NEW VOICES: "The Failed Experiment"
Posted: July 11, 2006
Anna Quindlen, writing in the June 26, 2006 issue of Newsweek, reflected on the underlying questions surrounding the death penalty:
Hardly any other civilized place does this anymore. In the past three decades, the number of nations that have abolished the death penalty has risen from 16 to 86. Last year four countries accounted for nearly all executions worldwide: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
. . .
Much of the debate about the death penalty since it reared its ugly head again in the '70s has been about whether it is disproportionately meted out to poor minorities, whether it should be permitted for juvenile offenders, whether various methods constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Most of these discussions are designed not to examine underlying deep moral issues but to allow Americans to continue to put people to death and still feel good
. . .
Accusers recant, guilty parties confess, the lab makes a match that wasn't possible before. Since 1976, more than a thousand men and women have been executed in the United States. But during that same period more than 123 death-row inmates have been exonerated. That's a terrible statistical average. Put another way, more than 123 individuals truly guilty of savage crimes were walking free while someone else sat waiting on death row. And most, if not all, of those death-row inmates would have been wrongly executed if not for the lengthy appeals process death-penalty advocates like to decry.
. . .
[T]his is one of those issues where there isn't really a middle ground. Just because the electric chair has been phased out doesn't mean civilization has prevailed; it only means that people didn't like how reports of a convicted man's head bursting into flame made them feel about what they were doing. In judicial terms, Justice Harry Blackmun concluded in 1994 that all it came down to was figuring out how to "tinker with the machinery of death."
And he was officially finished with it, writing: "Rather than continue to coddle the Court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed." The question isn't whether executions can be made painless: it's
whether they're wrong. Everything else is just quibbling. And most of the quibbling simply boils down to trying to make the wrong seem right.