Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jose Ernesto Medellin Back in the News

CNN reports today on the decision handed down in the Hague concerning the case of Jose Ernesto Medellin.

A United Nations court has found that the United States violated an international treaty and the court's own order when a Mexican national was executed last year in a Texas prison.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling Monday in an unusual case that pitted President Bush against his home state in a dispute over federal authority, local sovereignty and foreign treaties. Mexico had filed a formal complaint against U.S. state and federal officials

"The United States of America has breached the obligation incumbent upon it" to stop the execution, the ICJ announced in a unanimous opinion.

The Medellin story was the most popular one over at the old Wordpress Blog. Unfortunately, my opinion of opposition to the death penalty was in the minority. With the International Court of Justice's decision, we're once again faced with big questions. Is the United States somehow above the law? Can we do what we want with respect to terrorists and murderers? Can we torture them, violating international treaties? Can we execute them in violation of other treaties?

The Latin Americanist posted a very thorough résumé of the Medellin case, but as usual the comments were predominantly pro-capital punishment, spearheaded by Dudley Sharp.

Mr. Sharp, who has written extensively in favor of capital punishment and claims to formerly have opposed the death penalty, as if that gives his present position more credibility, is a refreshing change from many of the furious ranting commenters who cry out for vengeance. I frankly have a hard time understanding both. Dudley has all the legal and historical information at his fingertips, but doesn't seem to understand my idea that if killing is wrong, then it's wrong. We can't tell the regular folks not to kill and then, as the State, do it ourselves. The ranting people are another story. They often remind me of the very ones they say should be put to death.

What's your opinion? Is capital punishment good for a society? Does it deter crime? Does it serve justice?

Please leave a comment.


  1. Whatever the UN Court says is irrelevant. The United States is not above the law because the law in this case is not binding. The United States does not recognize the world court and never has. The U.S. is not in violation of any court order because the order is not binding.
    The UN exists at the pleasure of the United States. Why it is still in existence is a mystery to me as it is a toothless joke.
    This "court" was created by a bunch of foreigners that presume that they can make laws for the world when in fact they can not even govern themselves. They certainly cannot enforce any of their sills laws or rulings. I certainly do not feel that any international court has any jurisdiction over me as an American.
    War crimes is a joke in and of itself. You cannot have a war crimes court without a war and only a loser of the war can be tried for war crimes. Hitler's government was charged with war crimes for killing 6 Million Jews. They lost the war. Had they won, they would not have been charged. The Soviet government killed 20 million of its own citizens and 6 million of them were Jews. Stalin was not charged with war crimes because he finished with the largest army on the planet.
    Since the UN has no way to project force over America, they have no way to establish a court or order the U.S. to do anything we do not let them do.
    The ICJ has as much power as I do.

  2. Mike,

    I think you mis-understand legal theory.

    We can't tell the regular folks not to kill and then, as the State, do it ourselves

    It isn't that the regular folks can't kill others, it is that they can not do it for the wrong reasons.

    If someone is assaulting me, I have the right to defend myself. Up to and including that person's death if needed to stop the attack. Assuming it was an unprovoked attack. There are legal, ethical, and moral reasons for one person to kill another.

    What people can't do is kill without those reasons. The criminals death isn't without reason, it is in response to their actions. Again perfectly legal, moral and ethical, in my opinion.

    but doesn't seem to understand my idea that if killing is wrong, then it's wrong.

    Are you implying that you wouldn't kill someone attacking your wife, your kids to protect them?

    Where do you draw the line in defense of yourself and others?

  3. Any word if Jose Ernesto Medellin was a fetus at the time of execution?

    That would be OK, right?

    Or was her definetly a "Person" and not just a "Human Being"?

    Just had to stir the pot.

  4. within civilized nations, we have abandoned the principle of "might makes right" --- at least in theory --- in favor of "equality under the law". it's generally agreed that things work better that way.

    between nations, however, no such development has yet taken place. there are inklings of something like it beginning; the WTO, for instance, along with GATT and a number of similar organizations; nations coalescing into fewer but larger supranational units such as the EU; and a few other, minor developments. but it's not yet a formal system of international law, nor does it seem likely we'll get such a thing any time soon.

    just for one detail, law requires law enforcement. who would enforce international law against entire countries? with what police force to go do such?

