More death penalty crimes won't make us more safe.

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 12:25 a.m.
Something has apparently agitated our nation's nasty gene, and we're off on a toot demanding free range for some of our ugliest impulses. Take two as examples: The vice president of the United States is pushing Congress to adopt prisoner torture as avowed U.S. policy, and there's an effort afoot in the House to expand the number of, as capital punishment lingo puts it, ''death-eligible'' crimes and give prosecutors a second whack if the trial jury won't approve execution.
The inspiration for such resorts to extremism is presumably again 9-11, which has come to serve as the all-embracing excuse for giving up any of our civilized ways. Other pols then fear to go along lest they fall victim to being trashed.
The United States already has been caught abusing prisoners, even unto death, in military prisons. The odor from these abuses has become so rank that 89 senators recently joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in passing legislation directly forbidding ''cruel, inhuman and degrading'' treatment of U. S. prisoners.
Which in turn frightened Vice President Dick Cheney into lobbying Congress to enact a specific option for the CIA to torture foreign prisoners held overseas, making those secret prisons the official torture chambers of the American imperium.
To add to the mayhem, the House is contemplating a law that would add 41 crimes to the 20 terrorism-related offenses currently eligible for federal death sentences. And, in a new twist, prosecutors could impanel a second jury if the first deadlocks over execution, a situation that now automatically invokes life imprisonment.
Although juries are scrubbed of death penalty opponents before testimony begins, many still balk at the death sentences prosecutors often seek. No link connects execution and deterrence, and there is no reason to believe more capital crimes and sentences would make the nation one whit safer.
Even so, this boom in death was adopted on a voice vote - and without hearings or debate - as an add-on to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, which itself short-circuits a number of traditional American civil liberties in panicky overreaction to terrorism.
Perhaps the Senate, which has comparatively kept its head about it, will quash these House excesses and put Cheney off.
Tom Teepen writes for Cox Newspapers.

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