being one of three men who had murdered two police officers following a bank robbery in Ireland. After his conviction, he had been sentenced to be hanged. Just days before a noose was tied around his neck, Pringle learned that Ireland’s president had commuted his sentence to 40 years without parole. Pringle then immersed himself into legal books and effectively became a “jailhouse lawyer”.  Serving as his own counsel. Pringle successfully plead his case, leading the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed his conviction. He is a human rights and anti-death penalty activist.
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AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced yesterday that he would halt all executions in the state during his time in office. He said, “I refuse to be part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer.” Kitzhaber, a physician, noted that he had allowed two previous executions to go forward under his watch, but had since agonized over the decisions.

GOV. JOHN KITZHABER: Those were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have ever made as governor, and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again for the past 14 years. I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly, I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something that I believe to be morally wrong.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was the Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber. In all, 34 states allow the death penalty, but only 27 have executed someone in the past decade, according to The Death Penalty Information Center.

AMY GOODMAN: In an oddly related story, I was reading the marriage section of New York Times this past weekend and saw a piece about the wedding of a couple in Manhattan earlier this month; Peter Pringle and Sonia Jacobs. Their photograph wasn’t that unusual. Perhaps they were older than most newlyweds, Sunny was 64, Peter 73, but it was a story of their lives and their coming together that we will spend the rest of our show on today. Both Sunny and Peter have survived the death penalty. They survived death row and have been exonerated since. Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle each served a decade and a half on death row; Jacobs in the U.S., Pringle in Ireland. Both gained freedom after their convictions were overturned for murders that they steadfastly maintained they did not commit. The two would both become passionate anti-death penalty activists and their activism brought them together.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Pringle was accused of participating in a murder of two police officers following a bank robbery in Ireland. After his conviction he was sentenced to death by hanging. Just days before a noose was to be tied around his neck, Peter learned Ireland’s president had commuted his sentence to 40 years without parole. He then immersed himself in legal text and effectively become a jailhouse lawyer. Serving as his own counsel, he eventually convinced the Court of Criminal Appeals to quash his conviction.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sonia, known as Sunny, was sentenced to death, along with her then husband, at the age of 28 for the alleged murder of two police officers in Florida. Her two young children were cast into the foster care system. Although the two maintained their innocence, it was after her husband was executed and another man confessed to the murder, that she was exonerated. Nearly 17 years after her arrest, Sunny’s conviction was overturned on appeal. She is the author of, Stolen Time: One Woman’s Inspiring Story as An Innocent Condemned To Death. Sunny’s story, along with those of five other wrongfully convicted death row inmates, became The Exonerated. Sunny has been portrayed by 28 actresses, including Mia Farrow, Brooke Shields, Amy Irving and Susan Sarandon, some of whom attended her wedding. This is Susan Sarandon playing Sunny in The Exonerated, reflecting on the murder charges leveled against her.

SUSAN SARANDON: My husband, Jesse, was tried first. He had a past record from when he was 17 years old and his trial lasted four days. We both had, of course, no good attorneys, no dream team, no expert witnesses. And so he was convicted and sentenced to death. My trial came later, and I thought, surely, that won’t happen to me. I mean, I was a hippie. I’m one of those peace and love people. I’m a vegetarian. How could you possibly think that I would kill someone? And so, I thought that I’d just—-I’d go in and they’d figure out I didn’t kill anyone and they’d let it go. but that’s not how it works.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Susan Sarandon playing Sonia Jacobs in the play The Exonerated, put on by The Culture Project, here in New York. Well, Sunny and Peter have since spoken in schools, churches, other venues across the country and the world on human rights and abolishing the death penalty. Their wedding earlier this month was perhaps the first of its kind, the union of two exonerated death row prisoners. And so we go to Galway, right now, to Ireland to be joined by the newly weds themselves, the former death row exonerees, modern day human rights activists, Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle. Sunny and Peter, congratulations on your wedding. Welcome to Democracy Now!. We’re going to talk about your activism today. But I want to start with Sunny. If you wouldn’t mind going back in time and telling your story, how it was you and your husband since executed, ended up on death row, your first husband.

