The Company You Keep

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

The five nations with the most executions last year:

Saudi Arabia
United States

MORE: Per the comments, it’s worth noting that there’s a big drop between China and everyone else, and a smaller but still significant drop between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Probably also worth noting that it isn’t clear how Amnesty collected its data. If the organization went solely on government-provided statistics, it’s probably safe bet that North Korea, Russia, and a good portion of the Muslim world were under-counted. That said, that we even have a death penalty puts us in rather unsavory company.

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27 Responses to “The Company You Keep”

  1. #1 |  Nacim | 

    Alright, that list is kind of misleading. From the article:
    “With at least 1,718, China was responsible for 72 percent of all executions in 2008, the report stated. After China were Iran (346), Saudi Arabia (102), the United States (37) and Pakistan (36), according to the group.”

    The US made it on the list on 37 executions and beat Pakistan by 1. It looks like the US just happens to be the beginning of the tail end of that curve.

  2. #2 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The U.S. isn’t first at anything anymore. Well, except maybe waging war.

  3. #3 |  Zeb | 

    I’m disappointed. Don’t we usually do better than 37?

  4. #4 |  claude | 

    “The U.S. isn’t first at anything anymore. Well, except maybe waging war.”

    And waging war against our own people. We are still numero uno in incarceration rates. Let freedom ring.

  5. #5 |  anonymous | 

    What matters is executions per capita. If a tiny country executed half as many people, that would be a huge deal. I’m not trying to defend our ugly execution rate, but these data are impossible to interpret.

  6. #6 |  anonymous | 

    I’d like to add that I mean impossible if I’m too lazy to look up population numbers.

  7. #7 |  Geekfather | 

    I think it’s more important why and for what offenses the death penalty is used.

    For capital, pre-meditated murder? Sure.

    For offensive blogging, (as Al Jazeera reports Iran is considering) not so much.

  8. #8 |  Bernard | 

    Amusingly China now has mobile execution vehicles.

    I don’t know why that would be any more alarming than their executing political prisoners in prison, but there’s something particularly sinister about the idea of driving a bus around executing people.

  9. #9 |  claude | 

    Going on a per capita basis, id have to go with Singapore. I follow the drug war in that nation and they tend to kill quite a few every year. Most are not publicized unless the executed is a foreigner. Incidentally, in the last 18 months or so, they have had the biggest seizures since the death penalty was instituted back in the mid 70’s. Drug wars just dont work, no matter what you do to people.

  10. #10 |  Jim Harper | 

    If you’re Amnesty International and you believe every execution is wrong, the raw numbers are the relevant ones. Each execution is an injustice, and a large number of executions is a large number of injustices.

    If you believe that execution might be just in some cases, but worry about maladministration of justice systems, a more relevant number becomes executions as a percentage of population. I “normalized” the data for that perspective and came up with a list of the most execution-friendly countries.

    Topping the list? World pariah St. Kitts & Nevis.

    Actually, this reveals that you have to drop out any state with a small population and a small number of executions because any execution at all shoots them to the top of the list.

    Looking at the data this way, the U.S. drops to 18th. No way to determine whether that’s too high or too low. The next interesting iteration of the data would be a comparison of execution rates to murder rates (or other crimes if they justify execution – all very subjective), which would show lots of interesting things about whether death penalties were often applied relative to other countries.

    My conclusion: the answer is not in data, but in our ideologies and theories of justice.

    Country # Executed Population Executed as % Pop.
    St. Kitts & Nevis 1 40,131 0.002492%
    Iran 346 66,429,284 0.000521%
    Saudi Arabia 102 28,686,633 0.000356%
    Bahrain 1 727,785 0.000137%
    China 1718 1,338,612,968 0.000128%
    Libya 8 6,310,434 0.000127%
    Iraq 34 28,945,657 0.000117%
    North Korea 15 22,665,345 0.000066%
    Yemen 13 23,822,783 0.000055%
    Afghanistan 17 33,609,937 0.000051%
    Botswana 1 1,990,876 0.000050%
    Belarus 4 9,648,533 0.000041%
    Mongolia 1 3,041,142 0.000033%
    Viet Nam 19 86,967,524 0.000022%
    Singapore 1 4,657,542 0.000021%
    UAE 1 4,798,491 0.000021%
    Pakistan 36 176,242,949 0.000020%
    USA 37 307,212,123 0.000012%
    Japan 15 127,078,679 0.000012%
    Syria 1 20,178,485 0.000005%
    Indonesia 10 240,271,522 0.000004%
    Malayasia 1 25,715,819 0.000004%
    Bangladesh 5 156,050,883 0.000003%
    Sudan 1 41,087,825 0.000002%
    Egypt 2 83,082,869 0.000002%

  11. #11 |  Jim Harper | 

    Alas, I put in spaces to separate the columns.

