Thursday, February 08, 2007

Amnesty International and Sajida Rishawi

Emily has asked me about my thoughts on this Amnesty International appeal on behalf of Sajida Rishawi. Rishawi is due to be executed soon for her role in the Amman bombings of November, 2005.

To begin, I would note that there are two major lines of argument against the death penalty. The first is that state sanctioned deprivation of life increases tolerance for violence and degrades the value of human life. The second is that innocent people may be put to death, and since this punishment is irreversible, it may lead to injustice that cannot be repaired.

The AI appeal (unfortunately for her) relies on the second line of reasoning. Sajida claimed that she was tortured for over three months so that she would confess the day following her capture (she later told the court that interrogators had shouted at her, which is not torture, as far as I know). The problem I have with this, aside from the time issue, is that she came to Jordan with the bombers, and stayed with them in the same apartment. She was caught in possession of an explosive belt that had malfunctioned. Jordanian security officials didn’t know she existed after the attacks, and were tipped off only after Abu Musab Zarqawi issued a statement hailing the group of three men and a woman. At the time, security officials denied that there was a woman among the attackers, because they didn’t find her body. Only later was she apprehended in Salt after she tried to hide there.

So, with or without her confession, there is a lot of evidence tying her to the terror plot. I don't see why would have been tortured, as the case would be pretty much the same with or without the confession. The insinuation that she was convicted based on a torture extracted confession is misleading and dishonest.

Whether or not you agree with the death penalty, I think most would have to agree that this particular case is not one that would elicit much sympathy. I hope that AI will choose a better case in the future to open a meaningful debate on the death penalty subject.


At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me the values of the lives of the 60 people who died are more important than Amnesty International but I have a certain feeling that she should not be executed. For someone like Rishawi who has shown a lot of stupidity and ignorance a life of prison whould be more miserable for her than death. I think she should be left to rot in prison forever as a continuous symbol of this tragedy. A political execution always makes heros out of criminals, just in the case of Saddam.

At 2:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have been reading your posts for a while, and I am really impressed with the quality. However, I decided to have my share on this topic.

First of all, though I am in general against the death penalty for the reasons you mentioned and others, but I might be less worried about a person who killed in cold blood tens of people like the case we are discussing, or thousands of people like in 9/11. But that is only when (1) I have a full trust in the system that convicted such a person, and when (2) enough time elapsed and the issue is discussed on different levels freely to remove any doubts, and when (3) the subject of punishment admits to the crime under all conditions all the time. You might even easy the last one of the three conditions and I might still be Ok with it. For example if she denies but she was recognized by 100 of trustworthy people to be seen with the bombers in the event of the bombing and helping them in their mission and in addition caught by a surveillance cam doing such criminal acts.

The problem with your argument is that you based your conclusion on the brutality of the crime. But the argument is about innocence. If the person is innocent, the brutality of the crime is irrelevant. People and families of victims want revenge, but the law should be about punishing the right people the right punishment not making the victims (or their families) feel better by punishing any one, even if innocent.

Now, is Sajeda innocent? No one knows. The reasons are:

(1) There is no transparency in the juridical system in Jordan in regular cases, and this is definitely not a regular case. It is highly influenced by the public opinion and other factors; therefore the government had an interest in convicting someone soon at that time. Someone who has no defenders. With no transparency you will never know the truth. How many policemen or prosecutors get convicted in Jordan for using illegal methods in interrogations or other situations? What about the western countries? Do you think policemen in USA do violate the law more than Jordanian policemen?
(2) There is no freedom in discussing such an issue or others in Jordan. The concept is not there. To make my idea clearer, for example you will never see a peaceful demonstration or discussion about the legality of a war Jordan is fighting (la sama7a allah) or even had fought tens of years ago. But you will see that frequently in many other countries including Israel. Does that tell something? (and me using an anonymous name tells a lot).

In countries that have more accountability, transparency, and more assurances to prevent corruption in the juridical system either there is no death penalty (e.g., Europe) or when there is a death penalty, the subject stays in jail for tens of years before the execution (e.g., some states in USA). Do you really think that we are surer about Sajida’s conviction than they do about their criminals?

AI has the right to defend its position on death penalty in every case and everywhere in the world, but definitely they have more responsibility towards those convicted in third world countries, especially in cases where governments have clear interest in ruling one way or another, such as public opinion cases.

To close my case, I am not saying Sajida is innocent, but we must be very careful in convicting people especially in death penalty cases.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Batir: You may be right. I would, however, point out that many people view Ahmad Daqamseh as a hero, even though he is rotting in jail. The fact that he is alive keeps his case alive. Just something to think about.

Anon: Thank you for your input. The proceedings of the trial were reported in the press. Therefore, I would disagree with your point about the transparancy of the trial. If people honestly think that she is innocent, then they should be calling for her release, and not just for the reducing of her sentence.

From this perspective, I view the AI appeal as a routine anti death sentence campaign. It has little to do with the facts of the case. IA chooses to focus on certain cases for the purpose of generating publicity on the death penalty issue. This is OK, but it should be recognized for what it is. I think that the appeal for this particular case was made because IA though that the execution of a woman might generate some level of sympathy.

As I said in the post, I hope that AI will choose a more compelling case in the future. People should think very carefully about the death penalty.

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I did not do a good job in explaining two main points in my first comment.

When I talk about accountability and transparency, I mean more than reporting the details by government and by media under the influence of government. It needs higher level of freedom and more access to information to start building such a system. I understand it takes years under the right conditions to build such an environment, but till we reach that we can not claim having freedom of opinion and speech, or having transparent government. And we must be more careful than others living in democracies.

The call to ban death penalty is based on the understanding that mistakes can happen in any case and in any system (even in democracies), and not based on the detail of the case.
Having many evidences that a person is guilty and lacking any that he/she is innocent results in a (rightful) conviction, but that can be due to the person being guilty or due to a mistake. Death penalty does not allow for partial corrections in the future, especially in countries where they rush to execute. The use of DNA as evidence in USA uncovered many mistakes in convicting and executing innocent people in recent history. That is why many states delay the execution for several years and can exceed 20 years in California, as an example.

Sorry for the long argument, and thank you for your response and patience.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

So we agree. It has nothing to do with the specifics of this case.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes :)


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