SONIA JACOBS: Well, briefly, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. And as a result, we ended up being present when two police officers were killed. And the man who actually did the killing took a plea bargain, which I do not think should be allowed in capital cases, which I don’t think should be allowed in capitol cases, and testified against us saying that we did it. He in turn was given three life sentences in exchange for his testimony. Jessie’s trial, as you know, took four days and he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. My trial took longer because I was a young mother of two children and had never been in trouble for anything violent in my life. Aside from his testimony, they also brought in a young woman who had been arrested for a drugs violation. And in order not to go to prison for a long time herself, she also testified. As a result of that, and the judge’s instructions to the jury, my jury voted for conviction. But, when it came to the sentencing phase of the trial, my jury, actually, was not able to be unanimous because one man held out for his own beliefs, rather than giving in to the pressure that was being put upon him to agree, and so my jury voted for life. The judge overruled the jury in my case and voted for—-and sentenced me to death.

AMY GOODMAN: The picture of what happened, the date that it happened, you were all driving in a car; you, your husband, Jesse, your two kids and the driver who eventually turned out to be the one that confessed. What happened? You were in Florida?

SONIA JACOBS: Yes, we were in Florida, and we were just getting a lift from one place to the other. And it got late with visiting here and there, and so we decided to pull off into a rest area on the interstate. I was asleep in the back with the children when the policeman came to do a routine check of the area, as I now know, and saw a gun between the driver’s feet, opened the door, took the gun, pulled him out, asked for his identification, called it in, and when they found out that he was on parole, that, of course, is a violation of parole, and then the scene turned ugly, and the shooting began. I ducked down to cover the children, and when I looked up, the policemen were dead and we were ordered into the police car by the man who had done the killing and driven away. So at that point, we basically had become hostages.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re both given life—-your both sentenced to death, you and Jesse. You’ve lost your children. Your children went where?

SONIA JACOBS: Well, at first, my children were held in custody. My daughter was only 10 months old at the time, and my son was 9 years old. It took my parents a couple of weeks to get my daughter. But. it took two months to get my son who was being held in the juvenile detention center in isolation because he was so young. And as a result, he was very traumatized. He was actually taken to hearings at night, handcuffed behind his back without any representation as a nine-year old boy. So when, finally, my parents were able to get a hold of him because the kind-hearted judge ordered him to be released, he developed a speech impediment and he had to be put in special school. From then on they lived with my parents, for the next six years, until my parents were killed in a plane crash, and then they went into care.

AMY GOODMAN: They went into foster care. So you wrote back and forth with your husband, Jesse, as you both sat on death row. How long were you on death row? How long were you in solitary? Explain what happened to Jesse?

SONIA JACOBS: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because, you see, the man had a death row, the women didn’t have a death row. At the time that I was convicted, I was the only woman the sentence of death in the U.S. because three years prior, they had stopped sentencing people to death. There was a sort of moratorium in the United States against using the death penalty. And so, there was, actually, no one on death row for a while. And then there were men on death row. But, as you know, murder is mostly a problem of men, not women. Women argue and smack each other, and men kill each other. And so, at the time, there were a few men on death row where Jesse was sent, but there were no women. So I was sent to the maximum security women’s prison in Florida and put into a unit all by myself, and I spent the next five years in solitary confinement.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sunny, you also talk about how it is that while you were in prison, you made your cell a kind of sanctuary. Can you talk about how you did that?

