Mar 7, 2005
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court finally banned the execution of people for crimes they had committed before the age of 18, or as the Supreme Court called it, the "juvenile death penalty."
The U.S. is one of the few countries left in the world that employs wide- spread use of the death penalty. One symbol of that has been the "juvenile death penalty," that is, the execution of people who were 16 or 17 years of age when they were supposed to have committed their crime.
Until a few years ago, only eight governments in the world, including the U.S., had the juvenile death penalty, one of the most barbaric aspects of the death penalty. It is no accident that those seven countries also happened to be among the most brutal and bloody dictatorships in the world: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Nigeria, the Congo and China. Public revulsion against this particular form of government-sanctioned murder was so great that, one after the other, even these dictatorships officially abandoned the practice.
As the Supreme Court noted in the majority's opinion, "The stark reality is that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty."
For U.S. officials, this isolation comes at a bad time. They are looking to get more help and cooperation from the lesser imperial powers, like England, France and Germany, to deal with the terrible wars the U.S. is pursuing in the Middle East and Central Asia. But it is more difficult for these governments to comply, not only because of the vast and deep opposition to the wars in those countries, but also because people in other countries are horrified by other brutal policies of the U.S. government, especially symbolized by the death penalty.
At the same time, the Supreme Court is responding to growing opposition to the death penalty here at home, especially given all the revelations about how many innocent people are sitting on death row, and how many innocent people have already been executed.
This latest ruling reversed the 1989 decision by the Supreme Court that had specifically sanctioned extending the death penalty to teenagers. After that decision, 19 juvenile offenders were executed in the United States. With the Supreme Court now reversing itself, 72 people in 12 states will be moved off death rows.
Of course, in arriving at its decision, the Supreme Court made clear that it was not acting out of any sense of revulsion or shame for having earlier sanctioned such a barbaric practice in a supposedly modern and advanced country. In fact, the court decision simply stated that it was following "evolving standards of decency."
"Standards of decency" ? The U.S. Government, which continues to put people to death in a myriad of ways – execution, torture, bombing, killing of civilians in war – has not a shred of decency!