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Most of the world's governments no longer use the death penalty. Among wealthy nations there is one exception remaining. The United States is among the top five killers in the world. Also in the top five: the recently "liberated" Iraq.
But most of the United States' 50 states no longer use the death penalty. There are 18 states that have abolished it, including 6 in this new millennium, including Maryland this week. Thirty-one states haven't used the death penalty in the past 5 years, 26 in the past 10 years, 17 in the past 40 years or more. A handful of Southern states -- with Texas in the lead -- do most of the killing.
The progress is slow and painful. Mississippi is right now having trouble deciding whether to spare a man just because he might be innocent. Maryland has perversely left five people waiting to be killed while banning the death penalty for any future cases. Next-door in Virginia we hold second place behind Texas and continue to kill.
Virginia electrocuted a man named Robert Gleason in January. Since then, Texas has killed four men, Ohio two, and Florida, Oklahoma, and Georgia one each -- all by lethal injection. Since 1973, there have been 141 exonerations from death row nationwide, including an innocent Virginian who came within days of being killed.
If you're convicted of killing a white person in Virginia, you're over three times as likely to receive the death penalty as you would be if the victim had been black. The injustice and backwardness is staggering, but so is the lack of democracy. Only a third of Virginians tell pollsters they favor the death penalty.
The evil of the death penalty is not limited to the instances in which it is used -- or to the corrosive influence it has on our culture. The death penalty primarily serves as a valuable chip in plea bargaining. Want someone to plead guilty, whether or not they actually are guilty? Threaten them with the death penalty. Who needs trials by jury (now used in under 2% of cases) when you have that kind of tool? And who has time for them when you've overloaded the system by treating drug use as a crime?
Remarkably, a former commonwealth's attorney here in Charlottesville, Va., named Steve Deaton is campaigning for his old job with a commitment to never use or threaten to use the death penalty.
"I believe the death penalty is barbaric and has no place in modern Charlottesville courts," Deaton says, reversing the electoral wisdom of many decades, which firmly holds that candidates must pretend to believe the death penalty is just and righteous and a deterrent to crime, even if the public thinks that's nonsense.
"I am calling for a moratorium on death penalty prosecutions," says Deaton. "During the past 20 years -- that is, the term of the incumbent Commonwealth's Attorney -- a number of capital murder charges have been brought against some people, almost all of them poor. Then the charge is often used as a bargaining chip to get the defendant to plead guilty to murder and accept a life sentence. This practice of using the threat of death to plea bargain is legal, and under current ethical standards, considered ethical. However, I find such a practice appalling. By engaging in this practice the prosecutor is tempting fate: what if their threat doesn't work and the case goes to a jury?"
Many in Charlottesville oppose the death penalty. Deaton explains the very real possibility that it will nonetheless be employed here: "The notion that no Charlottesville jury will return a death sentence is misleading. In a capital murder case the jury has to be 'death qualified,' meaning that the jurors must believe in the death penalty. Such a jury is not representative of the community! Studies have shown that a 'death qualified jury' is also much more likely to convict."
Deaton points out that prosecutors have a great deal of discretion: "A prosecutor does not have to bring a capital murder charge. They have the option of bringing a regular murder charge instead."
If elected, Deaton intends to use the enormous discretion given to prosecutors to try to make punishments more reasonably fit crimes, including so-called drug crimes. While Charlottesville City Council failed by a vote of 3-2 in February to end jail time for possession of marijuana, Deaton intends to charge those possessing marijuana with a different charge: disorderly conduct. It's technically a higher level charge -- a Class 1 misdemeanor -- but it does not carry the draconian punishments of loss of driver's license, subjection to drug testing, ruined college acceptance and student loan prospects, immigration status, etc. "If a person makes a mistake, they should be punished. They shouldn't have their lives ruined," Deaton says.
Deaton aims to counter mass-incarceration, not add to it. "The state has built a new $100 million prison in Grayson County and there is talk of expanding our local jail," he says. "All of this in spite of declining crime rates. It is time to stop feeding the prison-industrial complex. I believe the goal of the justice system should be to empty out spaces in the jails and prisons -- not to fill every available space!"
Of course, the system of mass incarceration creates a caste system by stamping the scarlet F of "Felon" on those released, no matter how many years of their lives are wasted in cages. Deaton favors restoring rights, including voting rights, for people convicted of nonviolent felonies.
