Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
March 14, 2014
Mr. President: This week Glenn Ford, the 144th person on death row to be
exonerated, was released from Louisiana's infamous Angola prison after spending
almost 30 years in the shadow of death -- staggering numbers in both the number of
innocents released from death row and in the years spent in jail for a crime a man did
not commit. Yes, a justice system can fail and it failed Mr. Ford; yet in his case it self-
corrected. The real worry is: in how many instances was it unable to correct itself?
To put it more bluntly: how many innocents have been executed?
The death penalty in the U.S. is an exception among developed nations, and is just
one of the reasons why the UN Human Rights Committee sharply criticized the U.S.
this week. It has a right to do so as it is charged with ensuring signatories to the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, a UN treaty the U.S.
ratified in 1992) uphold their treaty commitments, and it exercises this right every five
Other actions not consistent with the spirit of the ICCPR specified are ...
•A failure to hold to account officials responsible for allowing water-boarding -- a long
established torture dating back to the Spanish Inquisition.
•Detention without charge at Guantanamo irrespective of the U.S. claim that ICCPR is
inapplicable outside its borders.
•Drone strikes and the death penalty.
•Endemic racial inequality
•Rampant gun violence leading to over 30,000 deaths annually.
•High levels of homelessness and criminalization of homeless people.
•Racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Glenn Ford's case highlights the latter. His court appointed defense team at his trial
consisted of a lead attorney who was a specialist in oil and gas exploration law. He
had never tried a jury case. Junior Counsel was two years out of law school and
worked on small auto accident insurance cases -- surely not the ideal defense team
for a capital punishment case. Add withholding of exculpatory evidence by
prosecutors and incompetent (and wrong) forensics experts, and we have a tragedy
with no consequences for the original prosecutor or 'experts'.
Any self-respecting criminal lawyer ought to be ashamed of what passes for justice.
Yet part of the problem lies in the overburdened system caused by a flood of
victimless crimes relating mostly to drug laws -- in the case of cocaine biased against
African-Americans because crack is punished far more severely than the powder
used predominantly by whites.
In the German Bundestag, Mr. Gregor Gysi (a member) was sharply critical of
Chancellor Merkel and wondered how Crimea's breaking away was different from
Kosovo. The EU parliament three years ago denounced Svoboda (an important party
in the current Kiev government that holds the defense portfolio) as a racist, anti-
semitic group holding beliefs contrary to the values of the EU. So what has
changed? The leaked phone call between Catherine Ashton the EU foreign policy
chief and the Foreign Minister of Finland blames protestor cronies (likely Svoboda)
for hiring the snipers who killed 80 people at the Maidan.
Surely to have moral standing in the world, we much choose carefully who we consort
with, or invite hastily to the White House ... or, for that matter, should ensure we are
not called on the carpet by the UN Human Rights Committee.