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Mon Jan 30, 2012, 02:05 PM

The US government's capital punishment prerogative

The US government's capital punishment prerogative
To our shame, the federal authorities have broad powers to execute even in states that have abolished the death penalty

David A Love
guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 January 2012

While much attention is paid to the 34 US states that still administer the death penalty, federal and military systems of executions also exist. The retention of the US federal death penalty undermines those states that have abolished capital punishment and federal executions undermine Washington's claims of world leadership in human rights.

Historically, perhaps the most well-known federal executions were of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in New York. The Rosenbergs were convicted of Soviet espionage and electrocuted in 1953, at a time of anti-communist hysteria, amid charges of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct and a climate of antisemitism.

In 1972, the US supreme court in Furman v Georgia imposed an execution moratorium. The federal death penalty was reinstated, however, with the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and has expanded since 1994 with the "wars" on drugs and terrorism. The federal penalty, unlike state versions, encompasses 60 crimes beyond first-degree murder, including drug-trafficking and terrorism. This expansion makes nearly all of the 16,000 murders committed in the nation each year death-eligible, according to Death Penalty Focus. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that 69 defendants have received a federal death sentence since 1988, including three executions and eight sentences removed.

Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in 2001 for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. That year, condemned dug trafficker Juan Raul Garza was the first person executed under the 1988 act. The most recent federal execution, in 2003, was of Louis Jones, a Gulf war veteran. Jones's lawyers argued that he committed rape and murder due to the brain damage he suffered from nerve gas exposure in the military. ................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/jan/27/us-government-capital-punishment

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