Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

UK will not oppose US death penalty for Isis pair

ISIS execution
Home secretary says UK seeks no assurances suspects would be spared execution

2 captured former Britons accused of being members of the Islamic State cell known as the "Beatles" could be sent to the US for trial, after the UK dropped its usual demand that the death penalty would not be imposed.

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, told the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, that the UK would not demand a "death penalty assurance" in the case, and indicated he believed there was more chance of a successful trial in the US than in UK courts.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are alleged to have been members of a 4-man cell of Isis executioners in Syria and Iraq responsible for killing a series of high-profile western captives.

The pair, who are understood to have been stripped of their British citizenship, were captured in January and have been at the centre of a dispute over whether they should be returned to the UK for trial or face justice in another jurisdiction.

In a leaked letter obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Javid said the UK "does not currently intend to request, nor actively encourage", the transfer of Kotey and Elsheikh to Britain.

He wrote: "I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought." He said he had instructed officials to "action the request" for UK cooperation.

The shadow attorney general, Labour's Shami Chakrabarti, said: "Sajid Javid appears to have secretly and unilaterally abandoned Britain's opposition to the death penalty. By doing so he is not just playing with the lives of these particular terrorists but those of other Britons - including potentially innocent ones - all over the world.

"Just as we should be persuading countries like the US and Iran to drop the death penalty, Sajid Javid appears to be encouraging this grave human rights abuse."

Lord Carlile, the former reviewer of terrorism legislation, described Javid's letter as extraordinary.

"It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament. It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office - including when Theresa May was home secretary - and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty. That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy."

Amnesty International also criticised Javid's letter. Allan Hogarth, head of advocacy and programmes at the human rights group, said: "This is a deeply worrying development. The home secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain's long-standing position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

"A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK's position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice."

The mother of one of the cell's victims told Today she was "very against" any use of the death penalty if Kotey and Elsheikh were convicted.

"I think that you just make them martyrs in their twisted ideology," said Diane Foley, whose son, James Foley, a US journalist, was killed in 2014. "I would like them held accountable by being sent to prison for the rest of their lives. That would be my preference."

Execution would be too easy for them, she added. "In a way that allows them to take a much easier way out."

Along with Mohammed Emwazi - the killer nicknamed Jihadi John - and Aine Davis, Kotey and Elsheikh are alleged to have been members of the notorious "Beatles" group who held foreign hostages, killed them by decapitation and distributed footage of the murders across the internet.

Emwazi, who was killed in a US airstrike in 2015, appeared in a number of videos in which captives including the British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and the US journalists Foley and Steven Sotloff were killed.

Davis was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organisation and jailed for 7 1/2 years by a court in Silivri, Turkey, in May 2017.

The Telegraph reported that other documents say British officials have assessed that Kotey and Elsheikh may be sent to Guantanamo without trial and that such an outcome would not be formally opposed.

The Home Office refused to comment on the leaked documents. A spokesperson said: "We continue to engage with the US government on this issue, as we do on a range of national security issues and in the context of our joint determination to tackle international terrorism and combat violent extremism.

"The UK government's position on Guantanamo Bay is that the detention facility should close."

Source: The Guardian, Jamie Grierson and Damien Gayle, July 23, 2018

UK: Javid signals a 'huge backward step' on death penalty with reported letter

ISIS militant reading out a death sentence.
Amnesty International UK has reacted with dismay to reports in the Daily Telegraph this morning (23 July) that Britain has abandoned its blanket opposition to the death penalty.

The daily newspaper has reportedly seen a letter sent by the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid to Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, saying that Britain will demand no "assurances" that the captured British citizens, and alleged jihadists, Alexanda Kotey and Shafee El-Sheikh, will not be executed in the US.

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK's Head of Advocacy and Programmes, said:

"This is a deeply worrying development. The Home Secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain's long-standing position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

"While the alleged crimes of Alexanda Kotey and Shafee El-Sheikh are appalling, the UK's principled opposition to the cruelty of the death penalty isn't something it should compromise.

"A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK's position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.

"At a time when the rest of the world is moving increasingly to abolition, this reported letter from the Home Secretary to the US Attorney General marks a huge backward step.

"The death penalty is a serious human rights violation and Amnesty opposes it in all circumstances.

"Capital punishment is the ultimate denial of life - it is always cruel and unnecessary, it doesn't deter crime, and it means that rehabilitation is not an option.

"By refusing to seek assurances on this case, the Home Secretary is leaving the door wide open to charges of hypocrisy and double standards."

Source: Amnesty International, July 23, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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