    The Agitator, ummm, executed them . . .

  12. #12 |  Big Chief | 

    I think the normalized numbers are a better indicator than the raw numbers. I find it quite telling that China drops to 3 on the list (if you ignore Bahrain and St. Kitt’s). It shines the light where it should go, on Iran and Saudi Arabia. It also looks better to be tied with Japan (I didn’t even know Japan did executions).

    That said, I think the Innocence Project shows there is still a LOT of problems with the death sentence in the US and we ought to have a moratorium until it can be shown that these problems are resolved, if ever.

  13. #13 |  Andy Craig | 

    I have absolutely no problem with the theoretical moral justification for executing a murderer. Reciprocity-as-a-ceiling is a pretty good guiding principle I think for dealing with real (as in, have a victim) crimes, and there’s no reason that would preclude ending the life of someone who had murdered some one.

    However, the problem is when we leave the world of theory and try to carry this out in reality. As Radley has done such an excellent job detailing, the criminal justice system as it stands now can’t be trusted to *incarcerate* justly and accurately. When it comes to executions, I just don’t see how anyone could define an error rate of more than zero as acceptable or somehow worth it. And even if we had a vastly improved justice system, the error rate will never be zero.

    I’m not willing to categorically rule out the death penalty in rare, extreme conditions such as armed forces in times of war or a small, isolated society like a distant colony that can’t realistically afford the burden of housing, feeding, and guarding violent sociopaths. None of these circumstances even remotely apply to the regular justice system of a large, stable society like the United States, however. The marginal gain to be had in executing a murderer over imprisoning them for life, if there is any, simply is not worth a single innocent life. And having state-sanctioned executions at all means innocent people will inevitably be killed.

  14. #14 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Yeah, we don’t really execute that many people. Usually we just sentence them to die and then tease them for a couple decades about when it will actually happen.

  15. #15 |  Aresen | 

    If you could get the right person 100% of the time, I have no problem with executing murderers.

    But if you can’t guarantee that you will never, ever convict a person for a crime he didn’t commit, then I’m opposed. (And “he probably deserved it for something else” doesn’t cut it.)

  16. #16 |  James D | 

    Ok, I can stomach many things … but that ‘Death Van’ thing definitely creeps me out … makes me want to keep China off the “Places to Visit” list indefinitely ….

  17. #17 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    I don’t know why that would be any more alarming than their executing political prisoners in prison, but there’s something particularly sinister about the idea of driving a bus around executing people.

    Well, we can see the mobile excution vehicles. They’re a bigger problem because they’re interfering with our denial.

  18. #18 |  KBCraig | 

    I’ve said many times that one reason we have so many people in prison, is that we don’t engage in summary execution like China and Islamic countries.

    Not that I’d prefer that method of keeping the prison population low, mind you.

  19. #19 |  Judi | 

    Oh gee, you’ve got me started!

    The death penalty is a barbaric way of sweeping our ‘problems’ under the rug.

    It is used arbitrarily, therefore it is not fair and renders us unable to call ourselves a ‘just society’.

    Casey Anthony won’t get the DP for murdering her own daughter. Susan Smith didn’t get it either when she drowned her two little boys in a car in S.C. Andrea Yates didn’t get the DP when she drowned her 5 children, one by one in a tub of water in Texas.

    Yet we can execute others? You cannot pick and chose WHO is going to get the DP like you are chosing a new set of curtains for your living room.

    Take a look at the NUMBER of EXONERATED people from death row since the birth of DNA! There are THOUSANDS who are trying to get DNA testing or awaiting results that will free them.

    Google Carlos De Luna, Texas. Now what?

    The Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Not “Thou shalt not kill except when you are killing someone you believe killed someone else.”

    And don’t give me that, “eye for an eye” thing either. That is not what God meant.

    Ghandi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind…”

    It does not DETER crime, since for every one execution there are thousands of murders occurring at the very moment the lethal injection is entering the condemned man’s vein.

    It does not bring closure. Closure is something you find within yourself…not by killing yet another human being. Think of what this is doing to their loved ones as well!

    It does not resurrect the victim. It changes nothing accept that one more person is dead.

    It costs far more to execute a person than to house them the rest of their lives.

    The ‘punishment’ ENDS once their lives END.

    And if I hear one more person claim to be a Christian out of one side of their mouth and say they ‘believe in the death penalty’ out of the other side, I think I’ll turn cartwheels nekkid this Sunday on the courthouse square.