Charlottesville has a chance to give the death penalty in Virginia a big push toward the door, which would help the United States and the world along that path. As Charlottesville only elects Democrats (and packs the full range of great to awful candidates into that one party) the election for Deaton is effectively the June 11th primary. Anyone in Charlottesville can vote in that primary, without swearing any loyalty to any party. And anyone else can help to spread the word or donate to the campaign.
Some human rights groups, especially Amnesty International, seem to have forgotten an important human right: peace. A petition has been launched to remind them.
These organizations are not the warmongers. They do tremendously great work addressing some of the symptoms of warmaking, including imprisonment and torture. But, because they avoid taking any position on war, and because of an apparent bias in favor of U.S. military intervention, they sometimes find themselves effectively promoting war and all the horrors that come with it. At Nuremberg to initiate a war of aggression was called the supreme international crime "encompassing the evil of the whole." Yet human rights groups are often on the wrong side of the fundamental question of war.
Amnesty International (AI) promoted the babies-taken-from-incubators hoax that helped launch the 1991 war on Iraq. AI has upheld the pretense that the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan is about women's rights. And now Amnesty International is highlighting warmaking in Syria's civil war by one side only:
"Our team of researchers on the ground found evidence that government forces bombed entire neighborhoods and targeted residential areas with long-range surface-to-surface missiles," said an AI fundraising email on April 29th that made no mention of abuses committed by Syrian rebels supported by the U.S. and its allies.
This one-sided treatment by a group supposedly dedicated to all humans fuels the fires of a wider war from which the people of Syria can only suffer.
The email continued: "Amnesty has a strong track record of using our on-the-ground findings to pressure governments and the United Nations Security Council to hold those responsible for the slaughter of civilians accountable."
Does it? When the United States kills civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, AI's silence has often been deafening. Shouldn't a human rights group press for an end to the killing of all humans by all parties?
While many good individuals who work for human rights groups like AI oppose wars, these organizations officially ignore President Eisenhower's warning and a half-century of evidence regarding the power of the military industrial complex -- and they ignore the criminality of war under the U.S. Constitution, the U.N. Charter, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and other laws.
These groups accept the existence of war (when not encouraging it) and then focus on specific crimes and abuses within the larger war-making enterprise. They promote the idea that human rights are governed by two sets of laws, one in peace and another weaker set in war. Voices for the human right to peace are missing and badly needed, as "humanitarianism" and "the right to protect" are used as excuses for war and intervention.
Amnesty International opposes imprisonment without trial and other abuses unless they adhere to the "laws of war," which is why AI is not opposing the outrageous charges leveled against Bradley Manning. Killing is opposed unless it adheres to the "laws of war." Under this standard, we pretend not to know whether blowing families up with drones is legal or not as long as the memos purporting to legalize it are kept hidden.
Groups like Amnesty oppose particular weapons, including the development of fully autonomous weapons (drones that fly themselves). No one in their right mind would oppose that step. But surely the human right not to be blown up does not vanish if the button is pushed by a person instead of an autonomous robot. Other organizations are pushing to ban all weaponized drones from the world.
Human rights groups should join the peace movement in targeting war and militarism itself, rather than just some of its symptoms. Amnesty International and all groups favoring human rights should be asked to oppose a U.S. escalation of war on Syria.
An NPR story on Monday carried this headline: "Expansion Plans At Arlington National Cemetery Cause Environmental Concerns." Only environmental concerns? Are there any other concerns that anyone can think of? I mean if, for example, "All Things" were going to be "Considered," would there be any other things worth considering?
U.S. troop deaths were 0.3 percent of the deaths in the most recent attack on Iraq. Most of those U.S. dead (and all of the non-U.S. dead) do not end up in Arlington. Most end up in other cemeteries. Some are never recovered. Some are unceremoniously dumped in land fills. And yet the cemetery is running out of room even for cremated corpses.
Advocates of military spending often push for increases to keep pace with gross domestic product. Should Arlington be the same? Should we kill off our young in proportion to how much money our bankers have? Should we expand cemeteries to keep pace with weapons budgets, prisons, highways, and fracking subsidies? Or should we take this opportunity to consider altering our priorities?
