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Western Press Review: Texas Executes Another Murderer

By Don Hill/Esther Pan/Dora Slaba

Prague, 5 February 1998(RFE/RL) -- Iraq continues today as the dominant topic for press commentary in the United States, but elsewhere in the West commentators turn indignant attention to the execution in Texas Tuesday of murderess Karla Faye Tucker.

LIBERATION: It was the press which showed itself most virulent

The French daily Liberation characterizes European reaction as follows: "The execution was received for the most part in European capitals by official silence, in contrast to the multiple appeals for clemency that preceded it. Great Britain, Germany and Spain (and) Pope John Paul II, who had appealed to (Texas) Governor George Bush Jr., stayed completely silent. Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro publicly expressed his dismay. In France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing expressed his 'profound emotion.' Several radical deputies of the (French) left, including Michel Crepeau, went to the American embassy in Paris to express their 'vivid indignation.' And at the UN, only Mary Robinson, high commissioner of human rights, declared herself 'saddened.' "

Liberation said: "It was the press, especially the (Roman) Catholic press, which showed itself most virulent. La Libre Belgique declared, 'The name of Karla Tucker will stay inscribed in the annals of justice as a crying example of the absurdity of the death penalty.' In Spain, where the death penalty was abolished in 1977, the press unanimously condemned the execution. El Mundo asked, 'Tucker paid with her life: who is satisfied? ' The Italian press also used strong words. La Stampa spoke of a 'ceremonious assassination,' and the Corriere della Sera described the Huntsville, Texas, prison as 'a factory for producing death.' "

TORONTO STAR: Justice is blind in Texas

In Canada, The Toronto Star editorializes: "Justice is indeed blind in Texas. It was blind to Karla Faye Tucker's confession, remorse, rehabilitation and good works, and to the 14 years she spent on death row. And it was blind to mercy." The Star says: "Will Tucker's death make Texas any safer? We doubt it. (But) it will reinforce America's isolation as one of the last developed democracies to execute criminals. It will perpetuate the myth that a society can better itself by imitating its most depraved members and taking a life."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A great democracy has one foot outside the door of the community of civilized nations

Commenting in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Martin Winter writes that the United States is estranging itself from Europe. He says: "It is well to keep this in mind when considering the inconceivable -- that a great democracy, where respect for human rights is more firmly anchored than in practically any other country, has one foot outside the door of the community of civilized nations. That is what the death penalty means for the United States. American politicians like to think of their country as a European power, but the existence of the death penalty in the United States would exclude it from both the Council of Europe and the European Union, since executions are banned under the European Declaration of Human Rights."

IRISH TIMES: It is a lamentable lapse of standards

The Irish Times in an editorial decries the death penalty as barbarian. The newspaper says: "Attention has focused particularly on the case because she is an attractive woman who has outgrown her crime, married a prison chaplain and become a convert to evangelical Christianity. These are, no doubt, compelling arguments. But they do not diminish the fundamental case that crime is demonstrably not deterred nor criminals redeemed by this barbarian form of punishment. It is a lamentable lapse of standards which sees such executions in the United States recur so often to brutalize public discussion of these issues throughout the civilized world."

TIMES: Traditions evolved separate positions on capital punishment

Commentator Tom Hanes says in The Times of London that executions are most common in the Southern U.S. states partly because of who originally settled there. Hanes writes: "Northern states were mostly settled by religious dissenters -- notably Puritans and Quakers -- whose departure from Britain was often an involuntary search for tolerance. Southern settlers were more likely to be members of the rural Anglican gentry, drawn to the New World in pursuit of economic opportunity." He says: "These traditions evolved separate positions on capital punishment. Northern puritans did not believe Man had the right to play God. Southern evangelicals tended to rely on Old Testament teaching to argue the reverse. Utah's unique status is partly the result of its strong Mormon presence -- a religion that takes the evangelical line on execution. These differences are still relevant to the American debate over the death penalty. They make the death of Tucker, a convert to the southern strand of Christianity, especially ironic."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Even the most damaged lives can be redeemed

