Gandhi on lips, Governor empties death row
Gandhi On Lips, Governor Empties Death Row
By K. P. NAYAR
Washington, Jan. 12: Quoting Mahatma Gandhi’s
famous remark “an eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind”, George
Ryan, the outgoing governor of Illinois, last night commuted the death
sentences of all of 167 persons who have been waiting in prisons in the
state to be transported to the electric chair or for lethal injections.
Two Gandhians, former South African
President Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid crusader Bishop Desmond Tutu,
both Nobel Peace Prize-winners, helped him arrive at the decision, Ryan said
in a speech in Chicago yesterday to a thunderous and standing ovation.
His visibly emotional audience at the
Northwestern University Law School included at least one innocent man who
had been convicted to death and pardoned by Ryan some time ago and Mexico’s
consul-general in Chicago who was denied consular access by the Americans to
five Mexicans while Illinois prosecutors fought for death penalty for the
A day earlier, three men walked out
of Illinois jails to freedom after Ryan, a Republican, pardoned four
prisoners sentenced to death. Some of them have been in jail awaiting death
for nearly 20 years.
All four were tortured with electric
shocks and near-suffocation by police into confessing to murders which they
had never committed and subsequent death penalty.
In addition to the four pardoned for
miscarriage of justice and 167 others whose death sentences have been
commuted because of doubts about their trial, 13 persons have been found to
have been unfairly ordered to die and then exonerated since Illinois
reintroduced death penalty in 1977.
Only 11 states in the US and the
District of Columbia do not provide for the death penalty. Ryan, who is
being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize following yesterday’s
announcement, will trigger a huge debate in this country about capital
punishment, which is already an emotive issue from coast to coast.
But the immediate impact of his
announcement will be to undermine an all-round conservative agenda at home
and abroad which is sought to be pushed through by President George W. Bush,
who seemed invincible after Republican successes in mid-term elections here
The death penalty is closely
identified with Bush, who executed more people as governor of Texas than
most other chief executives in states.
There were doubts about the fairness
of many executions in Texas too, but Bush refused to commute even death
penalties on minors in his state.
As a result of Ryan’s initiative, not
only liberal Democrats, but also moderate Republicans will be encouraged to
challenge the White House’s conservative agenda in the coming weeks and
Already, several Republican Senators
are grumbling about a new Bush proposal for a $670 million tax cut which
will top the $1.6 trillion tax cut which he campaigned for and introduced
after his election in 2000.
There is also paralysis on North
Korea within the administration even as sentiment against a war on Iraq
without international support is growing.
But the biggest threat to the Bush
agenda is in the Senate, where Democrats are threatening to block
nominations of conservative judges, more or less on the lines of India’s
Opposition stalling Parliament.
If Ryan’s announcement yesterday
triggers a chain of events undermining Republican conservatives, Bush’s
larger-than-life image after the November poll may quickly evaporate and
memories of his inconclusive election in 2000 will return.
That is the last thing the White
House wants as the US is poised for war in the Gulf and coping with a
variety of economic challenges at home.
Source: The Telegraph