President Kennedy, whose eternal flame burns atop the hill at Arlington, wrote that we would have wars until the conscientious objector was given the prestige and respect now given to soldiers. Why is there no cemetery to honor those who resist massive crimes based on the sort of lies told about Iraq 10 years ago and told about Syria today? Why do we have to educators or doctors or diplomats or firefighters or historians or poets honored with the ceremonial wasting of fertile soil? Why only those who participate in state-sanctioned murder?
As Eisenhower warned on his way out of office, we get the society we prepare for. Expanding Arlington Cemetery is preparing us for a horrible future, one that we and the rest of humanity may not survive. The environmental concerns raised by this vision should be much more encompassing that a particular creek and stand of trees. The destructive arrogance of our war economy will either be replaced by a sustainable peaceful system or destroy us.
Pass that along to National Pentagon Radio when you get a chance.
The following statement of Leah Bolger, Secretary of Defense and David Swanson, Secretary of Peace, of the Foreign Affairs Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet, is available online here. It may be republished with attribution and a link back to its original web location.
The Obama administration has seemingly painted itself into yet another military corner by announcing that use of chemical weapons by Syria would constitute a red line that would mandate military action on the part of the United States. Now we are hearing reports that the red line may have been crossed, and some prominent officials are calling for the U.S. to step up its aid to the rebels and/or impose a no-fly zone. Proponents of military action such as Secretary of State John Kerry and hawkish Senator John McCain seem to think that the U.S. can sort out the “good guys” in the Syrian civil war, and use U.S. military assets to help the rebels take down the Assad government.
U.S. military involvement in Syria could only make things worse. Syria does not need a "no fly" zone. It needs a "no weaponizing" zone. The White House and its allies need to stop arming one side of a civil war, and to persuade Russia to stop arming the other. Further escalating the violence will result in nothing that could outweigh the damage of that violence.
The Netanyahu government in Israel has just raised the ante in this precarious situation by conducting air-to-ground missile attacks against Syria, undoubtedly with the tacit approval of the United States. Allowing Israel to attack Syria without consequences is not only the sanctioning of a crime; it also allows momentum to develop for greater violence and pushes peaceful resolution further out of reach. Diplomacy must be actively pursued before it is too late.
Further military interference in Syria would be a disastrous decision in important ways. For one thing, it is not at all clear if chemical weapons have been used, and if so, by which side. U.S. media has a tendency to turn conjecture into accepted fact merely by repeating it. Furthermore, the U.S. military has itself used and continues to use chemical and nuclear weapons — Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam and white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ongoing hypocrisy of U.S. policy and practice in this regard undermines our nation’s international moral and legal position.
Secondly, there are few if any “good guys” among the combatants in Syria. Because the White House has decided that regime change in Syria is our business, Americans are now squarely allied with extremist anti-democratic insurgents—the same people the administration has deemed our enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As it has time after the time, the theory that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” will come back to bite the U.S. once Assad is out of office.
Those who hold Libya up as an example of the kind of military action that should be taken in Syria don’t understand some very basic concepts. Syria’s air defense batteries are located in urban centers, not like Libya’s, which could be attacked without causing a high number of civilian casualties. If the U.S. targets urban centers in Syria, global opinion will quickly turn against us. Furthermore, the Assad government’s close relationship with major powers Russia and Iran could mean that a U.S. attack would lead to widespread war. An escalated U.S. war in Syria would not be waged simply on American terms. Those who advocate for military action don’t seem to understand the global response to our actions.
But the most basic reason that the U.S. should not interfere militarily in Syria is because we should support self-determination. It should be left to the Syrian people to decide who will run their government. Overthrowing foreign governments is not legal, moral, or practical. It is not a safe practice to encourage. In fact, in nearly a century of warmaking, there is still no example of the United States or NATO having “liberated” a country to beneficial effect. Libya's violence is spilling into neighboring nations. Iraq is arguably in worse shape post-intervention than Syria is pre-intervention.
In the immediate term, the Green Shadow Cabinet calls on the United States government and the international community to provide humanitarian aid—food and shelter for those displaced, and assistance to countries that are providing safe haven for Syrian refugees. And the administration should invest in multilateral diplomatic efforts involving both Russia and Iran, as well as others, to push for a cease fire and an end to weapons shipments.
In the long term, we must win an international ban on weapons and war profiteering, which is a major factor in feeding the cycle of violence.