    ...even so, it always amuses me to see american jingoists decrying the "uselessness" of the united nations. wanna know why the UN is so "useless"? because most of the rest of the world sees it as a finger puppet of the USA, that's why. it's got no credibility as an independent agency separate from the USA, and hence noone sees any reason to respect it... oh, and it's got no military force of its own to enforce its decrees with, for that matter. that doesn't help either.

  5. So, Nomen, if the US took my plan to heart, and withdrew membership from the UN, and evicted them from that building in New York (and turned it into low-cost condos) suddenly Sudan and Burma wouldn't be such collosal fuck-ups???

  6. Mikeb:

    My previous opposition to the death penalty does not give me, now, more credibility, nor is that why I state it.

    I do it for two reasons. One, it begs the question "Why did you change positions?", which I am hapy to answer and two, I hope it generates a ot more interest, only because it is a rare switch.

    Of course I understand your position that you find the death penalty "wrong". But do something more. Prove it.

    For example, you wrongly equate murder and execution by the amoral or immoral position that killing equals killing.

    It doesn't.

    Even with no sanction, most folks know that committing murder is wrong.

    We execute guilty murderers who have murdered innocent people.

    The differrence between crime and punishment, guilty murderers and their innocent victims.

    It is easy to understand.

    The moral confusion exists when people blindly accept the amoral or immoral position that all killing is equal.

    For those who believe all killing is morally equivalent, they would equate the slaughter of 6 million innocent Jews with the execution of those guilty murderers committing that slaughter. They would also equate the rape and murder of children with the execution of the rapist/murderer.

    People support the death penalty for the same reason most people support other sanctions, that is because it is a just and appropriate sanction.

  7. FWM, you are mistaken.

    The International Court of Justice is relevant, because the US signed the Option Protocol, which gives them the right to settle treaty disputes. The US has since left that Protool.

    The root of the issue is a violation of the Vienna Convention, with regard to notifying arrested foregn nationals that they have the right to contact their consulate. We didn't do that. That's it, we didn't say "you have the right to contact your consulate."

    The US admitted their error. The current dispute is one of remedy. The ICJ said the US must grant an additonal hearng on the notification issue. However, there is also no dispute that both state and federal US courts heard that issue and rejected it, thus making many of us feel that the ICJ is overstepping both the intent and letter of the VC.

  8. Oh, by the way, the US never ratified the Vienna Convention. But, as the US signed it, we still did all in our power to stick to it.

  9. no, weerd, that's nothing like what i'm saying. geez, i really ticked you off on that whole abortion thread, didn't i? you're getting as bad at respecting my points and arguments as barb.

  10. Oh, not at all, Nomen. Always a problem with text medium, sarcasm doesn't translate well.

    Your points didn't piss me off in the least (actually because I'm politically against my moral feelings it's pretty hard to get me very riled up at all on this issue, as it's a two horse race, and I support both of them for various reasons)

    Still I did find your "Human Being" vs. "Person" argument quite ludicrous, so I can't help but jest about it. : ]

  11. Mr. Sharp, does the US execute the people who create the most damage to society? Let me help you; the answer is no.

  12. Dear Bob and Dudley, Give me a break, will ya? When I talk about "killing" in this context, I'm obviously not talking about self-defense. It's murder we're talking about. Sorry for not spelling it out.

    I do equate capital punishment with murder. We call it "state-sanctioned murder." Morally speaking, I find that comparison inescapable.

  13. It's not "murder" either, Mike.


    "1: the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought"

    When you don't have a leg to stand, you often stumble. : ]

  14. Beard, when discussing criminal law, the only definition that matters is the statute. In my state, murder is defined as "the intentional killing of a human being." Add "with premeditation" for first-degree. So I have no problem stating that capital punishment is state-santioned first-degree murder.

  15. Mikeb:

    Do you refer to legal incarceration as state sanctioned kidnapping, as oth are holding people against their will?

