Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Assessing Ashcroft

As I previously stated, former Attorney General John Ashcroft was on campus last night. Newton, I apologize for not getting back to you regarding the ticket. Ashley the Blue Raider went with me.

She wanted to take a picture of the one protester outside Ingram Hall. No one could read her sign because it was dark and written with a sharpie marker. Kudos to her for standing up for her beliefs.

Ashley took notes. Maybe she will post them on her myspace blog. If you do - link it here, Ashes. I should have live-blogged it but my lap top is not working. So on to the lecture...

1) John Ashcroft is a funny man. I mean it. He has a very personable, likeable style and presentation that made it enjoyable to listen to.. even if you don't really like him.

2) No hecklers veto - bonus!

3) The hippies in front of me kept saying "he's not answering the question." Well, just because he's not answering it the way you want him to doesn't mean he isn't answering the question.

4) Best moment of the night - Ashcroft delivers the smack down on a smug student who thought she was morally superior when she asked her question about what he thought of other countries using the death penalty such as China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Yemen.... [applause from the anti-death penalty crowd.]

Ashcroft (rough paraphrase): Well at least they got something right. Just because they also have the death penalty doesn't mean we apply it the same way they do. We take great care in the applying the death penalty. The standard for seeking it is very high, very stringent. It isn't applied to everything. We don't make a spectacle out of the executions or put them in the public square as some of the countries you listed do. It isn't morally equivalent because of the different standards set up by each country. China also has running water. Should we get rid of that, too?

I saw a video from Afghanistan while still under Taliban rule. During a soccer match, the moral police rolled in and stopped the game to conduct a series of executions. One woman had been accused of adultery. Her husband and his family forgave her, hoping to spare her life (in accordance with Islamic law). She was still shot in the head. That is the equivalent to the state putting Tim McVeigh to death? Not quite. Now, should the US have the death penalty in general is a better question and one that should be considered carefully.

5) Religion Professor asking about Ashcroft's justification of the death penalty in light of Jesus letting the adulteress go "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." First, the professor kept paraphrasing Scripture 'in the spirit of' or some such statement. Ashcroft kept telling him to quote it exactly. He finally did. Ashcroft ultimate responded with a passage from Romans about the Sword of God. The professor said "The Romans didn't execute with the sword. They used the stone and the cross" and sat down to applause from the anti-death penalty crowd.

My problem with the whole exchange was that the Professor didn't acknowledge that the woman brought before Jesus was a part of a trap. If Jesus had pronounced a sentence, they would have gone to the Roman authorities since it was Rome who made the life/death decisions. That is why the Pharisees couldn't execute Jesus - they had to take him to Pilate for the actual act.

In all likelihood, this woman was pulled from her bed - not actually caught in the act of adultery as they said she was and prescribed by law. But the community knew about it and ignored it till this point. If it was in the actual act, where was the man? They are both to be punished (in this case stoned) according to Jewish law.

Jesus was pointing out the lie in their own story.. in addition to telling all of us to act with mercy and compassion. Jesus acknowledged the woman's sins and forgave them. I don't believe that Jesus was advocating a position that we just forget/forgive/let pass criminal activity.

The follow-up comment by an audience member to this discussion was that we were showing so much compassion for the guilty but where was the compassion for the victim and their family? They would never see their loved one again. Where is the justice for them? This doesn't mean that all victim's relatives are blood thirsty but if you just let the guy go, where is the justice?

6) Ashcroft asked the question: say you take a scout troop to the local prison to meet the warden and talk about crime and punishment (hoping to scare the youth straight). The warden has a pistol. An escapee breaks in and shoots the warden. He then turns his gun on the scouts. How long do you wait before picking up the warden's gun to shoot the escapee? He said that he has friends who would never pick up the gun and that he can respect that belief.

As for me: if those close to me or I am threatened, I shoot first.

Update: I thought of more stuff he talked about.

7) State Attorney General Paul Summers was there. He didn't say anything though.

8) He stated that - at the Federal level - one is more likely to get the death penalty if you are white than Hispanic or Black. There are multiple reviews along the way and checks in the process. The Federal government provides for 2 attorneys for the accused. He said there were those arguing that more women should get the death penalty because over 90% of those who received the death penalty were men, that they should be proporinate to the population. [OK...] He thought that was just stupid because most of the crimes that merit the death penalty are committed by men.

Update #2: Here's the article in the Vanderbilt paper about it with some good quotes.