LEAH BOLGER is Secretary of Defense in the Green Shadow Cabinet. She is a former Commander in the United States Navy, retired.
DAVID SWANSON is Secretary of Peace in the Green Shadow Cabinet. He is author of War is a Lie, When the World Outlawed War, and The Military Industrial Complex at 50.
This past Saturday morning felt like mid-winter in Asheville, North Carolina, but was actually some weeks past tax day, and dozens of people were gathered in front of a federal building to say something about what federal income taxes are used for -- something much more unusual than one would expect.
Posters carried messages including: "War steals from the poor" and "Defund Militerrorism." This in itself was not so unusual. Opponents of war often use tax season to inform their friends and neighbors that roughly half of income tax dollars go to war preparation. We could have the educations and health and happiness that other nations have if we didn't waste our money on the military, we say. We'd have more and better jobs, and jobs we could feel better about, we tell people.
If only our taxes weren't put to such bad ends.
But the people gathered from across the country in Asheville on Saturday were in town for a meeting of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. They had gathered on Saturday morning to announce the awarding of grants of thousands of dollars to a long list of great humanitarian causes -- all the things we wish our taxes were going to. For these people, this is in fact what their taxes are going to. Many of them have put the dollars they owe in taxes into one of a number of funds set up for this purpose. They can take their money back if they choose, but meanwhile the interest it earns goes to worthy causes of their choosing in the form of these grants announced in something more like a celebration than the usual tax-day lamentation that war opponents are all familiar with.
Following the announcements in front of the federal building, the small crowd stretched out in a long single-file line walking through Asheville, posters held high, making a tour of locations in the lives of the homeless and destitute, locations in need of the money that went to buy the bombs Israel was just then dropping on Syria.
And you thought corporate personhood was bad enough! Lacey Kohlmoos, Senior Field Organizer, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, tells us that the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) will create corporate nationhood by empowering corporations to sue and overrule real nations, as well as incentivizing the offshoring of jobs, hurting food safety, damaging environmental protections, enriching drug companies at the expense of human health, banning some generic drugs, further deregulating banks, forbidding the breaking up of too-big-to-fail financial firms, and creating SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) despite its failure in Congress as a result of strong public opposition.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Hundreds gathered in Dallas to reject the Bush Lie Bury, and three went to jail. I flew from Dallas to Syracuse, where hundreds protested Obama's drone-murder program, and 32 went to jail and are still there (and will stay until trial unless bail can be raised) -- some of them risk major jail time because they violated a protective order that the commander of a U.S. military base gained to protect himself from nonviolent peace activists. Another drone protester in Missouri, Brian Terrell, is just finishing a six-month sentence. Climate activist Tim DeChristopher just got out. The people locked in Guantanamo are refusing to eat, and groups around the world are making plans to fast with them. The people of Vieques are rallying on May 1st to demand that the U.S. military truly depart their island. Big plans are being made to rally for Bradley Manning on June 1st. This week I'm heading to the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee's meeting in North Carolina, after which -- just over in Tennessee -- three courageous activists go on trial, facing major time in prison, for having entered and protested a nuclear weapons facility.
The revolution will not be televised.
Oak Ridge, Tenn., was created during World War II as a secret city (actually two, it was segregated by race) for producing nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons have a history that marches hand-in-hand with U.S. human experimentation programs. I just had a chance to read Susan Griffin's A Chorus of Stones, and she recounts a nuclear test in 1957, when the U.S. government was still marching Marines to various distances from nuclear explosions in Nevada to find out what would become of them. Marines with their eyes closed saw the bones in their hands. They died of leukemia years later, but not before speaking about what else they saw: 10 or 12 people in a stockade formed by chain link fence and barbed wire, their faces and hands deformed, their hair falling out, their skin peeling off. Or this: men on the ground in agony, the smell of burning flesh, blood running from mouth, ears, and nose, a man trying to tear away wires that had been attached to his head.
In the late 1960s, Oak Ridge Associated Universities did radiation experiments on cancer patients, children of military personnel. NASA provided the funding, wanting to know how much radiation would produce nausea, in preparation for sending astronauts to the moon. And, boy, having sent astronauts to the moon has sure allowed us to take care of poverty and illness and environmental destruction. I don't know how we'd survive at all if we hadn't killed those children to send astronauts to the moon.