SONIA JACOBS: Yes. At first, when I was first sent to—-got my death sentence, I couldn’t really process it because. It just was beyond my imagining how it could even happen to me, no less, actually be a reality. And so my cell was very small. It was six steps from the door until the toilet. And if I reached out my arms to both sides, I could touch the walls. And all there was in the cell was a metal shelf on which there was a thin mattress and a pillow. And then there was a sink and toilet, and that’s all there was. There were no bars. There was a solid metal door. And the guards were under orders not to speak to me. And so, I just paced back and forth, mostly in anger and confusion, and truth be known, in fear, that they would actually kill me. I had no communication whatsoever with the outside world at first; no phone calls, no visits. I didn’t get out of my cell. It wasn’t 23 out of 24 hours a day in the cell, it was 24 hours in the cell, except for twice a week when I was taken out for a quick shower and was given some prison clothing and allowed to spend a few moments out in a courtyard with a guard, and then brought back into my cell again.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And during this time, actually, the guards were forbidden, even, from speaking to you?

SONIA JACOBS: And I had no books. Yes, yes, because if there were going to participate in my execution, they couldn’t see me as another human being and sympathize with me. I had to be less than human. And in order to do that, we couldn’t have conversations. Anyway, so I had a Bible and a law book. The law book was useless because I couldn’t even understand the language and the Bible, I considered it a book of wisdom at the time, because I wasn’t even sure there was a god anymore, because I could not imagine how God could let this happen to me and my whole family. Because it doesn’t just happen to one person, it happens to the entire family.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunny, I wanted to ask, after your parents were killed in that Pan Am…

SONIA JACOBS: I was going to finish answering your question about how I turned my cell into a sanctuary. I didn’t mean to take so long to get there, but I read something in the Bible that told me, that they don’t say when I die. And it was at that point that I realized that until they do end up taking my life or setting me free, which I thought would be the proper result, my life still belonged to me. And that it would be foolish of me to spend the rest of my life, be it long or be it short, in fear and anger and confusion. So, I decided that the cell could become my sanctuary, and instead of waiting to die, I could use my time to make myself the best person I could be. And so, that’s how I turned my cell into a sanctuary. I did yoga and meditation and I prayed and had my discussion with God. I ended up, I think, maybe healthier than when I went in, in some ways.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Sunny Jacobs, your parents die in the Pan Am Flight 759 in Kenner, Louisiana. You lose touch with your children who were then in foster care. You’re writing back and forth with your then husband Jesse Tafero. And on May 4, 1990, he was executed. How did you survive after that point, and then talk about how your case turned around.

SONIA JACOBS: Well, I think the worst day of my entire life was when my parents died in the plane crash, because then, not only did my children become orphans again, but I became an orphan too, and there was no one to look out for me outside. And if you’re in prison, and especially if you’re on death row, you need someone to hang onto you from outside. The day that Jesse was executed, we were given a 10 minute phone call to say goodbye, and we told each other that we loved each other until the phone went dead. And then the officer that had escorted me to the phone call gave me a few moments to myself, and then I asked if she would bring me back to my cell, and she did. Actually, because Jesse’s execution was so horrible and so gruesome, I think everyone was sympathetic that day. It was just so horrible.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What happened, actually, Sunny, during his execution?

SONIA JACOBS: Well, you see, when Jesse was put in the electric chair and they pulled the switch, he didn’t die. Instead, his head caught fire. And they say, the witnesses that were there, say flames shot 2 feet in the air out of his head and smoke came out of the helmet. Instead of dying, he struggled against the restraints and they had to pull the lever three times before he was actually pronounced dead, and that it took thirteen and a half minutes for Jesse Tafero to die. And the reason was because they had substituted the natural sea sponge in the helmet, which was supposed to conduct the electricity properly, they switched it with for an artificial sponge, which didn’t conduct the electricity properly, and as a result, he caught fire. As his mother later said later, when Sister Helen Prejean was escorted her to the church that night, her son was burned at the stake. It was so horrible that where our daughter, who was then fifteen and a half years old, heard what happened to her father she tried to kill herself.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it was, what, two years later in 1992, nearly 17 years after you both were arrested, that the confession of the shooter was made and you were exonerated, though Jesse was killed?

