Close To Home: Measuring US Respect For The Human Right To Life

Eleanor Roosevelt and Human Rights Declaration

The Beijing Olympics have provided an historic opportunity to amplify US criticism of China's human rights record. Meanwhile, a different - but no less significant - historic opportunity passed quietly, when in October 2007 the US released the first national measurement of killings by US police. If human rights advocates in the US stop pointing the finger abroad for a moment, and apply to our own home the same standards used in judging other countries, what would we learn?

This report explores these questions by:

  1. Focusing on a single human right: the right to life (Part 1)
  2. Looking at how the US State Dept. reports on the records of other countries in respecting that right (Part 1)
  3. Looking at the US record in respecting that right (Part 2)

Key Findings

  • The US official death in custody rate is comparable to the higher rate cited for India, and can be described similarly, using this State Dept-style summary on the US record in respecting the human right to life: The government has numerous, serious problems in its record of respecting the human right to life. Security force officials who committed human rights abuses generally enjoyed de facto impunity and the government made little attempt to combat the problem, except for a few instances highlighted by the media. The lack of firm accountability permeated the government and security forces, creating an atmosphere in which human rights violations often went unpunished. Although the country has numerous laws protecting human rights, enforcement was lax and punishment of police was rare.

    The following additional human rights problems were reported: extrajudicial killings and killings of persons in custody, executions, extraterritorial killing, torture by security forces.

  • Human rights monitors overlook violations of the right to life in the US
  • US human rights record abroad and at home are linked
  • US arrest-related deaths need to be seen from the perspective of the universal right to life

Monitoring Human Rights

The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. -- President George W. Bush, Inaugural Speech, January 20, 2005 Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy. The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago. The United States supports those persons who long to live in freedom and under democratic governments that protect universally accepted human rights. -- US Department of State

Who Monitors The Monitors?

Every year the US Department of State (State Dept.) publishes reports on human rights in the countries of the world. And what do these reports have to say about human rights in the US?

Not a thing. We are told: The Country not purport to assess any human rights implications of actions by the United States Government or its representatives, nor do they consider human rights implications of actions by the United States Government or of coalition forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. [2] The US positions itself as the global champion and monitor of human rights. But where can we find the US human rights record, measured by its own standards? The dearth of critical assessment of the US human rights record leads to the question: What would the US State Dept. report on human rights in the US, if it reported in a way that was consistent with its reports on other countries?

Freedom From Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The Country Reports cover individual, civil, political, and worker rights. While the cornerstone of official US human rights rhetoric is "free and fair elections" [3], leaders of industrializing countries have often argued that:

A person living in extreme poverty could not care less about his or her right to vote, when he or she was unsure of his or her family's next meal. [4]

In fact, the very concept of "universal" human rights is open to question: are values "universal", or framed by cultural context? Consequently, this report only examines the most fundamental and universally accepted human right (or, more generally, animal right), the right to life, noting:
The right to life is the supreme right, because without it, no other rights can be enjoyed. [5]
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is held "as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" [6]. The first, and most basic, human right specified by the Declaration is Article 3:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
The State Department's Country Reports also begin with this most basic right, expressed as freedom from society's most prevalent threat to that right: arbitrary or unlawful killing. The report explains the definition used to compile its list of "Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life": Includes killings by governments without due process of law or where there is evidence of a political motive. Also covers extrajudicial killings (for example, the unlawful and deliberate killing of individuals carried out by order of a government or with its complicity), as well as killings by police or security forces and actions that resulted in the unintended death of persons without due process of law (for example, mistargeted bombing or shelling or killing of bystanders). The section generally excludes combat deaths and killings by common criminals if the likelihood of political motivation can be ruled out. Deaths in detention due to adverse conditions are covered in detail in the section on "Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." [7] Note that "killings by police or security forces and actions that resulted in the unintended death of persons without due process of law" does not exclude killings that the government ruled justifiable. Obviously it cannot, for then the determination of human rights abuses would be solely at the discretion of the government under investigation. This is the definition used in this report to determine the degree of freedom from arbitrary or unlawful killing in the US. The means of applying this definition must be gathered from examining its actual use in Country Reports. Looking at country reports on US friends (Australia and UK) and enemies (Syria and Cuba) provides the range of reporting practice, and a standard can be positioned within that range (The rationale for this approach is given in the Supplement).

