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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Death penalty on Boko Haram suspects could boomerang

Boko Haram militants
Boko Haram militants
A series of death sentences Boko Haram insurgents for their roles in the deadly attacks that have claimed thousands of civilians have been hailed in Cameroon as a breakthrough.

However, experts warn this could rebound badly in the wake of suggestions the Nigerian Islamic militant sect could carry out reprisal attacks.

Recently, Cameroon sentenced to death more than 80 Boko Haram insurgents for carrying out attacks in the country's Far North Region.

A military court in this region worst hit by the insurgency by the sect imposed capital punishment on the 89 terrorists after finding them guilty of crimes against humanity.

The judgment handed down on March 18 marked the most extreme implementation of a controversial anti-terrorism law President Paul Biya promulgated in December 2014 in reaction to the merciless attacks the Boko Haram carried out in the central African country.

The law specifies terrorist crimes as "actions likely to cause death, endanger or damage the physical integrity of another, damage to the nation's natural resources, environment or cultural heritage with the intent of intimidating the population, provoking a situation of terror or forcing the victim, the government and/or an organisation, national or international to accomplish or abstain from accomplishing any act whatsoever, to adopt or renounce a particular position, or to act according to certain principles."

It aims to punish "disturbing the normal functioning of the public services, the provision of essential services to the population, or creating a situation of crisis within the population and creating a general uprising in the country."

The law prescribes the death penalty for "any activity which can lead to a general revolt of the population or disturb the normal functioning of the country" and for "anyone who supplies arms, war equipment, bacteria and viruses with the intention of killing."

The death penalty also applies to people found guilty of kidnapping with terrorist intent, as well as for "anyone who directly or indirectly finances acts of terrorism" and for "anyone who recruits citizens with the aim of carrying out acts of terrorism."

The law also punishes people and companies found guilty of promoting terrorist, as well as people who give false testimony to administrative and judicial authorities in matters of terrorism, with various fines and prison terms.

A military magistrate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the convicts would not be allowed to plea.

"The sentence is not subject to appeal," the magistrate said.

Recently, Chad executed 10 Boko Haram members convicted of acts of terrorism. They were convicted over their roles in twin attacks on the capital in June, which killed at least 38 people.

A month after the attack, Chad reintroduced the death penalty for escalating acts of terror.

Cameroon and Chad form part of an 8,700 troops Multi-National Joint Task Force set up by countries of the Lake Chad Region- also including Benin Niger and Nigeria- to fight the terrorists.

Security experts nonetheless are worried the death sentence could create a backlash from the lethal sect.

David Otto, Chief Executive Officer of the United Kingdom-based global security provider, TGS Intelligence Consultants, Boko Haram would "surely react."

He mentioned the areas further south in Cameroon as vulnerable to reprisals.

"The government has no clue on the potential martyrdom effects this will create. One must be reminded that no amount of punishment frightens a man who is not afraid of death," warned Otto.

He said Cameroon "has weighed the cost benefit analysis of de-radicalisation and reintegration into society and it has chosen the cheapest option, attaching a legal justification on it."

"The government has to be careful not to draw Cameroon into a global jihadist lens. I suspect we will see some attacks within the next 8 weeks."

Nigerian preventive terrorism expert, Temitope Olodo, concurred the death sentence would increase the possibility of attacks.

"The use of the death sentence should be discouraged because it is not an effective deterrent to violent extremism. The sentencing would rather motivate the insurgent that encourage them to carry out more attacks against Cameroon in the name of revenging the death of their falling comrade," Olodo said.

He added, "If members of Boko Haram view the 89 convicts as martyrs, then we have a big hurdle to address in the future."

Cameroon's Communication Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, appeared to justify the capital punishment arguing Boko Haram has killed at least 1200 people in Cameroon since 2013 when the terrorists started cross-border strikes in Cameroon.

Boko Haram, whose reign of terror has split to neighbouring countries, aims to institute Sharia, or Islamic law in Nigeria.

It has killed at least 20,000 people and displaced more than 2 million since its insurgency began in Nigeria.

It is feared as the world's deadliest terrorist organisation.

Source: news24.com, April 1, 2016

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