With the death penalty outlawed throughout the European Union and its abolition a requirement for any country seeking to join, European newspapers have been increasingly focused, with horror and bewilderment, on the overwhelming support for capital punishment that continues to exist in the United States. The Guardian of London led its international section Thursday with the headline “Bush leads charge of death brigade,” a reference to Gov. George W. Bush’s record of approving many more executions than any other governor in modern times. Capital punishment is not a serious political issue in the presidential election, the Guardian said. “All the candidates support the death penalty, as do three in four Americans. … The only political mileage in the issue is in demonstrating the greatest zeal.”
On Wednesday, La Repubblica of Rome examined the “psychological tortures and material deprivations” that it said are inflicted on America’s death-row prisoners, especially in Texas, in the days before their execution. It published, in Italian translation, a letter from Billy G. Hughes, a convicted murderer scheduled to die by lethal injection at Huntsville, Texas, next Monday, Jan. 24. The letter, the paper said, had reached it through the good offices of “the invisible and courageous network of militants against the death penalty.” In the letter Hughes said that prisoners awaiting execution are transferred up to 30 days beforehand to isolation cells, where they are not allowed to talk to other prisoners.
A week to 10 days before their deaths, they have all their personal possessions removed, are allowed no books or other reading matter, are prevented from watching television, and are subjected to health checks every 30 minutes for 24 hours a day, so that they can’t even sleep properly at night. In a commentary supporting Hughes, La Repubblica said that the situation is similar in many other states and that even the right to “a last cigarette” has ceased to exist in most American prisons, where smoking is forbidden. In Florida, there is even a $20 ceiling on the cost of a prisoner’s “last supper,” with the result that he usually ends his life with a pizza or a ham sandwich. The paper appeared to find this especially shocking.
The German newspapers all led their front pages Thursday with the burgeoning crisis in the Christian Democrat Union over former Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s enforced resignation as its honorary chairman because of his refusal to name the people behind illicit donations to secret party funds during his time as party leader. In a front-page editorial, Die Welt offered the reassurance that this is a party—not a national—crisis and that there are “no grounds for apocalyptic thoughts.” The National Post of Canada attacked Kohl for corruption Thursday in an editorial it headlined “Don Kohleone,” without making any specific Italian connections. “As far as his legacy is concerned, Mr. Kohl’s foreign policy triumphs now look likely to be overshadowed by the current scandal,” it said. “Comparisons to Richard Nixon unavoidably spring to mind.” The National Post called on Kohl to resign his seat in parliament and to release his donor list, even though he has given the donors his “word of honor” not to disclose their identities. Calling this excuse “plain rubbish,” the paper explained that a “contract to pursue an illegal enterprise is neither morally compelling nor legally enforceable.”
The Italian papers all led Thursday on the death of another allegedly corrupt political leader, former Italian Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, who died Wednesday at the age of 65 in Tunisia, where he had been living since 1993. He went to Tunisia to avoid arrest by prosecutors investigating a corruption scandal that enveloped much of the country’s business and political elite. The Italian prime minister offered him a state funeral, but this was rejected by his family. His daughter Stefania told Corriere della Sera of Milan, “They [his accusers] killed a man who worked for 40 years for Italy. Now my father will stay in Tunisia. This is his country.”
China’s top leaders are embroiled in “what is fast becoming the largest corruption case in five decades of Communist rule,” Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald reported from Beijing on the front page of its Friday edition. The scandal involves a now-defunct trading company, which is alleged to have smuggled as much as $10 billion worth of oil, cars, and guns into China. The SMH said the inquiry had already led to the detention of the wife of a member of the Politburo, as well as dozens of provincial officials. The paper’s main front-page lead was about Indonesian government fears that the current religious and separatist violence in Indonesia is being provoked by heavily funded groups connected with the military and with the regime of corrupt former President Suharto. The paper claimed that Indonesian President Adurrahman Wahid has placed the blame on a small number of provocateurs, who, he says, “want to settle the score” against his government after losing the election last year.
In Britain, the mass-circulation Sun reported that Mike Tyson, in London preparing for a heavyweight fight, wants to move to Britain. The Sun said he wants to buy a house in London, because he likes Britain better than the United States, where, he told the paper, he is “treated like a nigger.” Tyson also reflected wistfully on the antiquity of European civilization. “Europe has been around since Attila the Hun and Jesus Christ,” he said. Even more curiously, he added, “America isn’t sophisticated enough to deal with the sanctity of human life.” There are suspicions in some quarters that his desire to live in the London might be just another of the innumerable publicity stunts that are a daily feature of his controversial visit to Britain.