Editorials - Terrorism

From the Washington Post

Citing the Death Penalty Information Center's Year End Report, a Washington Post editorial recently remarked on the decline of executions in 2001, and cautioned that the events of September 11th ought not diminish the growing concern about the death penalty:

The decline [in executions] is an encouraging development for death penalty opponents. But caution is warranted. . . . Without systematic reform at both the state and federal levels -- something that has begun but is far from complete -- the current favorable trend in death penalty use could easily take a turn for the worse.

It is, therefore, all the more critical to remember why capital punishment must be abolished. The death penalty doesn't deter crime -- much less terrorism. It is a capricious act toward human life on the state's part. And it can produce disastrous, irreversible errors.

(Washington Post, editorial, 1/1/02)

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune

In a recent editorial, the Minneapolis Star Tribune cautioned against using the terrorist attacks to expand the death penalty:

The vicious attack on America eight days ago likely stirred more support for the death penalty. It is understandable to wrap the mind around vengeance after such a horrible act. What better way to punish the murderers and avenge the memories of thousands of innocents than to take the lives of the guilty? Yet before evil terrorists wounded American hearts, the United States was experiencing a welcome, significant decline in state-sponsored executions. Short of eliminating capital punishment altogether, the next best thing is to fulfill as few death sentences as possible.

(Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/19/01) See also New Voices.

From the Charlotte Observer

In a recent editorial, the Charlotte Observer urged North Carolina to delay executions beyond the stay occasioned by the recent terrorist attacks:

Gov. Mike Easley has wisely postponed until Oct. 5 the execution of convicted murderer Robert Bacon, who was scheduled to be executed Friday. That's the right step, given the overwhelming tragedies of the past week and the disruptions in American life that have followed.

An even wiser course of action would be for Gov. Easley to issue an executive order - and for the General Assembly to adopt a law - postponing all executions in North Carolina until officials can demonstrate that capital punishment can be applied in a fair and equitable way in this state.

(Charlotte Observer, 9/24/01) See also New Voices.

The USA Today, the Washington Post and the New York Times on McVeigh

The USA Today, the Washington Post and the New York Times each expressed concern about the application of the death penalty in light of the Justice Department's belated acknowledgment of over 3,000 pages of materials related to the McVeigh case:

. . .[This] error illustrates that the capital system is far more prone to error than its defenders admit. If the federal government can't prosecute a slam-dunk case without making potentially prejudicial mistakes, imagine what's happening in the states, where capital crimes are tried by less-skilled lawyers with fewer resources.
    . . .
If McVeigh can't be cleanly convicted and condemned with all of the resources of the federal government, it's certain that the states are also making errors and that not all of them are being discovered. A sentence of life without parole obviates the fear of killing an innocent person that can accompany the death penalty.
    . . .
The death penalty requires infallibility, which relies on perfect jurisprudence. McVeigh may be as guilty as sin, but rushing an execution isn't the path to justice. It is the path to greater error.

(USA Today, 5/16/01)

The new material isn't likely to cast Mr. McVeigh's conviction in a different light. But if this type of error could happen even in this case, which has been under the closest of public scrutiny since the moment the bomb went off, think what must happen in countless cases -- particularly at the state level -- in which nobody is watching carefully. The death penalty relies on complex interactions of human systems, any one of which can fail in any given case. . . . [T]he incident shows once again the likelihood of error and caprice. To have a death penalty means, in practical terms, accepting that mistakes will be made and that they will be, at least in some cases, discovered too late.

(Washington Post, 5/12/01)

Beyond Mr. McVeigh, and the serious problems with the F.B.I., this episode has exposed yet another imperfection in the justice system that calls into question this nation's reliance on the death penalty. People have been executed because of inadequate legal representation, corrupt or inaccurate scientific evidence, faulty eyewitness testimony and racial prejudice. Now there is the added danger to worry about of defendants being sentenced while evidence relevant to their cases sits unreviewed in government files.

(New York Times, 5/12/01)