Beware the European view of the death penalty

Posted: Jan 11, 2002 12:00 AM
Our betters in the "international community" have decided that the Bush administration should cave in to European Union countries that oppose the death penalty. All EU countries have abolished the death penalty. Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution barring extradition to the United States from EU states unless Washington waives the death penalty and agrees to a public trial. French Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu opposed capital punishment if a Virginia jury finds French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui guilty of involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 civilians. Spain announced it won't extradite eight suspected terrorists unless the death penalty is waived. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that British soldiers would not hand over Osama bin Laden, if captured, to U.S. troops without a guarantee that bin Laden would not be subject to the death penalty. Thus, National Public Radio's Daniel Schorr wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that President Bush and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft may have to sacrifice "something as ideologically sacred as capital punishment." Translation: The Euros have jerked on the leash. Now America, bad dog, must heel. The problem with the above picture is that it omits a salient fact: The EU does not prohibit extraditing suspects to countries that don't waive the death penalty. Au contraire, EU guidelines allow member countries to extradite prisoners, even if they could face the death penalty, as long as the receiving country adheres to "safeguard standards." These standards include reserving the death penalty for "the most serious crimes" and that the defendant be 18 or older at the time of the crime. Clearly, EU rules, despite EU rhetoric, do not prevent the extradition of suspected terrorists because of the death penalty. Maybe that's why the United Kingdom recently agreed to extradite to the United States Saudi businessman Khalid al-Fawwaz and two associates linked to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those attacks killed 224 people and injured 4,600. The U.K.'s Home Office has refused to tell the media if the United States agreed to waive the death penalty. This suggests that for all the hand-wringing about how America must change to please Europe, some Europeans may see the benefit in letting America run its own justice system. It's called laissez-faire. There's also a fairness issue here. The United States cannot embrace a policy that ditches the death penalty for terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, in which thousands of people were killed, yet keep it for Americans who kill, say, two people. Of course, the death penalty critics are banking on that disparity to kill the death penalty outright. Don't believe that the Europeans would stop at the death penalty if America were to abolish it. Guess what else the EU opposes: Life imprisonment. Indeed, an EU policy paper issued last month announces an EU trend of "moving towards keeping imprisonment to an absolute minimum." And: "It is well established that long-term imprisonment, and above all imprisonment for life, fails to achieve its criminal policy's goal, unless relevant measures are adopted in order to enable the return of the prisoner to social life at the appropriate moment." So what starts as Don't Kill Osama, could become: Parole Osama. Too bad Americans are such barbarians that they don't appreciate the Europeans' refined sense of justice.