Roger L. Simon

No Amnesty for Amnesty

David T at Harry’s Place has done us all a service by pointing out a huge problem in Amnesty International’s worldwide survey on the death penalty for 2005.

[Before I go on, I would like to note, as I have frequently on this blog, that I oppose the death penalty except in the rare cases of political mass murderers like Saddam and Hitler whose adherents can too easily free them to kill again. This post is not about that, but about the methods of Amnesty International.]

Now. Here’s what Amnesty reports:

– at least 2,148 people were executed in 22 countries
– 94% of them were killed in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA

“As the world continues to turn away from the use of the death penalty, it is a glaring anomaly that China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the USA stand out for their extreme use of this form of punishment as the ‘top’ executioners in the world.” – Irene Khan, AI Secretary General.

The USA with China, Saudi Arabia and Iran? How embarrassing. But working from numbers on Brett Lock’s blog, David T. shows how the execution rate in the United States, on a per capita basis, is a statistically insignificant one per cent, not even in the same ballpark as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran (and this doesn’t even deal with what the people in those countries were executed for, like political dissidence, homosexuality, etc. In the US it is invariably for having committed murder.).

David then goes on to several possible reasons Amnesty lumps the US in with these totalitarian regimes, including the ritualized anti-Americanism that is correctly criticized in the Euston Manifesto. But … oddly for a website with writers of socialist background… he overlooks the greatest motivation of all. I will put it in block letters with an exclamation point: MONEY! Amnesty International exists by donation. Do you think they get one penny from opponents of the death penalty in China, Saudi Arabia and Iran? Please, Louise! No, they make virtually all their money from upper middle class supporters in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, etc. whose egos are flattered by giving their bourgeois bucks to an organization that is “sticking it to the man.” If the man’s not so bad, no bucks. Well, they’re not getting mine anymore. I don’t give to liars.

UPDATE: See Ron’s mathematical revision in the comments – even more damning of Amnesty.