SONIA JACOBS: Yes, about two and a half years after Jesse was executed, with the help of lawyers who worked for free, pro bono, and friends, one of whom you know, my friend Micki Dickoff who is a documentary filmmaker, because of their effort, we were able to uncover evidence that had been hidden for all those years, including the fact that the man who actually did the killing had confessed in front of other witnesses. As a result, I was then released.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break right now. When we come back, we’ll hear your new husband, your bridegroom’s story, Peter Pringle, and then hear about what the two of you are doing to gather as you continue to travel and speak out against the death penalty. Our guests are Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle. They are newlyweds, and they are both exonerees, they both survived death row. This is Democracy Now!, back in a minute.

STEVE EARLE: (Singing)

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Earle singing, “Christmas in Washington.” I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guests in Ireland are the newlyweds Peter Pringle and Sunny Jacobs. They got married in New York, flew home to Ireland, and are now telling us their story. Steve Earle, who we just played, was instrumental in the two of you coming together. But, Peter, before you tell us about Steve, tell us, if you would, your own story of how you ended up on death row and then free.

PETER PRINGLE: OK. Thank you. Very briefly, on July 7, 1980, there was a bank robbery in a town called Ballaghaderreen, in County Roscommon in Ireland, following which the escape car collided with a police car, there was an exchange of gunfire and two police officers were killed. The raiders split up, separated across country. One man was arrested that evening and another the following morning, and the third man was being pursued across country by the police. I had nothing whatever to do with it. I was in a different county in a different city at the time. The person they were chasing was chased right through the city where I was, which is the city where I am now, Galway, and he eluded them. So, they arrested me, fabricated evidence against me, and brought me before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, which is a non-jury, politically established court, where I was convicted and sentenced to death. Upon the word of a police officer that after 43 hours of interrogation, I had uttered these words, “I know that you know I was involved, but on the advice of my solicitor, I am saying nothing and you have to prove it all away.” That is the sole evidence upon which I was convicted and sentenced to death. I should state that in the twelfth day of the trial—-the trial lasted for 34 days over six weeks, and in the twelfth day of the trial, a police officer who had attempted to arrest the culprit two days after the crime, had actually, was within arm’s reach of him and had spoken to him, but he ran away from him and escaped, he gave evidence in the trial and he was asked, had he seen the man again. He said he had, in fact, he was in the court. I was sitting in the dock. The police officer was asked to point out the man. He pointed up to a man standing in the back row of the public gallery and he said, that is him standing over there with his back to the partition. He pointed out the man in the public gallery. At which, the people standing beside this man all moved away from him. He was standing on his own like something you would see in a movie. But he was never stopped. He was allowed to leave the court, he wasn’t stopped or charged or anything else, and I was duly convicted. Sentenced to death. I spent six—-in Ireland, we didn’t have death row. I spent six months in the death cell, which would be the equivalent to deathwatch in the United States. My lawyers made an application for leave to appeal which put an automatic stay on the execution. The Court of Criminal Appeals refused that application for leave to appeal and set a new date for execution for the 8th of June, 1981. About 11 days before that, the President commuted the sentence on the advice of them and I was sentenced to forty years without any possibility of parole. I was put out into the prison population. I couldn’t possibly face forty years in prison and so I determined I would try to prove my innocence. I began to try and study law. In order to relax so I could ease my anger, my rage at what they had done to me, I began to teach myself the disciplines of yoga and meditation. It was those two disciplines that brought me through.

When, of course, Sunny and I met, we discovered we both used the same disciplines, 7,000 miles apart, without even knowing each other. That was another bond we had with each other. In January of 1992, I eventually opened my case in the high court in Dublin, on my own behalf, because I had no money and no lawyers, and I was escorted from the prison under armed escort and handcuffed, etc., and I offered my case there. In July of that year 1992, I won an order for discovery of the police papers in the case. Six months later when I got some of those documents, I found—-I was supplied with a photocopy of the notebook of the police officer who claimed I had made that statement. In his notebook, he had written in the alleged statement before his entry for the interrogation of which he claimed I said it. In any event, the case ran from January 1992 through to May 1995. Just before that, before that time in 1994, a human-rights lawyer offered me his help and I took it. In 1995 in May, the conviction was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal. The state asked for retrial. The court ordered a re-trial, I was sent back to prison on remand. The following day I was brought back to the Court of Criminal Appeal where I was given bail. A week later, the state dropped the case. So consequently, I received no compensation for damages whatsoever. When I was released on May 17, 1995, out of the Special Criminal Court onto the street, I had no money, I had no identification, no passport, no driving license, no Social Security number, no where to live, nothing. I didn’t even get my bus fare. But I had family and friends and they looked after me, and I survived.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is it the case, Peter, that you were the last person who was sentenced to death in Ireland?