Reporting Abuse: When Friends Kill, When Enemies Kill

When Friends Kill


On the right to life in Australia, the State Dept. reports: [22] There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. However, in September the Queensland State coroner found that a man detained on Palm Island in 2004 had been beaten by the police while in custody and had died as a result. In December, after the Queensland State prosecutor declined to prosecute the police officer involved, the Queensland premier appointed an independent investigator to review the prosecutor's decision. The Australian Institute of Criminology, an agency of the Attorney General's Department used as the report's source for police killings and deaths in custody in Australia, most recent report on deaths in custody was for 2004.

United Kingdom (UK)

As expected, it is reported that the UK "generally respected the human rights of its citizens". Still there were problems, including: [23] ...increased police misconduct; occasional abuse of detainees and other persons by individual members of the police and military; overcrowded prison conditions and some inadequate prison infrastructure... The section of "Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life" reported 5 killings by police in 2006, plus 1 wounded in a shooting ruled to be "an accident" during "a counterrorism operation". Police were not charged with a criminal or disciplinary offense (Again, note that there is no exclusion of killings ruled justifiable or accidental). Open cases from prior years included:

  • In 2005 police killed Jean Charles de Menezes, first claiming he was a suspected terrorist and later admitting he was not. Prosecutors ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any individual officer. The victims family filed an appeal.
  • Hearings began in several cases involving allegations of government involvement, collusion, or culpability in three controversial killings that took place in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s. Evidence was provided by retired police officers. Also, the question of police complicity arose at a December inquest into the 2001 murder of Northern Ireland journalist Martin O'Hagan who was investigating criminal activities by a loyalist paramilitary group.
  • The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) reported that loyalist paramilitary groups were thought to be responsible for two killings in Northern Ireland between September 2005 and August during the year. The IMC was unable to place blame in three other killings, including the April murder of Sinn Fein member Denis Donaldson, who admitted publicly in December 2005 to having been a British spy.
  • In September authorities opened court-martial proceedings against seven soldiers, including a high ranking officer, on charges of mistreating Iraqi detainees and for the death of an Iraqi civilian, Baha Musa, in 2003. The hearings continued at year's end.
In summary, threats to the right to life include:
  • Killings by police
  • Involvement by police, or other government forces, in extraterritorial killings
  • Torture by the military occupational forces
That was the US standard in reporting on the human rights practices of its allies - "The Good Guys".

When Enemies Kill


Human rights problems in Syria cited by the report included: [24]

  • Death in detention following torture, according to human rights groups that report:

    • 2006: 1 person died while imprisoned for allegedly belonging to a banned Islamist organization.
    • 2005: 4 persons died in detention due to security service torture or mistreatment.
    • 2004: 13 persons died in detention due to torture or mistreatment by the security services.

    Authorities failed to conduct independent investigations into these deaths.

  • Other open cases from prior years included:
    • the 2004 killing of two Assyrian Christians by an off-duty Sunni military officer and his brother - no charges filed
    • the civil case against the police and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) on behalf of Firas Abdallah, who died in police custody in 2004 in Damascus as a result of beatings.
    • UN investigation into the February 2005 Beirut assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 other individuals. Although reports in 2005 concluded that evidence pointed toward the involvement of Syrian authorities in the assassination, reports in 2006 described general satisfactory cooperation from Syrian authorities into the investigation, neither concluding nor ruling out their possible involvement.
Again we see similar threats to the right to life:
  • Killings by police and military
  • Possible involvement by government forces in extraterritorial killings
  • Torture by security forces


As expected, the US report on Cuba pulled no punches, beginning with the summary: [25] The government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous, serious abuses...beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists, carried out with impunity; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; frequent harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government-recruited mobs, police, and state security officials; frequent arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations; denial of fair trial, particularly to political prisoners; and interference with privacy, including pervasive monitoring of private communications. And from there it launches directly into Cuba's threat to the fundamental right to life:

The government or its agents were not known to have committed any politically motivated killings.
That is the entire section, verbatim. No killings by police or military, not even allegations. No claims of involvement in killings beyond the island. None of the reports of political prisoners, unjust imprisonment, beatings, and abuse have resulted in a death that human rights organizations or the US embassy could report on. Surely it must be an anomaly that a country with a poor human rights record, continued to abuse its citizens and neighbors - but just short of causing a single death? But the Cuba reports from previous years show:
  • No deaths reported in 2004 and 2005
  • 2003: one case - the summary trial and execution of three persons arrested for hijacking a ferry.
  • 2002: one case - the death of a person, alleged to be suicide, while committed to a psychiatric hospital by government authorities.
  • 2001: No deaths reported
  • 2000: An independent news agency reported that police fatally shot a 41-year-old man. No explanation was given for the shooting. A 27-year-old man was shot and killed, with varying reports on alleged police actions that led to the killing.
  • 1999: "Unlike in 1998, during the year there were no credible reports of deaths due to the excessive use of force by the national police". Two Salvadorans were sentenced to death for terrorism in the killing of an Italian tourist with a bomb, one of a series of explosions in Havana. Neither was executed by year's end (listing a death sentence for convicted bombers - that has not yet been carried out - under the grouping of "extrajudicial killings" defies basic semantics, but some overt bias in reporting was expected).

Furthermore, to see this in the proper global perspective, it must be understood that Cuba's record of no reported killings by police or security forces was far from unique. The data in the table below was compiled from inspecting the sections titled "Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life" in all of the 2006 Country Reports, selecting only countries reporting no deaths following police contact - confirmed, alleged, or suspected. From the 191 reports, 48 such countries met that strict criteria - about 25%.

Countries With No Killings Reported by US State Dept
Regional Distribution: Countries With No Killings Reported by US State Dept

So it seems clear that among Cuba's human rights abuses, there was one glaring absence: government forces involved in fatal shootings, beatings, or torture at home or abroad. In that area, Cuba ranked among US allies Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Germany, and Canada.

That was the US standard in reporting on the human rights practices of its enemies - The Bad Guys.

Now let's see how the US human rights record measures under its own standards.

The US Record

US Killings by Police: Statistics and Selected Cases

How many people die in police custody each year? How many are killed by police? Of those killed, how many are found to be unlawful? There is no authoritative answer for these questions in the US. Previously, the US did not track national data on police-related deaths at all. That changed with the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000, which uses grant money to encourage (but not require) states to report police-related deaths. [26]

On October 11, 2007, the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released the first national measurement of all types of deaths that occurred "in the process of arrest" (see [57] for definition of this term). It was the first time most states made a comprehensive count of these deaths. California and Texas were the only States that compiled data on all arrest-related deaths before the collection began. But the BJS figures are only a lower bound. Three states, Georgia, Maryland and Montana, failed to submit data. In addition, federal agencies are not required to report such deaths.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia reported 2,002 arrest-related deaths during the three years from 2003 through 2005. Homicides by state and local law enforcement officers (i.e., killings by police or security forces, to use the language of the human rights reports) were the leading cause of such deaths during this period (1,095 deaths or 55 percent). [27] Killing by police was reported over four times more often than any other cause of arrest-related death.

BJS figures for 2006 are not yet available at this time (Jan. 2008). The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tracks "justifiable" killings by police and security forces, where "justifiable homicide" by police is defined as, and limited to, "the killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty". [28] (Presumably, the FBI means "the killing of a suspected felon...", since the person may be executed before conviction, trial, or arrest.) Thus it excludes killings of people:

  • suspected of misdemeanors
  • not suspected of any crime, such as innocent bystanders
  • accidentally
  • by off-duty police

In addition, the source for the data is the Uniform Crime Reporting program and participation is voluntary (representing 93% of the population in 2003) [29]. So the FBI figure must be taken as a lower bound - the actual number of people killed by police cannot be less than the FBI figure. And it is likely to be higher. The FBI reported 376 justifiable killings by police in 2006. [30]

These statistics are disturbing. But the stories behind the numbers are frightening. Following the format of US State Dept. country reports, some 2006 killings ruled as lawful (yet raised considerable controversy) are highlighted here.


