Clayton Lockett robbed a house, got caught, and “solved” the situation by shooting the person who caught him. When she didn’t die from the gunshot wounds, he watched his two accomplices bury her alive and then left her for dead. If there ever were a way to justify the death penalty, look no further. The fact that Oklahoma botched his state-sponsored execution earlier this week, leaving him writhing in agony for dozens of minutes before dying of a heart attack, almost seems justified.
Like the death penalty or not, we should look at the issue from a global perspective and how the execution reflects on US society. The death penalty is not terribly popular in the world. And by not popular, I mean that only a handful of countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and countries in civil war (Syria, for starters) intentionally kill their own citizens. That puts us in poor company. Europeans do not like the death penalty at all:
“The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty; its abolition is a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy. Abolition is, of course, also a pre-condition for entry into the Union.” European pharmaceutical companies reinforce the EU message and refuse to let its drugs be used for capital punishment. As a result, states like Oklahoma turned to unnamed and unknown third parries for their drug supply and forced Oklahoma to improvise the drug cocktail injected into Lockett.
At a time when Assad is committing gross atrocities against his people, at a time when Ukraine and Russia are on the brink of war, the United States must find allies to combat Assad’s and Putin’s horrors. At the exact time when the United States needs to promote its core values such as human decency and democracy and justice, at the exact time when the United States must exercise global leadership by appealing to Europe for support, the world looks back and sees a country that violates its own constitution because of its penchant for cruel and unusual punishment. If nothing else, it is a spectacular PR fail. At worst, it is a gross and repugnant violation of human rights.
Domestic politics can and will do us grave harm abroad; thinking of ourselves as the world’s indispensable leader, as a light for democracy, as a defender of human rights, is irreconcilable with the news coming from Oklahoma City. If we want to take such a moral high ground, and if we want strong European allies that share our democratic values, we can and must do better.