On July 28, 2012, Michael R. Walli (63), Megan Rice (82), and Greg Boertje-Obed (57) entered the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge undetected. You can't walk down the street without being filmed, but these three senior citizens were able to walk at night right up to a nuclear weapons facility. They hung up banners that read "Transform Now Plowshares" and "Swords into Plowshares Spears into Pruning Hooks–Isaiah." They strung up red crime tape. They hammered on the cornerstone of the newly built Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility (HEUMF), splashed human blood and left four spray-painted tags on the recent construction which read: "Woe to the empire of blood," "The fruit of justice is peace," "Work for peace not for war," and "Plowshares please Isaiah." When finally confronted by guards, they offered the guards bread and roses. They sang while forced to kneel for a long period of time.
"We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war," the activists said in a statement. "Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based upon war-making and empire-building."
Vigils and other events are planned in Knoxville as the trial begins.
While the revolution is not televised, there is a calendar of events: http://warisacrime.org/content/upcoming-events
"Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."
I do assess with varying degrees of horror (some of the varying degrees rather high even) that a lot of people are going to die. And how dare they die from chemical weapons when they should be dying from hellfire missiles and cluster bombs and napalm and depleted uranium and white phosphorous. We have a responsibility to protect these people from dying of the wrong type of weapon and in too small numbers.
I'm in Dallas protesting the rehabilitation of our last criminal president because of the precedents he set for our current criminal president. So, precedents are on my mind. One precedent for an illegal humanitarian NATO war on Syria is, of course, the illegal humanitarian war on Libya two years ago. And the pair of precedents (Libya and Syria) will put the target of the neocon/neoliberal cooperative war project squarely on Iran.
Syria will suffer, of course. There will be no more an example of a humanitarian war that actually benefitted humanity after Syria than before. The precedent will not be one of having accomplished something, but of having gotten away with something.
For some truly illuminating background on what was done to Libya, and some relevant discussion of what awaits Syria (if we don't prevent it), I recommend Francis Boyle's new book, Destroying Libya and World Order.
Boyle served as a lawyer for the government of Libya repeatedly, over a period of decades, more than once successfully preventing a military assault by the United States and the United Kingdom. Boyle details the aggression toward Libya of the Reagan administration: the lies and false accusations, the sanctions, the provocations, the assassination attempts, the infiltration, the blatant disregard for international law.
Boyle's history brings us up to and through the 2011 assault, and traces its precedents to a very similar war over a decade earlier in Bosnia. Boyle finds the unconstitutional and illegal assault on Libya a clear impeachable offense for President Obama. And why would we think otherwise? Only because we let Clinton and Bush get away with everything they got away with. It would seem unfair now to impeach Obama for a crime his predecessors committed as well.
But past, as well as current, presidents can be impeached, censured, prosecuted, and/or publicly shamed. Five of them came to Dallas today; there shouldn't be any trouble finding them. And the criminal attack on Libya can be treated as the crime it was. The excuse of protection was used to quite openly pursue the overthrow of a nation's government, bombing large numbers of civilians in the process, while arming brutal thugs and creating predictable blowback in neighboring nations as well.
In contrast, in Bahrain, nonviolent pro-democracy activists are left to their own devices as a U.S.-backed dictatorship jails, tortures, and murders them.
In Syria, the United States has worked against peace and for violence. That violence is not a justification for further and heightened violence. And every member of an intelligence "community" that announces that Syria might possibly have used a chemical weapon should be doing community service for the people of Fallujah and Basra and Baghdad, not prodding the world's only stupor power into another genocide.
Talk Nation Radio: Pentagon Professor Says the U.S. Military Overpowers Civilian Rule and Should Be Demilitarized
Gregory D. Foster is Professor of Political Science at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C., where he previously has served as George C. Marshall Professor and J. Carlton Ward Distinguished Professor and Director of Research. Foster says the United States no longer has civilian control of the military, and that the military should be "demilitarized."
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee hearing on drones was not your usual droning and yammering. Well, mostly it was, but not entirely. Of course, the White House refused to send any witnesses. Of course, most of the witnesses were your usual professorial fare.
But there was also a witness with something to say. Farea Al-Muslimi came from Yemen. His village had just been hit by a drone strike last week. He described the effects -- all bad for the people of the village, for the people of Yemen, and for the United States and its mission to eliminate all the bad people in the world without turning any of the good people against it.