Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

And Justice for All?

Each school morning my two children have to stand up and recite a little ditty about “justice and liberty for all.” Now I accept that this probably gives me the creeps because, being British, I was raised in a culture which makes rather less hoopla about flags and so on. But today, it isn’t just that. I am a resident of Georgia.

Tuesday’s judicial killing of Troy Davis in my home state has made me think about that phrase a little more, and what it actually means as it is trotted out everywhere from the morning pledge, to Fox News.

America took the decision, in the face of world wide condemnation and calls for caution, to execute a man despite serious doubts as to his guilt. The lack of physical evidence, the singular reliance on visual identification evidence, and then the recanting of 7 out of 9 witnesses; none of this was enough to stay the execution.

The case shines a bright light on to the workings of the American justice system. Why does this powerful, civilized, industrial nation still have a medieval definition of justice?

Everyone knows of course about Texas being the keenest to execute, it being a fact which even raises cheers at certain Republican gatherings. But the South in general still cleaves to this revengeful from of criminal justice.

And lets be clear, it is about revenge. The notion that it in any way acts as a deterrent has been debunked by one study after another. In 2010 the FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder rate in the US, and yet it accounts for over 80% of executions.

The death penalty has been rejected as a form of ‘justice’ in pretty much every other modern industrialized nation. A grown- up nation rejects it on philosophical grounds; one must rise above the instinctive urge to get even. Justice at its purest should be about a belief in the Rule of Law, a demonstration that wrong-doers, even murderers, should be apprehended and contained, but without a descent into the vey killing which is abhorred.

The US conspicuously rejected this approach back in May 2011 of course, when Osama Bin Laden finally met his fate. America called it justice; a few voices pointed out that gunning a man down in his bedroom isn’t exactly “bringing him to justice”, despite the fact that it was clearly just. But look, fair game, we gave you that one- he was after all a self confessed, mass-murdering terrorist ba****d.  But in your own backyard you need to try a little harder. A countries’ own citizens should expect more than a knee jerk vengeance as justice.

So, the practical reason that the death penalty has to be rejected is that the administration of justice makes mistakes. Here in the South those mistakes can sometimes seem endemic if you are poor, lacking in education, or black. The Innocence Project cites 17 cases where DNA evidence produced post conviction has led to the exoneration of those poised to die. Even without the magic of DNA, some 138 people have been released and exonerated from death row since 1973. And all those 138 (and rising) count, don’t they? How does it go again, justice for all…

And yet still for the majority of Americans the notion of justice means a system which clings to judicial killing. At the death penalty prom America is looking out of place- there are going to be some awkward moments- standing at the buffet with Iran and Yemen, a quick snapshot with Saudi Arabia. India is here (doing the lighting and IT) and China too (they own the venue of course) but one could say they are still politically and economically emergent nations.  There’s only Japan , they tend to be at the dos you usually hang out at, but then they have a famously low crime rate per capita anyway, so they are no fun.

So maybe its time for America to think again about what a criminal justice system really ought to look like in the 21st century, in a modern, compassionate and civilized country.  And maybe the South and this very beautiful state of Georgia can make world headlines again for the right reasons.

ANUJA SAUNDERS is a one time lawyer and ethicist from Britain and currently live in Georgia. 

More articles by:
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail