In yet another of those momentous degradations of public morality that go unremarked by the ever-vigilant watchdogs of the national media, Bush slipped a measure into the revamped "Patriot (sic) Act" he signed last week that will allow him to expedite the death penalty process across the land, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
Prisoners just aren't being killed fast enough for ole George, you see. They hang on for years and years, using all them lawyer tricks and court procedures and what all, that DNA hocus-pocus and habeas corpus junk, or even new testimony showing that they're innocent – as if that mattered. No, you got to strap 'em down and shoot 'em up with that poison juice lickety-split, churn those convict corpses out like so much prime pork sausage – the way ole George did it when he was head honcho down in Texas.
This remarkably vindictive and bloodthirsty measure – which has absolutely nothing to do with the "war on terrorism" or "homeland security," the ostensible subjects of the Patriot Act – strips the judiciary of its supervision over state-devised "fast track" procedures to speed up the execution process. The history of the move actually goes back to that remarkably vindictive and bloodthirsty precursor to the Bush Regime known as the Reagan Administration. During that glorious "morning in America," it became all the rage to "cut the red tape" that kept prisoners alive until the appeals process had run its course and determined there were no egregious errors in their cases before the government killed them. The tape-cutting crusade was led by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who once ruled that even new proof of innocence was no bar to killing a prisoner if state courts had earlier upheld his conviction, the Washington Times reports. Urged on by Rehnquist – who was executed by God last year – several states went the fast-track route, limiting the time that prisoners have to file petitions and narrowing the range of factors that judges can consider in death-row appeals.
Unfortunately, America's courts were not yet fully packed with hard-right cadres, and even the vulturous Rehnquist couldn't keep them all in line. Fast-track options in state after state were struck down by federal judges – because the fast-trackers' overall death penalty systems were such a shambles, riddled with literally fatal incompetence. One glaring example could be found in – where else? – Texas, where Guv Dub was mowing them down on his way to becoming the greatest mass killer in modern American history, with 152 notches on his belt.
Bush had set up a veritable execution assembly line in his fiefdom, aided by his trusty legal aide, Alberto Gonzales. Knowing just what the boss wanted, Al would prepare dumbed-down capsules of death penalty cases, stripping away pesky details like "ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence and even actual evidence of innocence," as Alan Berlow reported in the Atlantic Monthly. Bush would "sometimes" bother to look at the reports, sometimes not, Gonzales said. In his six years as governor, Bush spared only one condemned prisoner from execution: the serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. All the rest – including women, juvenile offenders, even the mentally retarded – got the spike. Yet one in every eight death row inmates have been exonerated since America resumed the death penalty in 1976, the Washington Times reports – an astonishing percentage of false imprisonment in capital cases. It is virtually impossible that Bush did not kill some innocent people with his relentless 152-1 execution ratio.
In 1996, the courts put a crimp in Bush's carnival of death, ruling that Texas failed to meet "minimum competency standards" for the fast-track system. He had to make do with the old-fashioned appeals process, which slowed but never stopped his killing spree: he averaged almost two executions a month during the course of his term. But he never forgot – or forgave – the judicial interference with his dominion over life and death. How it must have rankled, to think that this judicial brake on wholesale state-sponsored slaughter still existed in the Homeland, when he – the great Commander, breaker of nations – could now order the "extra-judicial killing" of anyone on earth whom he arbitrarily deemed a "terrorist" and send mighty armies to grind tens of thousands of people into bloody mulch. Who would dare put fetters on the god-like sway of the "unitary executive"?
So now he has taken his revenge. The backdoor measure in the Patriot Act decrees that responsibility for awarding fast-track death-penalty status to the states will now be the sole prerogative of the U.S. Attorney General – one Alberto Gonzales. Yes, the fawning minion whose perversions of law on behalf of his boss have abetted murderous war, systematic torture, mass corruption, assassination, abduction, rendition, dictatorship – and the slipshod Texas death machinery – will now decide if states are legally scrupulous enough to resume lickety-split executions. You can hear those sausage grinders gearing up all over America.
God only knows what festering psychic wounds drive these spiritual cripples and their obsession with death. But for them, power isn't real unless it's written on the body of another human being – a prisoner, guilty or not; an "enemy," real or imagined; or the multitude of slaughtered innocents whose only crime was living in a land that the cripples wanted to conquer.
Chris Floyd/This is an expanded version of the column appearing in the March 17 edition of The Moscow Times. .