FEATURED POST

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

Image
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…

Australia must help fight the death penalty in Asia

73-year-old Vietnam-born Australian Nguyen Thi Huong was sentenced to death in Vietnam for trying to smuggle 2.8 kilograms of heroin to Sydney.
73-year-old Vietnam-born Australian Nguyen Thi Huong was sentenced to
death in Vietnam for trying to smuggle 2.8 kilograms of heroin to Sydney.
Australia needs a consistent and pragmatic national strategy that outlines its policy approaches to consistently addressing the death penalty challenge, writes John Coyne from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Last week, 73-year-old Vietnam-born Australian Nguyen Thi Huong was sentenced for trying to smuggle 2.8 kilograms of heroin to Sydney.

Despite the fact that more countries than ever are abolishing the death penalty, the number of people being executed each year globally continues to grow. For 2 Australians, Nguyen and Pham Trung Dung, this isn't a statistic, it's the reality of their lives, or rather death: both are likely to be executed in Vietnam by way of lethal injection.

Having seen 2 executions via firing squad, one can only hope that Vietnam's newly developed lethal injection method provides a much more humane death than that experienced at the hand of the firing squad - and far less terrifying during the last fleeting moments of Pham and Nguyen's lives.

In July 2014, Pham was sentenced to death by a Ho Chi Minh City court for attempting to smuggle four kilograms of heroin to Australia.

Let's be frank, both Pham and Nguyen would have known that their efforts to smuggle heroin to Australia involved committing crimes in both Australia and Vietnam. They had to have known that their actions in Vietnam could, and most likely would, attract the death penalty if they were caught.

Arguably, a combination of greed and arrogance can often undermine logic in decision-making - whether you're young or old.

But the conscious nature of Pham and Nguyen's decisions shouldn't impact on Australia's support for its citizens, nor its campaign against the death penalty.

While Australia stands against capital punishment, our recent potted history of political responses - before and after an execution - at best reveals inconsistency, and at worst xenophobia.

When it came to the 2008 execution of the 3 Bali Bombers - Imam Samudra, 38, Amrozi, 47, and Mukhlas, 48 - Australia sat silently. According to Kevin Rudd at the time, "in the case of foreign terrorists we are not in the business of intervening on any of their behalfs".

After the executions the Rudd government announced a campaign against the death penalty, but Australia's tacit support for the Bali Bombers' executions displayed our political hypocrisy for all to see.

When it came to the Bali 9 ringleaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the story was a little different. Various diplomatic and personal efforts were made to prevent the April 2015 execution - to no avail.

In the aftermath of these executions few appeared willing to consider that our selective protests to the death penalty could be interpreted as xenophobic attacks on Indonesian sovereignty. Arguably, we left Indonesian leaders with no means to prevent the executions and save face.

We shouldn't be too quick to criticise any Indonesian for adopting this perspective. The sentencing of Vietnamese-born Australians Pham and Nguyen to death in Vietnam hasn't attracted much media coverage or public interest. And unfortunately that supports accusations that our objections to the death penalty are selective.

Many of Australia's Asian neighbors apply the death penalty broadly - for drugs, terrorism, murder, rape, child exploitation, foreign bribery and corruption - so this problem is not going to go away.

Australia needs a consistent and pragmatic national strategy that outlines its policy approaches to consistently addressing the death penalty challenge.

Firstly, this document needs to make a clear statement on Australia's long-term commitment to the abolition of the death penalty, while also recognising the sovereignty of nation states.

The strategy also needs to provide a clear policy stance on diplomatic responses to cases where Australian's have been sentenced to death. Our diplomats need a clear engagement framework on the death penalty to ensure consistency of effort.

Finally, the strategy needs to outline how Australia's law enforcement agencies will continue to collaborate with international partners who apply the death penalty. Australia's success in combating serious and organised crime in Asia can be directly attributed to international police engagement: information sharing, capacity development and joint investigations.

While we wait for such a strategy, Australia's consular service staff in missions such as Ho Chi Minh City will continue to visit and assist our citizens facing the death penalty - as they should. In cells in countries such as Vietnam, Australian citizens are likely reflecting why their lives seem to have less value than those of the Bali 9.

Source: crikey.com.au, July 8, 2016. Dr John Coyne is Head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Border Security Program. Prior to joining ASPI John was head of the Australian Federal Police's Strategic Intelligence Services.

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Convicted killer from infamous “Texas 7” prison escape gets execution date

Malaysian court sentences Australian grandmother to death by hanging

Post Mortem – the execution of Edward Earl Johnson

Ohio: Lawyers seek review of death sentence for 23-year-old Clayton man

Texas man on death row for decapitating 3 kids loses appeal

Amnesty International Once Again Highlights Shocking Justice System in Iran

Maria Exposto: Can she avoid execution?

Nebraska seeks July 10 date for state's 1st execution since 1997

Ohio man with execution set for July 18 blames killing on ‘homosexual panic’

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