A heavily armed unit of the New Hanover County North Carolina Sheriff's Office went to the home of Peyton Strickland, an 18-year-old community college student, looking for a PlayStation 3 video game machine they suspected he and a friend stole. When police hit the front door with a battering ram, Deputy Christopher Long allegedly mistook the sound for a gun blast and he fired through the door killing the unarmed student. Other police shot dead Mr. Strickland's dog. According to court records, Deputy Long carried a .45-caliber submachine gun, a .45-caliber pistol, two extra pistol magazines, two extra sub gun magazines, a gas mask, a knife and a flash bang grenade. Deputy Long told a grand jury that he expected heavily armed resistance based on a Facebook picture where Mr. Strickland's friend posed with a collector's guns (though Strickland was not in the photo). Deputy Long was fired, but the grand jury did not indict. [31]


On Christmas night, 29-year old James E. Dean, an Army Reserves sergeant who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since returning from an 18-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, drank heavily. He had been suicidal since receiving a redeployment letter that probably would have sent him to Iraq - just when he was piecing together a life as a newlywed with a new job. When he went to his father's empty house and threatened to commit suicide, his sister asked the St. Mary's County Maryland sheriff's office to check on his welfare. Police alleged that the Army-trained sharpshooter fired at officers multiple times, with a handful of bullets hitting police cars, but no officers were injured. After several hours of failed negotiations with Mr. Dean, police began firing tear gas into the house to force him outside. Police said the 14-hour standoff ended when Mr. Dean opened the front door and pointed his weapon at an armored vehicle, prompting Maryland state policeman Daniel Weaver to fatally shoot him once in the back. The killing, exceptionally, received national media coverage. State's Attorney Richard D. Fritz wrote in his investigation report that it was a mistake to release gas into the house. "As certainly as his death is in part a consequence of his own actions, it is also in large part due to the unfortunate choice of tactics employed by the commanders", Fritz wrote. [32] [33]


Police in Newburgh New York shot dead Antonio Bryant, 23. Original reports by police alleged that Mr. Bryant exited a stopped vehicle that was blocking traffic and started shooting when the police approached the vehicle. But some witnesses say police were following the vehicle, and that Mr. Bryant fled when approached by police. Mr. Bryant was the son of Omari Shakur, a prominent Newburgh police reform activist. Shakur said said that his son was "executed by police" because of his strong opposition to the appointment of Newburgh Police Chief Eric Paolilli. In 1990, as a patrolman, Paolilli drove his vehicle into a pedestrian and killed him in a case ruled accidental but which Shakur and others cited as reckless. Both that case and Mr. Bryant's death were seen as the killing of a black man by white police on a predominantly white police force in a city that is more than 70 percent black and Hispanic. [34] [35]


Prince George's County Maryland policeman Jordan Swonger shot dead Gregory Boggs Jr., 24, in one of many cases perceived as "white cop kills unarmed young black man" that raised the ethnic issues often surrounding killings by US police. Police say Swonger responded to a report of a man assaulting a woman and found Mr. Boggs standing over a woman. Swonger said he ordered Mr. Boggs away from the woman but Mr. Boggs picked her up and held her in front of him as a shield. When told to put his hands up, police said, Mr. Boggs reached toward his waistband. Police said Swonger feared Mr. Boggs was reaching for a weapon, so he shot and killed him. Police acknowledge that they later discovered Mr.Boggs was not armed. The woman on the scene was Lanaya Borden, 19, who denied the police account of the incident and said her unarmed boyfriend did nothing to provoke the shooting. She countered that Mr. Boggs did not use her as a shield, and that she was standing with Mr.Boggs, not on the ground. She said that Swonger shot Mr. Boggs within 20 seconds of his arrival. [36]


In Oregon, Multnomah County Sheriff deputy Bret Burton and Portland Police Officers Christopher Humphery and Kyle Nice approached 42-year-old James Chasse Jr., allegedly after seeing him shuffling at a street corner and possibly urinating behind a tree. When the drug and alcohol-free mentally ill man ran, the police chased him and knocked him to the ground. The schizophrenic man fought against police attempts to subdue him and police fought with kicks, punches, and Taser shocks. When he suddenly went limp paramedics were called, who sanctioned transporting him to jail with his feet tied to hands in a "hog-tie". After jail nurses told police he had to go to the hospital, police took him in a police car instead of an ambulance. Less than two hours after police first approached him, James Chasse Jr. was dead in a police car, with 16 broken ribs, a punctured lung, and massive internal bleeding. His death, one of many cases of US police killing the mentally ill, stirred an unprecedented local uproar. One year later, a newspaper reported that "emotions are still raw" and speculated that his death: ...stirred such passion because he wasn't armed or posing a danger to others. What's more, the struggle leading up to Chasse's death happened in one of the swankiest parts of the city, the Pearl District, in front of a restaurant full of people. ...Jason Renaud, a volunteer at the Mental Health Association of Portland and a high school friend of Chasse's, said...Concern is so widespread that his nonprofit advocacy organization has received about 500 calls and e-mails about Chasse's death in the past year.

