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Saturday, May 23, 2009

U.S. jury rejects death penalty for U.S. soldier.

Proponents of the death penalty make three powerful points. First, they cite the need to provide closure for the families of victims. If the justice system is to maintain its credibility, it must vindicate the rights of victims, defusing the rage an ineffectual system implies. Second, it is intended as a powerful deterrence to brutal crimes. The threat of death has never been shown to deter psychopaths or impulse killers, but the argument continues to be set forth. Third, it satisfies the primal moral and religious teachings that taking a life is the worst act against humanity, proportionally demanding a punishment equal to the crime; an eye for an eye, a life for a life.

So why hasn’t there been an outcry from the pro-death crowd about the following case, reported today among the furniture ads in the L.A. Times?

A civil jury in Kentucky sentenced Steven Green, 24, a former American soldier, to life without parole, instead of death. The crime: In 2006, the soldier, along with other members of his squad, raped and then murdered a 14 year old Iraqi girl and then killed her, her mother and her 6 year old sister. They then burned down their house to cover up the crimes. Four other soldiers were given sentences ranging from 5 to 110 years.

Iraqis were incensed by the crimes and are furious about the lack of a death penalty. A tribal leader said it was the only way to vindicate "the honor of the family."

In July, 2007, Fox News reported the arrest of the soldier, noting that then Attorney General Gonzales intended to seek the death penalty and citing several mitigating factors in the soldier’s favor.

"Dozens were killed in the unit's yearlong deployment and half of the battalion, including Green, sought help for combat stress. An Associated Press investigation in January found that an Army psychiatry team diagnosed Green as a threat to Iraqi civilians four months before the rape and murders. According to military documents, Green was treated with drugs to regulate his mood before returning to duty in a violent stretch of desert in the southern Baghdad suburbs known as the "Triangle of Death."

Perhaps these were mitigating circumstances that the jury found sufficient to grant mercy. Maybe they considered the stress and fear of occupying a dangerous country in an unpopular war. Maybe the jurors suspected the girls of sympathy with terrorists. Or maybe the Kentucky jury valued the life of an American soldier more highly than Iraqi children.

But if there is a case in which the victim impact and deterrent effect of the death penalty would seem to apply, this should be it. According to the Times, "As much as any of the abuses known to have been committed by U.S. troops in Iraq, this crime has resonated in the [Iraqi] national consciousness for its brutality and callousness."

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