The election of Donald J. Trump is going on two years and many are still angry—angry that American democracy means minority rule, and angry that a country, standing in star-spangled greatness, can be brought to its knees by one man and his principles. This deeply principled (some might even say, disgraced) man is former FBI Director, James Comey. While we cannot lay Hillary Clinton’s defeat solely at Comey’s feet, his decision to announce a new investigation into Clinton’s emails so close to the election played an unnecessary and outsized role in its outcome. Comey’s decision was reckless and misguided, violating the FBI’s tradition of not putting the “prosecutor’s thumb on the electoral scale” (Weiss).
That Comey decided to inform Congress of a new investigation right before a crucial election shows a man not beholden to the ethical codes and values of an institution he was tasked to uphold, but a man led by his own ego. Comey believed that transparency was vital in order to preserve America’s trust in the FBI (McCarthy). Comey was also concerned that if news of the investigation leaked after Clinton won the election, a victory Comey assumed was inevitable, not disclosing the investigation would look like a cover-up (Blake). In his memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, Comey expressed concern for the FBI’s reputation writing, “Assuming, as nearly everyone did, that Hillary Clinton would be elected president of the United States in less than two weeks, what would happen to the FBI, the justice department or her own presidency if it later was revealed, after the fact, that she still was the subject of an FBI investigation?” By Comey’s own account, he had a moral and institutional obligation to inform the public.
However, if transparency and accountability to the public was really the determining factor, why did Comey not disclose that the FBI had also opened an investigation into coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government? In a scathing letter to Comey, then Senator Harry Reid reprimanded Comey’s decision as being a “clear double-standard” and that his “highly selective approach to publicizing information…was intended for the success or failure of a partisan candidate or political group.” (Reid). One can agree that transparency in government institutions is necessary for a healthy democracy, but Comey’s letter did not bring transparency as much as cloud it (Weiss). The vagueness and ambivalence in its language, particularly coming from someone known for his candor, shows that Comey was not only unaware of the contents of Clinton’s emails, but he also had no certainty that it contained any evidence of criminal wrongdoing (Comey). It is, therefore, difficult not to see Comey’s actions as partisan hypocrisy, motivated by an ego disguised as principles. Perhaps to mitigate the chaos created, Comey sent another letter to Congress two days before the election informing them that after an extensive review, no evidence of wrongdoing was found from the latest investigation and that no further action would be taken against Hillary Clinton (Yuhas et al.). Unfortunately, it was too little, too late and could not undo the damage to the Clinton campaign and Clinton’s credibility.
Comey unwittingly meddled in the election when he informed Congress that the FBI was opening a new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just ten days before the 2016 Presidential Elections. He prioritized partisanship over his duty as Director of the FBI when he refrained from announcing the FBI’s investigation on the Trump campaign. The principles that compelled Comey to act as he did were misguided and gave an agency more power to influence an election than any institution or person should be given. Whether or not it was his intention, his letter had the dual effect of influencing an election and defaming someone without clear evidence of any wrongdoing (Weiss). Death Penalty In 2018, only 20 states have a ban on the death penalty, and there is no indication that the remaining states will abolish capital punishment law from their states’ legislation in the near future (DPIC). Since many of those remaining states still actively seek the death penalty, as grotesque and antiquated form of punishment as it is, the method used to carry out this state-sponsored killing should be as humane as possible (if there is such a thing).
Throughout history, the United States has executed death row inmates using a variety of ways. From public hangings to the firing squad, the gas chamber to the electric chair, the primary method has changed as public opinion on capital punishment shifted. In more recent history, death by lethal injection has been the preferred method for carrying out executions, though some prisoners are given the consideration of choosing how they would prefer to be executed (Pickert). If we are to continue the primitive and barbaric practice of state-sponsored murder, the method we use should cause minimal pain to the executed and maximal violence to the executor and audience, such that everyone bears the burden of the inhumanity. This also applies to the families of victims who wish to see their loved one’s killer suffer, because a death for a death is still inhumane and not justice fulfilled. With that as the criteria, the logical method of executing death row inmates should be death by firing squad. The main argument for using firing squads is that there is much less room for error (Thomson-Deveaux). Compared with lethal injection, which has about a 7-percent torture-inducing error rate, death by firing squad is relatively difficult to mishandle (Thomson-Deveaux).
