Saturday, May 23, 2009

Steven Green Sentenced to Life for Rape Murder in Iraq

On Talk Left, Jeralyn posted about this case several times, including one in which she emphatically makes the point that if the accomplices have been guaranteed 7-year sentences, the government shouldn't very well ask for the death penalty for Steven Green.

Well, wouldn't that same logic apply to the life sentence without parole he has received?

The NYT describes the incident like this:

On March 11, 2006, after drinking Iraqi whiskey, Private Green and other soldiers manning a checkpoint decided to rape an Iraqi girl who lived nearby, according to testimony. Wearing civilian clothing, the soldiers broke into a house and raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. Soldiers in the group testified that Private Green killed the girl’s parents and a younger sister before raping and then shooting the girl in the head with the family’s own AK-47, which it had kept for self defense.

Much has been written lately about how atrocious this crime was, but, I don't know if I'm getting jaded or what, given the backdrop of combat and the fact that the army which has such problems with homosexuals but will readily enlist possible psychotics into its ranks, as Zirgar said today, I say, what do you expect. In fact part of the defense in Green's trial was that the army was partly responsible.

In the sentencing phase of the trial, the Army stress counselor, Lt. Col. Karen Marrs, a mental health nurse practitioner, testified that Private Green was disturbed by deaths in his unit and had expressed a desire to hurt Iraqi civilians. But Colonel Marrs also said such sentiments had been expressed by other members of the unit and were not uncommon among troops in combat. On questioning from the prosecution, she also said that she thought Private Green clearly understood that hurting civilians would be wrong and that he had no plans to act on his anger.
The defense argued that the Army should have provided stronger leadership to Private Green’s unit and should have removed Private Green from front-line duty for more intensive mental health care.

Obviously that defense didn't fly. Or perhaps it contributed to the hung jury in the penalty phase. But the defense of shared responsibility certainly didn't do much to ameliorate the sentence: it was down to death or life without parole.

What's your opinion? Is it acceptable to excuse combat troops to some degree for their misdeeds? Does what he supposedly said about wanting to hurt civilians sound normal to you, as Colonel Marrs said? I can see the troops wanting to hurt the enemy, I can even see their having some difficulty distinguishing between enemy soldiers and enemy civilians, but to say you want to hurt civilians to me sounds like a major red light should have gone off for someone in a supervisory role.

What do you think?

Connecticut Votes to Abolish the Death Penalty, a web site dedicated to Connecticut news published the story.

The Connecticut Senate voted to abolish the death penalty early Friday morning after a marathon debate, narrowly approving a bill that would make life imprisonment without possibility of release the state’s highest criminal punishment.

The Senate approved the death penalty bill, 19-17, shortly after 4 a.m., after nearly 11 hours of debate. The same measure had previously passed in the House of Representatives, and proceeds to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who has appeared likely to veto the bill.

If signed into law, the bill would make Connecticut the 16th American state without an active death penalty statute.

I suppose this could be a similar situation to what happened in New Mexico last month. Perhaps the governor of Connecticut, although he supports capital punishment, will see that the exorbitant costs, the disproportionate minority presence on death row and the possibility of executing an innocent, make it untenable.

What's your opinion? Is the country moving away from capital punishment in general? Is that good?

After the vote, Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, the bill’s chief proponent and the co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sounded tired but jubilant.

“Death in many instances is too kind a penalty for some of these defendants,” McDonald said. “In my opinion, it is a harsher punishment to sentence an individual to life in prison without possibility of release. To know that every day when you wake up you will still be in an 8-by-10 (foot) cell. You will still not have direct sunlight in your life. You will still have the obligation to consider the harm and pain that you have inflicted on your victims.”

I thought that was an interesting take on it for the chief proponent of the bill. It almost sounds like he wants to find a way for the killers to suffer more. Maybe, this will convince the governor.

What do you think?

Friday, May 22, 2009

More on the Assault Weapons Ban and the Tiahrt Amendments

It has been pointed out by several commenters that the famous AWB (Assault Weapons Ban) is nothing more than a badly written and nonsensical piece of legislature.

I eventually agreed with the "badly written" part after reading about the endless discussions of what constitutes an "assault weapon" and what distinguishes one from other rifles. The list of superfucial and aesthetic features that were used to designate those weapons too dangerous to allow in the public hands, even to me seemed a cumbersome way to get to the point. Then I learned that some weapons that were named as being "assault weapons" were simply modified slightly and produced afterwards, being, essentially the same weapon. The whole business is poorly written.

I came to agree with the nonsensical part when it was pointed out to me that "assault weapons," or even rifles in general, were not the problem, pistols were. I was told that all the talk about "assault weapons" was silly because they made up less than 1% of the overall picture. I agreed, the whole business is poorly written and nonsensical.

Then while reading about the Tiarht Amendments, I came upon an interesting piece of information. From the Brady report Without a Trace.

