Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Human Rights Games



The Human Rights Smackdown?

So today, in defense of Iran's right to execute Sakineh, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pointed out that the US is also seeking to execute a woman convicted of murder, Teresa Lewis. Lewis, who resides in Virginia, was convicted of a brutal double homicide. The execution by lethal injection, which is scheduled for Thursday, is extremely controversial in the eyes of anti-death penalty groups because Lewis's IQ is only 72 and federal law prohibits executing low intellectual functioning individuals which it classifies as those with IQs 70 and under. When you consider the range of error normally reported on IQ tests, Virginia has no business executing this woman. Whether you believe the death penalty or not, an error of only 2 points (likely out of a range of about 40 to 160 on most tests) in the evaluation would tell you that you really can't be sure she functions intellectually in a range that allows her to assess consequences. Or that would prevent her from being tricked into a murder plot. Because there was evidence that the hired killer of Lewis's stepson and husband, Matthew Shallenberger, actually  came up with the whole plan. ("From the moment I met her I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated. From the moment I met her I had a plan for how I could use her to get some money.") The trial judge evidently never heard these statements. Actually, there wasn't even really a trial in the trial by jury sense. Lewis was encouraged by her defense attorney to just plead guilty because she confessed her involvement. She was sentenced to death and here we are. Virginia Governor McDonnell has refused to commute her sentence to life in prison. Hey, he just got elected and doesn't want to look like he's soft on crime. She confessed, right? Even if she's not high enough functioning to understand what she was getting herself into.

Yes, Teresa Lewis is a tough sell for commutation. She's a drug addict and she reportedly encouraged one of the killers she hired to have sex with her 16 year old daughter. But according to her mother in law, Lewis was "not right." Lewis was incapable of such simple tasks as balancing a checkbook and couldn't even manage buying groceries for more than a day at a time. She skipped from job to job, and had held nearly 50 low-wage positions by the year 2000, when she arrived at the Dan River textile factory, where she met and married her husband and future murder victim. Her attorney has gone on record saying "The bottom line is we didn't feel like the judge would give her the death sentence. Unfortunately, we were wrong."

Iran is making much of Lewis's execution. People who live in glass houses and all.

Yeah, on some of these issues the US and Iran make quite the pair. Both countries have killed more than a hundred thousand Iraqis during the course of a war. Both countries are evidently a little too willing to execute people after disturbingly flawed legal proceedings.

Hmmm. Let me think about this....

(About one nanosecond later)

Well, Mr. Ahmadinejad, I'm definitely giving the US the benefit of the doubt on the human rights business. I mean, after all, I am not going to be thrown into jail for questioning my country's flawed "Right to Life but Yes to Death Penalty and No to Assisted Suicide" stance. And yeah, if I cheat on my husband, no one's gonna stone me to death. I'll be ostracized because he's a swell guy. Oh yeah, and I'm not going to be executed for being an apostate, or even jailed for twenty ten years because I'm reading the wrong book.

Sure, we, too, have far to go, Mr. Ahmadinejad. But I think we're a bit further along than you are.

Anyway, I know I won't make you happy by posting Sajjad and Saeideh's letter to Sakineh.

So you know I've got to do it, right?

From Bernard Henri-Lévy's La Règle du Jeu (English here):

(AFP/La Règle du Jeu)

We do not know what is going on behind the scenes. Why and how many interviews, and for what reason? All this suffering because our attorney revealed the truth and the illegality in a file? Why is it that they provoke their partisans against us by producing false interviews, so that we are the target of their attacks? Why are my little sister and I forced to hide? Where is the justice in all of this? Why didn't you allow us to be next to our mother during the interview? Why are you playing with her life and with our family's reputation in your televised broadcast? Why are you urging your supporters on against us, so that they pursue us and strike us, in the street? And so that they call us sons of.... How many more false interviews are there yet to come? These days, we feel lost, searching for ourselves.

With each day that passes, everything that is happening makes the meaning of our lives more incomprehensible.
We are tired and want only one thing, to find refuge and peace in the arms of our mother.
We are tired, and we shiver at all the insults and injustices we have suffered, and all the times we have had to conceal our tears.
We follow this obscure path of life with fear in our bellies and despair in our hearts.
We are so tired, from having run for so long, and all alone.
We have run out of tears to wash over our faces.
We are tired of having cried so much, and we want so much, today, to be able to cry with you.
We are tired of fighting alone.
We wish we could put our arms about your neck and hug your shoulders.
Yes, Mama, it's been years now that we are no longer protected by your shadow, or by Papa's. Often, we stare at the door, but now they are forbidding us to receive news from you.
Who are we? Living beings? Where and for whom are we living? We don't know. Why did God create us, the two of us, my sister and me? Did we come into the world to suffer so much torture? Why, and how much? During our childhood, when we huddled with fear in the dark and cold streets, we lost our home.
While other girls in their mothers' arms were teasing them to braid their hair, my sister was shivering in the cold and the snow, praying, all along the great wall of the prison, that perhaps she would be allowed a glimpse of her mother.
While my friends were sitting alongside their fathers, doing their homework, I was witness to the murder of my father and, even more painful, the false and ignominious accusation against our mother of having assassinated our father.
In the course of spelling lessons, we always made mistakes writing the word "mother", so the master would punish us by making us write "Mother" a thousand times on a blank page. Can you imagine it?
Our attorney, Houtan himself, has lost his home. For the sole crime of having defended us, he is no longer allowed to even enter the Ministry of Justice. He even needs someone to protect him. For all of us, this life has become a tragedy. Perhaps the interrogator of the régime's Intelligence Service was right when he told us, last week when our lawyer's office was searched, that even if our mother comes back to us, "they" will never let us live in peace. Because, according to him, the world is concerned only with our mother's liberation, not with our lives.
Yes, our lives have no meaning. We have been rejected everywhere, even by our own family.
The day when, overcome with despair, I called Mrs. Mina Ahadi, and the day, in Iran, when I became aware of the generous support of our friends, those we knew and others we did not know, the world over, those days were like a light breaking through the shadows of solitude.
We beg you, from the bottom of our hearts, to continue to think of us, but also of those like us, and of all the people imprisoned in Iran, and especially to remember that they have no means of defense, even though they are innocent. Yes, we plead with you. We beg you.
Sajjad and Saeideh, to the entire world.
(Letter translated from Persian by Franco-Iranian journalist Armin Arefi)

principal text content© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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