In a Supreme Court dissent regarding Thomas D. Arthur, a prisoner sentenced to death who had requested to be executed by a firing squad because he believed that lethal injection violated the Eight Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that “in addition to being near instant, death by shooting may also be comparatively painless…condemned prisoners, like Arthur, might find more dignity in an instantaneous death rather than prolonged torture on a medical gurney.” (Thomson-Deveaux). Very few people have the stomach to watch a person be executed, let alone, be executed by a firing squad. Firing squads are perceived as violent and horrific relics of authoritarian regimes that have no place in a civil society (Grinberg). This is precisely why executions by firing squads should be carried out publicly, so that everyone is a made a witness. Many are too comfortable with the state condemning a person to death because it is simply a story they read or heard about. It is an entirely different experience when one sees it and fully understands the weight of putting someone to death (Shemtob and Lat). It is not just a matter of transparency, but it will allow us to hold our government accountable. If enough of us are made so uncomfortable as to speak up and demand a federal ban on capital punishment, we may succeed in abolishing this perversion of justice.
- Weiss, Andrea Likwornik. “The FBI’s Thumb on the Scale: Bad for Justice, Bad for the Electorate.” Medium.com, 1 Nov. 2016, https://medium.com/@AndreaLWeiss/the-fbis-thumb-on-the-scale-bad-for-justice-bad-for-the-electorate-50b71cef19e7
- McCarthy, Tom. “Comey: I Was Sure Clinton Would Win Election When I Reopened Email Inquiry.” The Guardian, 13 Apr. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/apr/13/james-comey-book-hillary-clinton-email-investigation
- Blake, Aaron. “James Comey’s Fateful Decision on Hillary Clinton’s Emails Is Slowly Coming Into Focus.” The Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/01/31/james-comeys-fateful-decision-on-hillary-clintons-emails-is-slowly-coming-into-focus/?utm_term=.fb7c9d3e4e9c
- Reid, Harry. “Letter to FBI Director James Comey.” 30 Oct. 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20161031183809/http://www.reid.senate.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Letter-to-Director-Comey-10_30_2016.pdf
- Comey, James B. “Letter to Congress from F.B.I. Director on Clinton Email Case.” The New York Times, 28 Oct. 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/10/28/us/politics/fbi-letter.html
- Yuhas, Alan, Sabrina Siddiqui, Ben Jacobs, and Spencer Ackerman. “”FBI Has Found No Criminal Wrongdoing in New Clinton Emails, Says Comey.” The Guardian, 7 Nov. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/06/fbi-director-hillary-clinton-email-investigation-criminal-james-comey
- “States With and Without the Death Penalty.” Death Penalty Information Center, DPIC, 11 Oct. 2018, https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/states-and-without-death-penalty
- Pickert, Kate. “Lethal Injection.” Time.com, 10 Nov. 2009, http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1815535,00.html
- Thomson-DeVeaux, Amelia. “Is the Firing Squad More Humane Than Lethal Injection?” FiveThirtyEight, 2 Mar. 2017, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-the-firing-squad-more-humane-than-lethal-injection/
- Grinberg, Emmanuella. “Why Experts Say There’s No Such Thing As ‘Humane Execution’.” CNN, 15 Aug. 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/13/health/death-row-stories-execution-methods/index.html
- Shemtob, Zachary B. and David Lat. “Executions Should Be Televised.” Sunday Review, The New York Times, 29 Jul. 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/opinion/sunday/executions-should-be-televised.html