PETER PRINGLE: No, that’s not, actually. The media picked that one up. I was one of the last. There were—-let me see, now, there were I think three or four were sentenced to death after me. But all of those sentences were commuted as well.

SONIA JACOBS: But you were the only person who ever was released.

PETER PRINGLE: I was the only person in history of the state who got my conviction quashed, overturned, in a capital case. I did most of it on my own. I think I’m probably the only living person in Europe who has had his conviction overturned and released, had an exoneration from a death sentence. Three years after I came out of prison, and having gone through the difficulty of settling back into society—-which is very, very difficult—-I met with Steve Earle. Steve had been communicating with a man on death row in Texas named Jonathan Noble who asked Steve to witness his execution because he wanted one person there who didn’t hate him. Steve agreed to do that, and was so traumatized by what he saw, that he came back to Ireland to chill out a little and recover from that ordeal. While there, I was introduced to him. We exchanged our stories, we became friends. Consequently, when Sunny later was on the Journey of Hope, marching against the death penalty through Texas, people from the Irish section of Amnesty International were present and heard her speak. They invited her to come to Ireland the following year to speak at the annual general meeting of the Ireland section of Amnesty, which she agreed to. And then following on that, in Tennessee on another March, she met with Steve and told him she was coming to Ireland. He said to her, oh, you should talk to Peter Pringle, but he didn’t say why. When she got to Ireland the next year, and she spoke at a meeting in Dublin, somebody asked her if she’d spoken to me. She said, no. They gave her my number.

One day at home, I got a phone call from this American lady who said to me she wanted to speak to Peter Pringle. I said, that is me. She said she was Sunny Jacobs and was going to speak at a meeting in Galway the following Friday—-going to speak at a meeting the following Friday and if I wished to come along I was welcome. I asked her what she was going to speak about it she said, the death penalty. I said, well, yeah, I’m interested in that. At the time I was thinking, what does this woman know about the death penalty? So I went along anyway the following Friday with two friends. We were in the venue, which was a room over a pub at 1:00 in the day, and the people who had traveled with Sunny had gone to get lunch. But we, neither of us, like to eat before we speak about these matters in detail. So I was up in the room waiting for the event to happen when the door opened on the far side and this little lady walked in. I walked over to her and said, you must be Sunny Jacobs.

SONIA JACOBS: And I said, you must be Peter Pringle.

PETER PRINGLE: I heard her talk. I was mesmerized by her story. I was blown away by the horror of what had happened to her. I knew I had to speak with her again. I said that to her. But she told me she had to leave in an hour to go to court with Mary, who is the general secretary of Amnesty. So when she spoke to Mary, Mary was delighted I was going to take Sunny in charge and she transferred her back to me. A friend of mine in Galway loaned me his Mercedes car and packed us a lunch, a pack lunch.

SONIA JACOBS: A cheese lunch. We’re both vegetarians.

