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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…

Secrecy over UK work at Bahrain’s death-row jail challenged

Britain’s secretive work at a death-row jail in Bahrain is being challenged by international human rights group Reprieve.

The UK Foreign Office paid almost a million pounds last year to NI-CO Ltd, a company owned by the Northern Irish government, for projects with Bahrain which included training hundreds of prison guards.

The company worked at a series of Bahraini jails that are renowned for torture, including Jau prison where death-row inmates are held.

Prisoners at Jau include Mohammed Ramadan, a father of three who was tortured into making a false confession which resulted in him being sentenced to death.

However, NI-CO has refused to release details of its “liaisons” with staff at these facilities, in response to a freedom of information request by Reprieve.

Now Reprieve has filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner arguing that the correspondence must be disclosed.

The UK Foreign Office said in its most recent human rights report on Bahrain that “allegations of ill-treatment in detention continue” and that it had concerns over the death penalty.

From 2015 to 2016, more than a dozen NI-CO training staff worked at Bahrain’s Jau, Hidd, Isa Town and Dry Dock prisons on “management and operational aspects”.

The company has refused to release further details about its activities, claiming that disclosure would damage its ‘commercial interests’ and sour Britain’s bi-lateral relationship with Bahrain.

In its complaint, Reprieve argues that Bahraini authorities have been more transparent about this project than NI-CO, citing an official report which said that around 400 guards at Jau received training under the scheme.

The complaint notes that the Information Commissioner has previously ordered the release of information about custodial facilities where there was public concern about the treatment of detainees, even if it damaged someone’s commercial interests.

Earlier this year, Northern Ireland’s justice department disclosed emails from NI-CO about visits by Bahraini prison guards to the poor performing Maghaberry jail, where they received instruction on “control and restraint training”, “incident management” and drug detection.

Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“NI-CO needs to come clean over its work with Bahrain’s jail guards. The company is hiding details of its activities at Bahrain’s death row prison, where innocent father of three Mohammed Ramadan faces execution after he was tortured into a false confession. NI-CO is owned by Stormont and its work in Bahrain is paid for by the UK Foreign Office, so it must be fully transparent about its dealings with a notorious prison system where torture is systematic.”

  • More detail on Mohammed Ramadan’s case is available on the Reprieve website here
  • Reprieve’s report on NI-CO, Belfast to Bahrain: the torture trail, is available to download here.


Source: Reprieve, October 13, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization.

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