In the United States, The Christian Science Monitor editorializes that Tucker's execution denies the possibility of redemption. The Monitor says: "A basic reason for opposing the death penalty is its denial of human redemption. Instead of allowing an individual to live and possibly make amends for his or her crime, the lethal injection becomes the state's -- and maybe even the condemned person's -- easy way out." It says: "What was the greater value to society - Tucker's removal in the death chamber, or her presence as a reminder that even the most damaged lives can be redeemed and turned toward usefulness? The death penalty precludes the latter. It's an unevenly applied, often revenge-driven option that makes no allowance for judges and juries to build in some form of moral responsibility, including lifetime repayment to families of victims -- and to society."

The editorial concludes: "Tucker's gender was much publicized but essentially irrelevant. What matters is equal justice that recognizes redemption's reality."

SVENSKA TAGBLAT: The most important objection is that it is against humanity

Svenska Tagblat of Stockholm, Sweden, says in an editorial that Tucker's personal particulars are irrelevant. It says: "The most important objection is that it is against humanity when a state plans murder against one of its citizens and carries it out. This would also apply if Tucker were a repulsive person without the slightest sign of remorse for her bestial deed and had stemmed from excellent parentage."

EL PAIS: The death penalty is not worthy of a country that sets itself to be a defender of human rights

Madrid's El Pais likens legal execution to lynching and torture. It editorializes: "The death penalty is immoral and not worthy of a country that sets itself to be a defender of human rights throughout the world. The Americans justify this as the fight against crime. The death penalty though is a part of American culture which is bound up with habits before the times of civilization -- such as lynching. Just as we are strictly against torture, even though in special cases it may be useful, we must also be opposed to the death penalty. The fact that 75 percent of the North American population refuses to grasp this is a disgrace for such a large country."

Some European press commentary on Iraq focuses on Saddam Hussein himself as the essence of the problem. The Times of London says in an editorial today that he can and should be driven from power. A commentator in the Suddeutsche Zeitung says only Saddam can avoid war. And the British Financial Times editorializes that one sound tactic would be to indict Saddam before an international tribunal. Following are excerpts from these commentaries:

TIMES: Saddam is the source of this enduring crisis

The Times of London -- "No talk can alter the essence, that Saddam Hussein has spent seven years extending his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons."

"The chief disagreement among Iraq's opponents lies in the right response."

"The most extreme view, expressed less than coherently by Boris Yeltsin yesterday, is that such strikes could be utterly counterproductive, starting a spark for a wider world war."

"This case is superficially compelling but deeply flawed."

"Any intervention must be decisive. There is an emerging strategy that suggests it might be. The Americans have intimated that presidential palaces will not be their only targets."

"This strategy would mark a fundamental shift in allied thinking. It would recognize -- albeit unofficially -- that Saddam is the source of this enduring crisis and only his departure will end it."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: What is important is the destruction of weapons of mass destruction

Peter Munch in the Suddeutsche Zeitung -- "Any turning back now on Washington's part would certainly be put down to weakness, and the Iraqi spiral of provocation would keep on turning. But in essence, what is important is not punishing a naughty rascal, it is the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in a dictator's hands. The only one who could still pull the stop lever is Saddam Hussein himself. The moment he agrees to arms inspections, tension will subside."

FINANCIAL TIMES: If he were indicted for crimes against humanity it would be easier for the UN to apply sanctions selectively

The Financial Times -- "A strategy for dealing with Saddam is needed, but it must be more credible and acceptable to world opinion than those tried so far. One starting point must be to sharpen the distinction between Saddam's regime and the Iraqi people who are its first victims."

"In 1991 the idea of indicting Saddam before an international tribunal seemed fanciful. Today there are tribunals proceeding actively against war criminals in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. A UN conference in June is expected to set up a permanent international criminal court. If anyone should be brought before such a court it is surely Saddam. If he were indicted for crimes against humanity it would be easier for the UN to apply sanctions selectively."

"This is a worthwhile enough strategy for the United States to consider delaying any air strikes while it is brought to fruition."