A county grand jury unanimously decided that police were not criminally responsible for his in-custody death. As 2007 ended, police had not completed its internal investigation into the killing, and the police involved in his death continue to patrol the streets. [37]


An unarmed 37-year-old optometrist, Dr Salvatore Culosi Jr, came out of his townhouse to meet an undercover policeman when he was fatally shot by Fairfax Virginia Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) force member Deval V. Bullock. Dr. Culosi had no history of violence and displayed no threatening behaviour. He had been under investigation for illegal gambling and, in line with a local police policy on "organised crime" raids, the heavily armed SWAT team was there to serve a search warrant. A police report says Bullock was getting out of his vehicle to make the arrest when he was bumped on his left side by the vehicle's door, causing his right hand to "involuntarily make a fist and depress the trigger" of his .45-caliber handgun and fire one shot into Dr. Culosi's side, killing him almost instantly. A Washington Post editorial asserted that as an experienced SWAT force member he "knew that he should not have had his finger on the trigger. Indeed, he knew he should not have even aimed his gun at anyone during a routine arrest." [38] The county's top prosecutor refused to indict or refer the case to a grand jury. Bullock received three weeks unpaid suspension, which the police union protested as too harsh, claiming the discipline was "very disproportionate" to prior cases of accidental shooting. The union said an oral or written reprimand is typically given when a Fairfax officer accidentally shoots someone, so the suspension was "way off the charts". [39] [40]


Portland Oregon Police Lt. Jeffrey Kaer, responding to a personal call from his sister about a man sitting in a car parked in front of her home, left his own precinct to handle it himself - bypassing police in his sister's precinct. Without waiting for backup he confronted the sleeping driver, 28-year-old Dennis Lamar Young, asking if the vehicle was stolen. When Mr. Young responded by attempting to drive off, but instead hit a tree, Lt. Kaer fired a shot that killed him. Just two weeks later a grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by Lt. Kaer but in May 2007, in a rare move, Portland Mayor (and former police chief) Tom Potter fired Lt. Kaer and publicly detailed 10 decisions by Kaer that violated police policies and training and led to Kaer fatally shooting Mr. Young, thus challenging Kaer's "split-second decision" defense of his killing. With the police chief opposing the firing, it was widely believed that Kaer would be reinstated. [41]

2005 carryover:

In Jan. 2006, the Clackamas County Oregon Sheriff's Office Shooting Review Board ruled that Deputy Dave Willard "acted within existing rules and regulations and according to current training" when he and a Sandy police officer William Bergin killed unarmed 27-year-old Fouad Kaady, firing seven shots in him in Sep. 2005. [42] The victim had stripped naked after being badly burned in a car accident. Willard told investigators: The first thing that struck me was that this man is seriously injured he has...burns, he's lost a lot of blood, he's got blood all over himself...he is, appears to be, just kinda catatonic, he's not looking up at us he's not doing anything he's just sitting just like this. [43]

The police then ordered the burn victim to lay down on the hot pavement. When the "catatonic" burn victim did not respond, they Tasered him three times. When the shocked victim then started running away from police, then towards them, and jumped atop the police car, they shot him dead. The entire encounter was reported to have lasted just 28 seconds. [44]

These highly publicized 2006 cases were not ruled justifiable, and are still open:


An unarmed 23-year-old Sean Bell was killed, just hours before his wedding, when New York City police fired nearly 50 shots at his car as he left a club where he and friends were celebrating his last night as a bachelor. Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora have been charged with manslaughter in the first and second degrees, implying both intent to harm and recklessness. The detectives, who were conducting an undercover investigation at the nightclub, said they believed Mr. Bell and friends were going to get a gun. [45]


