It would be inaccurate to characterise Democratic politicians in the US as anti-Death penalty and pro human rights: Bill Clinton interrupted his 1992 Presidential campaign to sign the death warrant of lobotomised Ricky Ray Rector when he was still Governor of Arkansas and President Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay has yet to be fulfilled.
Yet social conservatives who fall on the Republican side of the aisle tend to be uncompromising in their support for capital punishment and human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of ‘national security’. This is why the Republican wins in the US elections held on Tuesday November 4th are a cause for concern.
Chris Christie, a Republican who favours reinstating the death penalty, won the race to become Governor of New Jersey. Although New Jersey became the first state to abolish capital punishment in 2007the precarious nature of this position was highlighted by a Quinnipiac University poll which found that 53% of respondents in the state opposed the abolition of the death penalty. It was the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Governor Jon Corzine which voted in favour of abolition.
Virginia elected Republican Robert McDonnell as Governor and Republicans also took control of the Attorney General’s office and the State Assembly. McDonnell demonstrated his support for the death penalty when he heavily criticised the decision in 2008 of Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, for announcing a year long moratorium on executions while the Supreme Court deliberated whether or not lethal injection was constitutional. The Supreme Court eventually ruled it is constitutional and Kaine upheld Virginia capital punishment laws; he was much applauded by McDonnell for doing so. Upon the announcement that Obama intended to close Guantanamo Bay McDonnell issued a statement entitled “Keep Guantanamo Bay Detainees Out of Virginia.”
In marked contrast to McDonnell’s hostility elected officials in Amherst, Massachusetts, have voted to welcome cleared Guantanamo detainees once Congress lifts its current ban. The Special Town Meeting, Amherst’s governing body, voted to support Article 14 which was introduced by Ruth Hooke, the founding member of local organisation Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos. Board member Gary Weiss deftly voiced his support for the argument, echoing the sentiments of human rights supporters everywhere: “People are suffering unjustly, and we have the opportunity to alleviate that suffering.”