FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Were US Attorneys Fired for Recommending Against the Death Penalty?

by Senator RUSSELL FEINGOLD

Today marks the first oversight hearing on the federal death penalty that the Senate Judiciary Committee has held in six years. Until recently, Congress has asked few questions about how the federal death penalty is being implemented, and we received little information as a result. Indeed, it is fitting that we will hear from some of the same organizations that testified at that last hearing in June 2001. That is because in some respects, we know little more today than we did six years ago.

There have been many developments in the last six years. In 2001, the Justice Department made controversial changes to the protocols for Justice Department review of death-eligible cases. The new protocols required U.S. Attorneys for the first time to get Attorney General approval to enter into plea bargains that take the death penalty off the table. This resulted, in one New York case, in Attorney General Ashcroft nullifying a plea agreement in which a defendant had agreed to cooperate with the government in exchange for pleading guilty to a non-capital murder charge. This action was heavily criticized for jeopardizing future cooperation agreements, and Ashcroft finally reversed his decision more than a year later.

Those protocol changes also reversed the presumption against seeking the federal death penalty in a local jurisdiction that had already chosen to outlaw capital punishment, and instead stated that a lack of “appropriate punishment” in the local jurisdiction should be a factor in deciding whether to bring a federal capital case.

And just this week, we received another set of newly revised death penalty protocols, which contain broad new confidentiality rules that appear to pull the curtain on how the DOJ death penalty review process is working. I am troubled by this trend toward secrecy. These are public prosecutions brought by the United States of America. Congress and the American people give immense power to the Department of Justice to act in our name and for our protection. We are entitled to know how decisions to seek the ultimate punishment are made.

What else has happened since 2001? A National Institute of Justice study ordered by Attorney General Reno at the end of the Clinton Administration was delayed for years. It was supposed to examine whether there were racial disparities in application of the federal death penalty, but when it was finally released in 2006, it didn’t tell us much. In addition to being criticized by a number of experts for a faulty peer review process, the report left out the most important part of the decision-making process: the point where defendants are brought into the federal system in the first place. And of course, that study only covered 1995 to 2000, so no study has been conducted to evaluate these issues from 2001 forward.

And now, the Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the Department of Justice’s firing of a number of well-respected, experienced U.S. Attorneys has revealed the inappropriate politicization of some of the department’s most important functions.

The American people should be able to trust fully the ability of the Justice Department, and the Attorney General, to make difficult and nuanced decisions about whether the federal government should pursue the ultimate sentence of death. We should be able to trust that the Attorney General seeks input from all sides, and takes very seriously his decision whether to use the full weight of the United States Government to seek to put a person to death.

That trust has been shaken. We need to know whether these responsibilities are being treated with the seriousness they deserve.

In particular, I am concerned that in the course of deciding whether to seek death in a case, neither the Deputy Attorney General nor the Attorney General meet personally with their own internal review committee that examines each case in detail. And according to what the Attorney General himself told the Judiciary Committee earlier this year, a U.S. Attorney was fired, at least in part, because he asked the Attorney General to reconsider the decision to seek the death penalty.

I oppose the death penalty, but I recognize that reasonable people can differ on the question of capital punishment. And different Administrations can take different views about when it is appropriate to seek the federal death penalty. But I hope we can all agree that the decision whether to charge someone with a capital crime and seek to impose the death penalty is one of the most profound decisions our government officials can make. That power must be wielded carefully and judiciously. If carefully considered, law enforcement-based judgments are not winning the day, we need to know about it, and we need to know why. The stakes are simply too high.

[This is adapted from Senator Russ Feingold’s Opening Statement before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Hearing On “Oversight of the Federal Death Penalty” delivered on June 27, 2007.)

 

 

 

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 22, 2017
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail