Last week’s headlines on stories reporting an Amnesty International study of global use of the death penalty in 2009 focused on the world’s top executioner.
The People’s Republic of China put at least 1,718 people to death, more than the rest of the world combined. The Chinese government treats information about the number of people it kills as a state secret whose divulgence is itself a criminal offense. There are 68 different crimes punishable by the death penalty in China, some of them nonviolent offenses.
For example, a businesswoman named Du Yimin was executed last August for the crime of fraudulently raising funds. Chinese authorities routinely use confessions extracted by torture to justify death sentences, and the system operates on the presumption that a person is guilty of charges unless proven innocent.
Iran was the second most prolific executioner with at least 388, followed by Iraq with more than 120 and Saudi Arabia at 69 or more. Amnesty International could not pinpoint an exact number for any of the top four capital punishment states, all of which often carry out sentences in secrecy. Modes of execution included hanging, beheading, shooting, stoning, electrocution and lethal injection.
And then there is the fifth most prolific user of state-sanctioned killing: the United States, with 52 executions in 2009. No other country in the Americas put a prisoner to death in that period.
Of the total executed in the U.S., 24 occurred in Texas, four times that of the closest competitor, Alabama. Only 10 of the 50 states carried out the death penalty last year.
If Texas were an independent nation, we would be the seventh-largest practitioner of capital punishment, just a smidgen behind Yemen, a failed state with a medieval judicial system.
Last year nine inmates on American death rows were exonerated and freed after spending a total of 121 years there, proof that even vaunted U.S. justice makes potentially fatal mistakes.
If nations — and their judicial systems — are known by the company they keep, the U.S. and Texas remain in a very sleazy clique that continues to impose the death penalty on its citizens.
Taken from the Chronicle