    Do you refer to legal fines as state sanctioned theft, as both are taking money from people?

    The answer is no, of course you don't. Why? It would be just plain dumb.

    You are wrongly conferring upon an act, killimg, by itself, as a moral issue and therefore wrongly conclude that legal execution and illegal murder are moral equals, when that is not remotely the case.

    Another example, do you equate rape and making love ecause they are both sexual intercourse?

    Again, of course you don't. And, you shouldn't.

    Murder, of course is an illegal killing. Legal execution is a sanction for that wrongful act.

    I suspect you find legal executions immoral under all circumastances, regardless of the crimes to which it is applied - even the hanging of the Nazis who were responsible for the slaughter of 6 million innocent Jews and 6-7 million additonal innocents.

    Is that correct?

  16. S, actually, there are many things more relevant than a legal statute. You write: "In my state, murder is defined as "the intentional killing of a human being."

    States and laws often are not clear or accurate, as in your state.

    I don't doubt that your state has that simple, but incomplete definition.

    For example, I doubt that your state has ever tried a person for murder, when it was clear that a vicitm intentionally killed their perpetrator, although such wrongly is consitered murder by your inaccurate and incomplete state law.

    If your state has the death penalty, has it ever charged your executioner with murder under the definiton as given in your law. Of course not, for obvious reasons.

    Everyone in your state knows that executioners and those who kill in self defense should not be parties who are prosecuted under such an ill defined statute.

    Even you know it, although you avoid that obvious truth.

  17. S, If that's true then self defense that results in the death of the attacker is then Murder.

    As would be Abortion (where the latter would be 1st Degree)

    While I may see abortion as infanticide, I can't claim it to be murder, as it is a legal act.

    Either your reading is too narrow, or the law is written in a deeply flawed maner.

  18. To: Dahn Shaulis, aka Vegas Quixote or vegasquixote

    In some cases the US sentecnces its worste offenders to death and in many other cases it does not. I think everyone is well aware of that fact and I thank you for making that ovious observation.

    Juries are only allowed to sentence people to death in death penalty eligile crimes. And many crimes for which the death penalty is an appropriate sanction, the state does not have a death penalty statute, at all or the prosecutor has chosen not to seek it, ecause of a variety of reasons, included in the broad "prosecutorial discretion.".

    In additon, from a philosophical standpoint, many citizens would defirne differently what is meant by "the most damage to society".

    In most every case where the death penalty does apply, even anti death penalty folks confirm that the crimes are truly horrendous.

    If you wish, we can discuss which additonal cases you think it would be appropriate.

  19. Actually weer'd and dudley, I think most states, if not all, define the statutory elements of murder exactly the same way mine does. Self-defense is an affirmative defense, so no it is not incorporated into the statutory definition of murder. Under the law, a person who kills in self-defense has still committed murder. That person, though, is not criminally liable for the murder.

    Of course the executioner is not charged with murder because, as Mike pointed out, the murder is state-sanctioned.

  20. You know the idea "a rose by any other name..." Well, whatever you call it, murder, killing, state-sanctioned whatever, morally and philosophically, it's wrong. It may be legal, it may achieve vengeance, it certainly assures the fact that the executed man will kill no more, but it's still wrong.

  21. There's a leg you can stand on, Mike!

    Of course morality is a VERY subjective thing. Some find abortion moral, others find eating port amoral.

    I think that choping the stock or barrel of a military surplus firearm is an amoral act.

    Now next up, should the state be dictating what morals are right, and what are wrong?

    I say for some, yes, others no.

  22. Mr. Dudley Sharp,

    You know that the US does not execute the people who cause the most damage to society. If that were true, many people in corporate boardrooms and others in Washington DC would be executed, and that hasn't happened. I would encourage people to read "The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison" to understand more about the US injustice system.

  23. To: Dahn Shaulis, aka Vegas Quixote or vegasquixote or theamericaninjusticesystem

    I agree, there are, unquestionably, more people who deserve the death penalty than those that receive it.

    But, we should not avoid giving those death, who do deserve it, when some, wrongly, avoid it.