The ATF report Assault Weapons Profile (1994) revealed the total number of traces for each assault weapon that would be banned by name in proposed legislation. ATF also determined that, while assault weapons make up only 1% of the guns in circulation in the United States at the time, they accounted for up to 8% of the guns traced to crime.

Now that's a little different, isn't it? I wonder if the numbers have risen in the intervening years. I wonder what the percentage is today. The problem is we'll never know the answers to those questions. The Tiarht Amendments prevent access to that type of information.

Don't you find it strange that the pro-gun folks who continually talk about freedom, have given us the Tiarht Amendments, which we talked about plenty recently. These provisions effectively ensure that the very information needed to make legislative decisions that make sense, is lacking. To me that's not freedom.

What's your opinion?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lacey Brothers Sentenced in Shooting Death

In Queensland Australia, an affluent area known as the Gold Coast, they've got the same kinds of problems as everyone else. Two years ago a shooting took place at a party. Two brothers named Dionne and Jade Lacey shot and killed a "friend" of theirs after an argument. From The Australian, on-line newspaper:

Justice Martin on Wednesday sentenced Dionne to 10 years' imprisonment and Jade to five years.

Justice Martin also directed that a serious violent offending order be placed on Dionne Lacey, meaning he will have to serve 80 per cent of his sentence before parole.

Jade will be eligible for parole after serving 50 per cent of his sentence. Justice Martin said he had taken into account the two years in custody already served by both brothers.

During the sentencing, Justice Martin said a deterrent was needed for the increasing number of people carrying firearms in Queensland and Australia.

I think Justice Martin has a different definition of what constitutes a deterrent than his counterparts in, say, Houston or Dallas. What do you think? These two gangsta wannabes pulled out guns at a party, one of them shot the guy in the legs and the other immediately shot him in the chest. It seems like a pretty light sentence to me. What's your opinion?

There's a brief attempt to explain how this violence happens to exist in Australia.

The Lacey brothers' defence lawyers argued that the two brothers had grown up with good aspirations until Jade went to America for a year when he was 18 to make rap music.

They said this introduced him to the "stupid concept'' of people carrying guns and led the pair astray.

Do you think there's something to that or is it just a slur on the U.S.? It brings up an interesting question, though; does the rap-music type gun violence have anything to do with the law abiding gun owners of America? Do you think all the championing of guns and gun culture that took place last week in Phoenix, for example, feeds into the fringe groups that also like guns, the white supremacists, the black rappers, etc.?

What's your opinion? Isn't the vastly lower rate of gun violence in Australia a direct result of the gun control laws there? Doesn't that also furnish evidence that fewer guns means fewer gun deaths?

What about the 2nd Amendment in countries where they don't have it written into their Constitution? Isn't the "right" supposed to be god-given, something that transcends the written word of the national documents? How does that work in places like Australia?

Please leave a comment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Blog Break for Medical Reasons

I'm in the hospital tomorrow for a small operation. Almost two years ago I had a bad break, a bone in my right forearm near the elbow. There was a bad crack, bone fragments and soft tissue damage. The surgery left me with a one-inch pin and limited extension and rotation capacity. Luckily, the most natural position for my arm to be in is the typing position. That part worked out pretty good. So tomorrow they remove the pin and clean up some calcification and expect for me to have some improvement.

Just in case there might be some discussion in my absence, comment moderation is off. Cheers.

Apropos of nothing, but who needs an excuse to play the Kinks.

NRA Convention in Phoenix

The Christian Science Monitor published a wonderful story entitled, A rifle in one hand, a laptop in the other. Highlighted were a number of nationally known pro-gun bloggers including one of our favorites, Mike W.'s Another Gun Blog.

One of the main points of the story is that the pro-gun bloggers are far more numerous than their anti-gun counterparts.

No matter where you look on the Internet these days, bloggers are mucking it up, taking on the big bad “mainstream media” with a mad mix of polarization, cheerleading, and snark. But just as lefty bloggers got the word out about the promise of Barack Obama during last year’s election, the rightosphere is pulling out its big guns, too. And in few places is the keyboard jockey scene as fast-growing or as influential as the world of firearms and Second Amendment rights.

While their standard battle stance is from an underdog position, the pro-gun forces are, for now at least, winning the battle for hearts and minds, even gun control advocates concede.

“If you compare the pro-gun activity in the blogosphere versus the pro-gun-control activity, the scales have just tipped tremendously in their favor,” says Josh Sugarmann, founder of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, which advocates for more gun control in the US. “There’s much more engagement, more involvement, and they clearly have more free time than people on our side of the issue do.”

What's your opinion? Is it simply that the pro-gun position is usually a very personal one while the anti-gun stance is often not? Aside from people who hate guns because of the loss of a loved one, the anti-gun folks are largely involved in an academic exercise. Could that account for the differences?

Do you think it's interesting that the convention was held in a city with a very high murder rate and one which has recently been named in the supposed Mexican smuggling scheme?

Please leave a comment if you'd like.

Gun Availability

The Violence Policy Center published the latest statistics which prove what many people already believed, that more guns means more gun deaths. In fact, I've always found it surprising that some people deny this obvious truth.

