Why didn't Clinton halt executions?

Ex-president passes up last-minute opportunity


By: Marlene Martin

Bill Clinton had the opportunity to fix a few wrongs before he left office -- but he didn't.

All indicators show that the federal government's death penalty system is grossly unfair. A recent U.S. Department of Justice review found that 80 percent of prisoners on federal death row are nonwhite. The review also found that, of 682 cases considered for the death penalty, 40 percent were filed by only five jurisdictions.

With this information and the new wave of support for a moratorium on executions, Clinton could have come clean and issued a federal halt on executions when he was faced with a decision on whether to okay the execution of federal prisoner Juan Raul Garza in early December.

He even admitted to reporters: "I am not satisfied that, given the uncertainty that exists, it is appropriate to go forward with an execution in a case that may implicate the very issues at the center of the uncertainty."

But what Clinton did do is indicative of how he plays politics with deadly serious issues. Under growing calls to stop the execution of Garza, Clinton granted a six-month reprieve -- but refused to take action on the federal death penalty itself.

Now the fate of Garza and other federal death row prisoners will be in the hands of the Texecutioner -- President George W. Bush.

But no one should be surprised that Clinton didn't issue a moratorium. Let's remember that he -- along with his vice president Al Gore -- pushed for two crime bills that vastly expanded the number of federal crimes punishable by death and severely limited the ability of death row prisoners to appeal their cases in the federal courts.

Our movement against the death penalty has made great strides, especially in the last year. But it has been in spite of politicians like Bill Clinton, not because of them.

We need to remember this now, as we take on the Texecutioner in the White House. By building a broad movement that won't keep quiet, we can force the politicians -- no matter who they are -- to stop the killing machine.