Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Cherie Blair attacks US over death penalty in Catholic paper

Cherie Blair has renewed her attack on America's use of the death penalty. In a book review in the Catholic journal The Tablet, under her maiden name Cherie Booth, she says: "Capital cases are uniquely prone to error and thus call into question whether we can ever be really sure of obtaining the just result.

"The reality is that too many people - innocent people - are executed for the system to be able to claim a just precision." The newspaper asked Mrs Blair, a Catholic, to review Ultimate Punishment, a book by Scott Turow, the American lawyer and novelist.

Mrs Blair uses it as a platform to push her views about the death penalty, which is used in 38 US states. She begins the article suggesting that Americans are more aggressive than their European counterparts. "The observation 'Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus' is illustrated by the two nations' differing reactions to use of the death penalty," she writes. "For many Americans there can only be proper retribution for the victim's family if the murderer too loses his life."

It is not the first time that Mrs Blair has courted controversy with her outspoken views on the death penalty. According to a biography of Mr Blair by Philip Stephens, published last month, the, [war criminal], Prime Minister is reported to have "squirmed" when his wife challenged, [war criminal], George W. Bush, the US president, over his support for the death penalty, during a dinner intended to bolster the "special relationship" between the US and Britain.

Bush signed more than 150 death warrants when he was governor of Texas. But Mrs Blair, who is, [allegedly], a human rights lawyer, [with a war criminal husband], bluntly told him that such executions were immoral and a violation of human rights.

Robert Marshall-Andrews, the Labour MP, yesterday defended Mrs Blair's right to write the review for The Tablet. "Mrs Blair has taken no vow of silence," he said. "She is speaking as a human being with a conscience and I think she should only be silent about parliamentary matters in which her husband is involved - and this is not one that is being debated here."

A leading Tory, however, disagreed. Ann Widdecombe, the former Home Office minister and also a Catholic, said last night: "I'm surprised the Prime Minister's wife is writing political articles in The Tablet.

It seems an extraordinary thing to do. She has never understood that the role of the Prime Minister's wife is not to publicly interfere in political matters in this way. Secondly, I think that what she has written is wrong. The people of Europe - as opposed to its leaders - probably do believe in the death penalty as a method of deterrence."

By Catherine Milner posted 11 February 04


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