Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

We know how to prevent another Bali 9 case, but the blueprint is gathering dust

Another Day in Paradise - Myuran Sukumaran's exhibition opens in Sydney.
Another Day in Paradise - Myuran Sukumaran's exhibition opens in Sydney.
This week Sydneysiders will have their first opportunity to view the hauntingly beautiful artworks painted by Myuran Sukumaran during his final days on death row in Bali's Kerobokan prison.

While the exhibition, Another Day in Paradise which opens at the Campbelltown Arts Centre on Friday, is a chance to reflect on his life and the brutality of the death penalty, we mustn't shy away from a difficult home truth: the Australian Federal Police's role in his death.

In April 2015, Indonesia executed Sukumaran by firing squad, alongside Andrew Chan, a fellow member of the so-called Bali Nine who had also been convicted of drug trafficking offences.

The execution of the two men united Australia against the death penalty as never before. The men's rehabilitation during their 10 years in prison, as well as the harshness of the ultimate penalty, had struck a chord. Hundreds of thousands of Australians campaigned for mercy and gathered together for candlelight vigils and protests around the country.

The Australian government, to its great credit, advocated strongly for a stay of the executions. After the men were killed, Australia removed its ambassador to Indonesia in protest.

Later that year, the Australian government confirmed its commitment to working towards global abolition of the death penalty, making that cause a key part of its bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the world's premiere human rights body.

Australia has not executed anyone for nearly 50 years. (It will be 50 years since Ronald Ryan's execution in February.) As a nation, we can and should be a global leader on this issue.

Yet in the midst of our shared grief and pain, and the government's apparent willingness to lead internationally, there remains a nagging issue: it was a tip-off from the AFP that led to the Bali Nine's arrest in the first place. It was the AFP that requested that the Indonesian National Police gather evidence and keep the Bali Nine under surveillance.

Under current laws and guidelines, if the Bali Nine case happened again tomorrow, nothing would prevent the AFP from acting in exactly the same way. In fact, the AFP has confirmed its view that its actions in the Bali Nine case were not only lawful, but also the right thing to do.

The AFP has strong law enforcement ties with police services in neighbouring countries. Undoubtedly much of its international co-operation is for good and valid reasons.

However, elements of the AFP's co-operation place people in harm's way. Evidence suggests that the AFP knowingly shares information with death penalty states and in so doing puts 370 people a year at risk of execution, 95 per cent of which is for drug offences.

The AFP's ongoing information-sharing with foreign police in death penalty cases, represents Australia's complicity in the very practice it seeks to stamp out. It is a stain on our track record and a blight our legitimacy to lead in the global eradication of this inhumane practice. It's time we cleaned it up.

Fortunately, a way forward has been prepared and agreed across the political divide. It just needs to be implemented.

In 2016, a parliamentary committee chaired by Philip Ruddock presented a blueprint to ensure that Australia works comprehensively to abolish the death penalty worldwide. The committee's report, "A world without the death penalty", made 13 recommendations that must be implemented immediately in order to position Australia as a smart, sophisticated international leader on the issue.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Emily Howie, January 12, 2017. Emily Howie is the director of advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.

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