PETER PRINGLE: …at the time. And I drove her through Ireland and down to Cork, and as we were sitting in the car, in the car ferry crossing the river Shannon, she turned to me and she said, well, what is your interest in all this? And I said … this is the first time she had heard what my story was…and I said to her, I told her that I too had been sentenced to death and I had been exonerated. She said, and how did you get through? I said yoga and meditation. She said, wow, that is something, because that is what happened with her. So we traveled down, down to Cork together, sharing our story. At times laughing, at times crying, but very, very close with each other. She spoke at the meeting that evening. Amnesty booked us into a hotel, two separate rooms. We went over to the hotel and she came to my room and we sat down together. For three hours, we discussed forgiveness. And then she went back to her room. The following morning, I went off to…back home, to return the car. We kept in communication long distance. After 9/11, we decided that we really had to make a decision whether we were going to live together or not. Neither of us did not know if we could live with someone else because we have been on our own for so long. We opted for the west coast of Ireland. Sunny reversed what her ancestors did, she packed two bags, got rid of all her belongings in California and traveled back East and came to live with me in a little cottage by the sea on the west coast of Ireland. We live there now, a different cottage now, but we still live on the west coast of Ireland and we have a, we rent a little cottage with three and half acres. We have two dogs and two cats, a couple of hens, a couple of ducks, eight goats, and our garden. We grow our vegetables. We grow our potatoes. We have our eggs from our fowl. We milk the goats and she makes wonderful goat cheese. We try to be as self-sufficient as we can be, because of course we have no money. Neither of us got compensation. But we live a very good life there together.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet you decided to…you got married in New York, you were surrounded by—-of actually in your case, Sunny, the women who played you in The Exonerated like Brooke Shields and Marlo Thomas and Amy Irving. Talk about what you were just saying, Peter, when you are not on the west coast of Ireland, what you’re doing, in these last few minutes that we have.

PETER PRINGLE: What we do is we work with different human rights organizations like Amnesty, a group in London called Amicus, a wonderful group of people in Italy called The Community of Sant’Egidio…

SONIA JACOBS: The Journey of Hope in America.

PETER PRINGLE: The Journey of Hope.

SONIA JACOBS: The Seeds of Hope.

PETER PRINGLE: The Seeds of Hope is an Irish group in Ireland. But the Culture Project in New York was the not-for-profit theater organization that put on The Exonerated. The Culture Project, we knew that if…we could get married in New York very easy, and of course Sunny is a native of New York, so that kind of was nice, to do that. But we cannot afford to go to New York. We got a phone call from the Culture Project inviting us to come to their producers’ weekend to speak at that weekend and also for Sunny to present awards. So when they heard that we were looking to get married, they said, we will host your wedding. So that is what happened. They brought us to New York and put us up and hosted our wedding.

AMY GOODMAN: We have thirty seconds.

PETER PRINGLE: The Culture Project initiated a new award, which they called the Sunny award. They’ve given it out every year to people who shed a light, an artistic light, on injustice. And Sunny got the first award and she presented the other ones.

SONIA JACOBS: If I could just say one small thing, it’s that everyone out there can do their part. If you believe something is wrong, then do something about it whether it is write a letter, protest with a sign, go down to Wall Street and support them. Bring them sandwiches. Join an organization. Every person makes a difference. If you do something about what you believe, then it makes your life and everyone’s life better.

PETER PRINGLE: And if I may make a plug here, we each of us have a book written ready for any publisher who might be interested.

SONIA JACOBS: We need a publisher.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle—-

SONIA JACOBS: You have always been one of my heroes, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for joining us. Happy holiday to everyone.

Keep the Death Penalty to Encourage Prison Reform? October 2, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights.
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By Robert Meeropol
(about the author)
opednews.com, October 1, 2011

“Abolishing capital punishment in a kind of  despair over its fallibility would … tell the public that our laws and courts and juries are fundamentally incapable of delivering what most  Americans consider genuine justice.  It could encourage a more cynical  and utilitarian view of why police forces and prisons exist, and what  moral standards we should hold them to.  And while it would put an end  to wrongful executions, it might well lead to more overall injustice.”

Perhaps the Times published this piece so it could respond to it obliquely with an excellent editorial it published two days later which stated:  “The death penalty is grotesque and immoral and should be repealed.”

Lest some find the paragraph I quote above unclear, Mr. Douthat  appears to argue that rather than abolish the death penalty because we  can’t apply it fairly, we should take greater pains to apply it and  other criminal penalties in a more just fashion.