Washington, DC—States with higher gun ownership rates and weak gun laws have the highest rates of gun death according to a new analysis by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) of just-released 2006 national data (the most recent available) from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The analysis concerns itself with the five states with the highest per capita gun death rates and the five with the lowest. I've copied just the highest, Louisiana, and the lowest, Hawaii to show the difference. The national per capita gun death rate is 10.32 per 100,000 for 2006.

Household Gun Ownership 45.6 percent
Gun Death Rate per 100,000 19.58

Household Gun Ownership 9.7 percent
Gun Death Rate per 100,000 2.58

VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand states, “More guns means more gun death and injury. Fewer guns means less gun death and injury. It’s a simple equation.”

The VPC defined states with “weak” gun laws as those that add little or nothing to federal restrictions and have permissive concealed carry laws allowing civilians to carry concealed handguns. States with “strong” gun laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation in addition to federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and have restrictive concealed carry laws.

What's your opinion? Why do pro-gun folks refuse to accept obvious facts like these? Couldn't they accept this data and still maintain their position on the 2nd Amendment? Why is it necessary to also deny the obvious? More guns means more gun deaths.

Please leave a comment.

Obama's Abortion Speech

CNN reports on the president's speech at Notre Dame.

President Obama delved into the abortion debate in a controversial Notre Dame commencement address Sunday, calling for a search for common ground on one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

Addressing a sharply divided audience at the storied Catholic university, Obama conceded that no matter how much Americans "may want to fudge it ... at some level the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."

"Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction," he said. "But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

My first impression was that he certainly didn't shrink from the opportunity of talking about this topic. He could have made briefer comments about abortion and got on with the usual you-people-are-the-future-of-America speech. He didn't do that, which makes me wonder if I've been too quick to question him recently about his decisions on Afghanistan, torture and gun control.

Another thing that occurred to me was that it often seems like the liberals are the only ones talking about common ground and getting along with your adversaries. Do you think that's true? Do conservatives have a problem with this kind of thing?

"As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate?" he asked. "How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?"

What's your opinion? Do you think such suggestions as not "demonizing" the other side and not turning the opponent's "views to caricature," might be useful in the gun control debates? Do you think it was a bit courageous of the president to tackle this issue so directly?

Please leave a comment.

Robert Fratta Guilty Again

The ABC Local in Houston reports on the retrial of Robert Fratta which ended in a guilty verdict just like the first one.

Fifteen years ago, Fratta's estranged wife, Farah, was fatally shot in her Atascocita home. Two hit men were later arrested and accused the then-Missouri City policeman of hiring them to kill her.

The motive was said to be money and a custody fight.

Fratta was first convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 and was granted a new trial on appeal. Friday, he was convicted for the second time of capital murder.

This is an interesting case for several reasons, not the least of which is that both hit men, who are on death row themselves, refused to testify against Fratta. I find it surprising that a jury can convict without such testimony.

The comments on the ABC Local site are very entertaining. You've got the usual "fry the bum," responses, of course, but there's also a good discussion on the merits of the case, how it compares to the last trial, and whether this one might also be overturned.

One commenter suggested that this is a case of good old Texas Justice at its worst. I try to resist the temptation to generalize like that, but I must admit the thought occurred to me also. They do lead the country in this kind of thing.

The very first comment said this:

Killing his wife that is awful, I wonder what the motive was?

Now that's a pretty bold comment and question. Do you think the motive should be considered in the penalty phase of the trial which is about to begin? Let's say he found out she was cheating on him and he went crazy with jealousy, would that matter?

What's your opinion? Did Robert Fratta arrange for the killing of his wife? What do you think his reasons were? Should he pay the ultimate price for that?

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

President Obama Goes to Notre Dame

(photo credit Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago Tribune published an article by Mark Silva covering today's visit by the president to Notre Dame University. Most reporters seem to think that the protesters represent a minority of strongly outspoken pro-life supporters. The majority of Notre Dame students, the majority of Catholics and the majority of voters in general agree with President Obama's pro-choice position.

The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who served as the University of Notre Dame's president for 35 years, says he believes the school was right in inviting Obama.

The 91-year-old Hesburgh said in an interview Thursday with WNDU-TV that universities are supposed to be places where people of differing opinions can talk.

"It's like a common place where people who disagree can get together, instead of throwing bricks at one another, they can discuss the problem and they can see different solutions to difficult problems and those solutions are going to come out of people from universities,'' he said. "They aren't going to come from people running around with signs.''

What's your opinion? Is Obama making a good move today in accepting the honorary degree from Notre Dame? Isn't there a "church and state" conflict on the part of the pro-life position? Is the pro-choice argument a question of men controlling women? It often seems that way to me. For the most part, I realize it's not 100%, but for the most part it's male legislators and politicians demanding in the name of God to restrict what women can do with their own bodies. That doesn't seem right to me.

What do you think?

Nookular Combat