Atlanta Georgia police fatally shot a 92-year-old woman, Kathryn Johnston in a police drug raid. When plainclothes narcotics officers burst into Ms. Johnston's house using a no-knock warrant she fired shots and wounded three police. She was killed in a hail of nearly 40 gunshots. Officers Jason R. Smith and Gregg Junnier were charged and pleaded guilty to state manslaughter and federal civil rights charges. Officer Arthur Tesler faces charges for making false statements and false imprisonment. Prosecutors said the officers obtained the warrant by falsely telling a judge that an informer had confirmed drug dealing at the house. The informer later told federal investigators that the police had told him to concoct the statement. Prosecutors also said one officer planted three bags of marijuana in the house as part of a cover-up after no drugs were found. [46] US Congressman John Lewis sought a wider probe: I see the shooting and killing of Ms. Johnston as one piece of a larger puzzle that calls for a complete and full investigation to include the use of informants, the obtaining of questionable warrants, the possible planting of drugs by officers of the law, the allegations of a cover-up, and the use of excessive force in the Atlanta police force. [47]

In a letter to the Justice Department, Congress' Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr. agreed and indicated that this case was not unique :

We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005. [48]

US Killings by Police: Analysis

If the State Dept. reports that Cuba's "human rights record remained poor", while at the same time it reports that there were no unlawful killings by Cuba's government forces, and lists the 5 killings by UK police as one of the "human rights problems" of the UK, then how should 376 killings by US police forces be reported?

With 1 out of 4 countries (25%) reported as free from killings by government forces, as noted above, the State Dept. would certainly be forced to cite the US record as a "human rights problem". To determine the severity of the problem, the tables below compare the US record with that of other countries that were reported to be suffering from killings by government forces, where data could be obtained. For consistency, non-US figures are all from the Country Reports, or the sources cited in the reports. No claim is being made about the reliability of Country Report sources (e.g. the Malaysia report cites unnamed "Local NGOs").

Deaths In Custody: Density In Population

The first table compares deaths in custody (from all causes) to population in Australia, India (from two sources), Malaysia, UK, and US. [49] Note that the US custodial death rate is consistently higher than that of its allies, Australia and UK.

Deaths In Custody: Density Per Million Population
Deaths In Custody: Density Per Million Population

Killings By Police: Density In Population

The next table compares number of killings by police to population in Australia, Malaysia, Portugal, UK, and US. [58] Here the US record stands out dramatically, to a degree that can't be attributed to differences in statistical reporting, and (despite the admitted crudeness of this statistical analysis) can't be disregarded.

Killings By Police: Density Per Million Population
Killings By Police: Density Per Million Population

Rate of Killings By Police vs Murder Rate In General Population

The high killing rate by US police could be reported as a cost of battling the high incidence of violent crime in the US, using the argument provided by Amnesty International in a report on Jamaica, which has one of the world's highest murder rates: [60]

Law enforcement officers policing societies with high recorded rates of violent crime may justifiably be expected to face a correspondingly greater number of confrontations with armed individuals, which may result in more police killings.

But, regardless of the associated circumstances, rampant extrajudicial killing is a human rights problem. Even in Jamaica, which has one of the highest per capita police killing rates in the world, there's been acknowledgment of this: the Court of Appeals president, Justice Seymour Panton, has called for an end to the 'appallingly high rate of extra-judicial killings'. [61]

Moreover, the data below shows that the US, compared to its allies, Australia and UK, police kill at an increased rate that exceeds the increase in the murder rate.

Rate of Killings By Police vs Murder Rate In General Population
Rate of Killings By Police vs Murder Rate In General Population


US police consistently kill at a much higher rate than the police of the US allies, Australia and UK.

  • Although the US population is not quite 15 times that of Australia, the number killed by US police was over 60 times the number killed by Australia forces.
  • Despite a population less than 5 times the UK, killings by US police in 2004 were over 120 times the number killed by UK police.
  • In 2006, US suffered at least 376 killings by police compared to 1 UK killing.
  • While the US murder rate was 3.7-4.2 times higher, the US police killing rate was 4.1-74 times higher.

US Killings by Police: Accountability or Impunity?

The US State Dept. report on Malaysia [53] cited that government's lack of police oversight: The government maintained no independent body to investigate deaths that occurred during apprehension by police or while in police custody.