    If you believe in the DP then clearly you have a MURDEROUS HEART. Murdering a person VICARIOUSLY through the STATE does not take the condemned’s blood off of YOUR hands.

    Nothing sets YOU apart from the very person YOU want KILLED since YOU desire and believe in their DEATH…



    End of story.

    No applause is necessary. Well…maybe a little.

  20. #20 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    The Bible doesn’t say “Thou shalt not kill”; it says “Thou shalt not murder”. Admittedly, what the Bible says on the matter is a really poor argument for whether we should keep the death penalty thousands of years later. However, suggesting the Bible is anti-death penalty is just silly, given that public stoning is its solution to nearly every problem.

  21. #21 |  Elliot | 

    I agree with #13 (Andy Craig), and others who expressed similar ideas.

    I don’t have a problem, per se, with killing monstrously bad people, so long as you’re certain they are guilty of horrible crimes. In practice, most capital trials don’t meet that standard.

    I have a problem with any method of deciding guilt which allows any innocent people to be wrongfully convicted, particularly when the punishment is irrevocable, like death. Putting someone in prison for decades also takes away most of a person’s one and only life, which is also irrevocable (particularly when there’s no attempt at compensation.

    I have a problem with a justice system which leads to grossly inequitable sentences, whether due to racism, inability for low-income defendants to get decent representation, or corruption of prosecutors and law enforcement.

    Thus, I have a problem with any government allowing capital punishment. All governments are prone to corruption, above and beyond their inherently unethical nature.

  22. #22 |  Judi | 

    Exodus 20:13
    Thou shalt not kill.

    Deuteronomy 5:17
    Thou shalt not kill.

    Romans 13:9
    For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    So YES, Stormy, it DOES say it!

    Case closed.

  23. #23 |  Howlin' Hobbit | 

    You’re reading a translation, Judi. From various languages to boot.

    As a for instance, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” when properly translated reads “poisoner,” not “witch.” Just look at the Inquisition(s) period to see what brouhaha that little error stirred up.

    Same thing with JC asking Peter “Do you love me?” three separate times. Peter answered each time, “Yes, I love you.” JC then says, “Feed my sheep.”

    That confused the socks off of me as a young Baptist boy. I was thinking ol’ JC was losing it, asking over and over again. In my teens I finally attended a church that had Bible study with three columns; the original language the particular book of the bible was written in, the “accepted translation” from the KJB and then a more precise English translation.

    Each time in the original Greek JC used a different word (starting with agape and working down). Each time Peter answered, he used the word for the lowest form of love, and JC slowly lowered himself to Peter’s level.

    Ah! The message is finally teased out.

    Lots of stuff gets lost in translation.

  24. #24 |  Roger Ridley | 

    The US needs to deploy several execution vans around the US. It certainly would be appropriate for their current style of government. They claim to be a Representative form of republic but in fact they are an abomination of a collection of tyrannical war hawk crackpots who obviously enjoy war and killing. Their government is the most violent, warmongering group of idiots on the entire earth. I’m surprised they only executed 37 last year. With the number of executions they have carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few years I would have expected their home rate to be more like 3700.

  25. #25 |  Judi | 

    Thank you Hobbit. Your post was very enlightening. The only Bible I read and adhere to is the King James Version.

    I do understand the different translations, languages etc. Hence we have so many opinions, religions, etc.

    Even if we ‘toss’ the Bible quotes from my original post, my statements still ring true and are steadfast.

    By the way, I am an old Baptist gal myself.

    In my post, I’m sure it was clear that I am ANTI-Death Penalty.

    My whole rant narrows down to this…if we are to HAVE a DP then we MUST kill EVERY and ANY-ONE who kills another person.

    Bottom line.

    There are many Jeffrey Dahmers, Ted Bundys, John Wayne Gacys, Dennis Raders (BTK), in the world that we don’t know about.

    Needless to say I find their crimes appalling and incomprehensible beyond words. Certainly people like this should be LOCKED AWAY forever. No doubt.

    However, how can the state of Florida, for instance, give the DP to John Couey (Jessica Lundsford’s rapist and murderer) and NOT even SEEK the DP for Casey Anthony who is accused of murdering her own child? Granted she has not yet been tried…and is presumed innocent, etc…but puhlease!

  26. #26 |  anne | 

    Sorry – it might not be popular on this site, but I think we need to be number one – murderers and rapists need to be frying or hanging every day.

  27. #27 |  Judi | 

    Anne digresses….sharply and takes the whole damned blog here with her.

    So WHAT, prey tell Anne, sets YOU APART from the ‘murderers and rapists’ you want to ‘fry or hang’?

    Answer: Notta

    You WANT another person to DIE.