The Vengeful Society


On 17 January in the US State of California, whose Governor is the strong-man actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a 76 year-old man who was blind, deaf and in a wheelchair was executed by lethal injection. He had been on death row for 23 years. The final appeal – that the prisoner was too old and feeble to be executed – was rejected by Governor Schwarzenegger and then the US Supreme Court.

During his time as Governor of Texas, George W Bush signed the death warrant for 113 people. Iraq aside, the President of the United States has blood on his hands.

Bush has been described as the ‘chief executive officer of the Texas death industry’, and has signed more death warrants than any other elected official alive in America today (see Last year, 1004 people were executed in the US, and George W Bush’s home State topped the list by far. Since 1976, Texas has seen 355 executions.

The death penalty is popular in Land of the Free: 38 States have it, while only 12 do not. Both the US Government and military have the death penalty on their books. God help David Hicks, about whom our Government does absolutely nothing. But I suppose, ‘In God We Trust.’

Execution in America is carried out by the following means: lethal injection, electrocution, the gas chamber, hanging and the firing squad (see

In 2000, the Republican Governor of Illinois announced that he was suspending the imposition of the death penalty in his State because ‘he could not support a system which has proven so fraught with error.’ Such an example from a fellow-Republican was completely lost on George W Bush, who has boasted that no innocent person was executed on his watch.

There is no doubt that Bush espouses the vicious Old Testament ‘eye or an eye, tooth for a tooth’ philosophy, and that the Christian fundamentalists are having a field day in America – as they are beginning to in Australia, aided by the climate of the Howard Government.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the death penalty became an election issue in this country and was reintroduced. This is fast becoming a vengeful and amoral society. Watch, for example, the Ray Martin Show or Today Tonight. Or read the Sydney Daily Telegraph. Consider the activities of the Department of Immigration and the enquiries into One.Tel and the AWB.

Thanks to Fiona Katauskas

It should come as no surprise that George W Bush, who embraces the death penalty, should also make torture an integral part of his Administration’s ‘war on terror.’ The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released its report for 2005 (see ). The report states it is beyond any question that the torture and mistreatment of ‘suspects’ is a policy of US senior government officials, and that the direction for it comes from the top. (The director of the CIA has asserted that ‘water-boarding,’ a torture method dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, is simply a ‘professional interrogation technique.’)

The President of America and his colleagues rival General Augusto Pinochet of Chile for State-sponsored cruelty, spying and repression. And our Government is party to this by being a loyal – and craven – ally of the US.

Sadly, the Human Rights Watch report means little to Australians, the majority of whom think Howard is doing a good job and couldn’t give a stuff about foreign policy, or the politics of revenge. They couldn’t care less if George W Bush sent 113 people to their deaths. It is only when a death – ‘judicial’ or in military action – affects them personally that they respond.

But even then, Howard has the political nous to turn death to his political advantage. He can be the grieving father of the nation. For him, it is no longer babies, but brave soldiers and weeping young mothers.

America is continually paraded as a ‘free and democratic’ society; one in which human freedom is paramount. This is not so. Its history – both internal and external – is every bit as dark and violent as that of Europe. The governorship of George W Bush is part of this tradition.

Where does this leave Australia?

Our history is not as dark and violent as America’s because we haven’t had the wherewithal, or the geographical opportunity, to exert ourselves beyond our shores. But as the historian Henry Reynolds has revealed, our internal history is every bit as dark and bloody as America’s. Both countries have decimated Indigenous populations.

It is interesting that, as far as torture and ‘rendition’ (CIA torture flights) are concerned, the HRW report does not mention Australia as one of America’s ‘partners.’ Is this an indication of our importance? HRW presumably knows Australia has forces in Iraq, and that Australia is one of President Bush’s staunchest allies. We seem to approve of everything the Bush Administration does, and this must include torture – as well as Bush’s vengeful record as the Governor of Texas.

Given the Howard Government’s record, it is quite possible that the death penalty – and even torture – could be on the national agenda.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.