I find Mr. Douthat’s logic strained, even perverse.  Is he saying it  is worth risking a few unjust executions in order to improve the  public’s perception of our criminal justice system?

But in a way Mr. Douthat’s analysis is not an unreasonable response  to the tactics of much of the domestic anti-capital punishment movement, which is engaged primarily in case-by-case demonstrations that we might execute innocent defendants.  This strategy is being applied on a  state-by-state basis in those locales where anti-death penalty sentiment is strongest.  Abolitionists employing these tactics supplement their  arguments with proof of the system’s unfairness and excessive cost.

The initial words of Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as adopted by the United Nations, which is the first to enumerate a  specific right, read:  “Everyone has the right to life”.”  Simply put,  the death penalty is a human rights abuse.  This makes sense because if  our government has the right to extinguish our lives, it has the power  to deny us access to every other right listed in the Declaration.  The  rights set forth in Articles 4 through 30 won’t do you much good if you  aren’t alive to enjoy them.  While the domestic anti-capital punishment  movement is reluctant to make this argument because most Americans don’t agree with it, it is the one we must ultimately make and win if we wish to permanently rid our nation of the death penalty.

We must also consider the larger context capital punishment inhabits.  Our system disproportionately imprisons far too many people for far  too long.   Mr. Douthat exposed a basic truth, although he backed into  it.  Race and class discrimination permeates our entire criminal justice system.  Mr. Douthat poses this as an either/or proposition.  Either we eliminate capital punishment to avoid a wrongful execution or we reform our system to make it fairer.  Instead, we must do both, although I  think the word “reform” understates what is needed.  Commuting Troy  Davis’ death sentence – or that of any other wrongfully convicted death  row defendant – to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole  is not a just solution, but it is a result many in the mainstream  anti-death penalty movement in our country appear to be promoting.

Let us use Troy Davis’s wrongful execution as a rallying cry to  reassert our common humanity by demanding that our government stop its  cold-blooded extermination of our fellow human beings.  But we must also demand the end of the wholesale warehousing of over two million people  in the degrading conditions of our bloated prison industrial complex.


Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.  In 1953, when he was six years old, the United States Government executed his parents for “conspiring to steal the secret of the atomic bomb.”For thirty years he has been a (more…)

Davis: Mercy On Their Souls September 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Racism.
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by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org

The state-sanctioned killing of Troy Davis has elicited much righteous grief, shame and anger; may it spark long-overdue change as well. His final, moving letter to supporters here. What you can do in his name here and here. The people’s historian Howard Zinn on the death penalty as “a kind of terror waged by the state, one death at a time, an attempt to instill fear and obedience in the population.”

“There are societies that do not pretend to be ‘civilized’—military dictatorships and totalitarian states—and execute their victims without ceremony. Then there are nations like the United States, whose claim to be civilized rests on the fact that its punishments are legitimized by a complex set of judicial procedures. This is called ‘due process,’ despite the fact that each step in this process is tainted by racial prejudice, class bias or political discrimination.” – Zinn in Killing People to ‘Send a Message’.

Troy DavisHere is the letter that Troy Davis penned to supporters:

I want to thank all of you for your efforts and dedication to Human Rights and Human Kindness, in the past year I have experienced such emotion, joy, sadness and never ending faith. It is because of all of you that I am alive today, as I look at my sister Martina I am marveled by the love she has for me and of course I worry about her and her health, but as she tells me she is the eldest and she will not back down from this fight to save my life and prove to the world that I am innocent of this terrible crime.

As I look at my mail from across the globe, from places I have never ever dreamed I would know about and people speaking languages and expressing cultures and religions I could only hope to one day see first hand. I am humbled by the emotion that fills my heart with overwhelming, overflowing Joy. I can’t even explain the insurgence of emotion I feel when I try to express the strength I draw from you all, it compounds my faith and it shows me yet again that this is not a case about the death penalty, this is not a case about Troy Davis, this is a case about Justice and the Human Spirit to see Justice prevail.