This Tuesday, November 22, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber made a courageous move for justice and put a temporary reprieve on the execution of Gary Haugen for the remainder of his term as governor. Governor Kitzhaber’s decision was announced just weeks before Haugen was set to be executed after waiving his right to another round of appeals and volunteering for execution. Haugen would have been the third person executed in Oregon in the past 49 years since the death penalty was reinstated.
Governor Kitzhaber announced his decision stating that while he oversaw both executions during his term, one in 1996 and one in 1997, he made those decisions despite his deep personal convictions against the death penalty. He said,
“At the time I was torn between questions I have about the morality of capital punishment and my oath to uphold the Oregon constitution. Those were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I made as governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again for the past 14 years. I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something that I believe to be a moral wrong.”
Kitzhaber cited a number of arguments used against death penalty, including the fact that it is not a deterrent to future crime, problems with inadequate defense, and the high costs of the death penalty. As Oregon has only executed two individuals since its reinstatement, both of whom volunteered, Kitzhaber called the death penalty in Oregon effectively an incredibly expensive life term, saying it is a perversion of justice that he would not participate in any longer.
“Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice and justice that is swift and certain. But the death penalty as it is practiced in Oregon today is neither fair nor just and is neither swift nor certain and it is not applied equally to all. In my mind it is a perversion of justice.”
Finally, Kitzhaber called on the people of Oregon to re-evaluate the current system of capital punishment, one that he said, “fails to meet the basic standards of justice,” adding that it is not his decision alone to end the death penalty and that it is time for the state to have a debate on the issue.
“Today we can no longer avoid the question,” said Kitzhaber in his announcement regarding the efficacy and legitimacy of the capital punishment system, and this statement is true for all 34 states in the U.S. who still have the death penalty. It is time that we all, as a nation, engage in a serious debate on whether we want to be in the company of countries like China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen, who are the four countries with the highest number of executions worldwide with the U.S. as the fifth highest.
It is time we ask ourselves whether we want to be known as a leader in human rights, or as a country that still employs a system that is highly expensive, that is racially and socio-economically skewed, and that is draconian and backwards. It is atrocious that a country that aims to lead the rest of the world in so many ways could allow itself to lag so far behind when it comes to capital punishment. We must follow the path that countries around the world have already paved and abolish the death penalty across the U.S. Governor Kitzhaber has already made a step in the right direction. It is time that the rest of the nation join in and end this barbaric system.
View Governor Kitzhaber’s announcement here:
Governor Kitzhaber issues reprieve – calls for action on capital punishment
Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.