Those words describe the situation in the US as well. While the UK has its Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), mandated by law to be entirely independent of police [69], there is no comparable body in the US - even though 2006 marked the 25th anniversary of Who is Guarding the Guardians, a report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that advocated joint efforts by local officials and the federal government for effective prosecution of police misconduct cases. [70]

In the US, oversight of law enforcement is organized locally (if it exists), with no requirements, standards, or consistency. The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, a peer networking organization for citizen review professionals, claims 71 of the nation's 100 largest cities have citizen review mechanisms. [71] That means over 1 in 4 of the nation's 100 largest cities have no external monitoring of police at all. And US citizen review is of questionable value, as reported in the 2000 update to Who is Guarding the Guardians: Despite the Commission's recommendations, most civilian review boards remain without disciplinary power or meaningful authority over internal investigations into police misconduct. [70]

As mentioned earlier, there is no federal requirement that police-related deaths be reported. Furthermore, even if deaths are reported, investigations are not required by the US. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice hints at how rarely it investigates, when it states: Often, local authorities will take the lead in prosecuting violent conduct under state statutes even though such conduct also constitutes a violation of federal criminal civil rights laws. In such cases, the local prosecutive effort is presumed to vindicate federal interests.[72]

Moreover the federal investigative body, the FBI, cannot claim independence since it works with local police in tactical training and joint investigations.

Meanwhile, "the local prosecutive effort" serves only to vindicate accused police, as widely reported in the local press:

Chicago Tribune
"a pattern of officials rushing to clear officers who shoot civilians" [73]
Houston Chronicle
"law-enforcement officers seldom face discipline or criminal charges in the shootings" [74]
Philadelphia Inquirer
"the Police Department has been criticized for dragging its feet and protecting fellow officers involved in shootings" [75]
San Francisco Chronicle
"The department typically gives out light discipline, or none at all, for officers who use excessive force" [76]
Washington Post
"The Post found several cases that cast doubt on how thoroughly and impartially police investigate shooting cases" [77]

In fact, the US government bureaucracy is itself split on the need for independent investigation. The findings of the 2000 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights dispute the presumption of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice that the "local prosecutive effort" vindicates federal interests: State prosecution of police misconduct cases remains an ineffective means of correcting the problem. Most district or county attorneys rely heavily on the support and cooperation of the police departments in their jurisdictions, and as such, they are reluctant to pursue criminal charges against them. [70]

US Executions

Recall that the Cuba report established that the US considers death sentences as extrajudicial killings. Amnesty International reports: [78] In 2006, 53 people were executed in 14 states, bringing to 1,057 the total number of prisoners put to death since executions resumed in 1977...People with serious mental illness continued to be subjected to the death penalty.

Amnesty International also reported that the United Nations Human Rights Committee called for a moratorium on executions in the US. [78]

US Extraterritorial killings

Amnesty International reports: [78] There were a number of incidents of alleged extrajudicial executions or unlawful killings of civilians by US soldiers in Iraq.

- In November, a soldier pleaded guilty before a military court to charges of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdering her and three members of her family in Mahmudiya in March. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

- Eight soldiers were charged with the kidnap and murder of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the town of Hamdania in April. They were accused of dragging him from his home and shooting him while he was restrained. Four soldiers pleaded guilty to charges relating to the murder and were sentenced to between five and 10 years' imprisonment. However, in line with pre-trial agreements, their sentences were reduced to between 12 and 21 months' confinement. Other trials were pending at the end of the year.

Other cases

Dec. 2006:
Four enlisted US Marines were charged with murder in the slaughter of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilian men, women, and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. Four Marine officers were charged for alleged failures in investigating and reporting the slayings. [79] By Jan. 2008, charges were dropped against two of the enlisted Marines. The remaining two had charges lowered from murder to manslaughter. [80]
Jan. 2006:
A military jury found Army Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer guilty of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty for using an "aggressive" interrogation technique on Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who died while undergoing questioning. Welshofer had the Iraqi general -- who already had been beaten repeatedly by Iraqi captors -- bound, gagged and placed headfirst inside a sleeping bag before the 19-year Army veteran sat atop the general's chest. The autopsy report said he suffocated. Welshofer was acquitted of murder, a charge that carries a sentence of life in prison if convicted. He faced a sentence of 39 months in prison for the charge of negligent homicide. Instead the military jury issued a reprimand, ordered Welshofer to forfeit $6,000 of his military pay and confined him to his barracks and place of worship for 60 days. [81] [82]
June 2006:

Ilario Pantano returned to the media spotlight promoting his autobiography, Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy, and was celebrated as "an extraordinary American hero" by his supporters. [83] A 2005 military hearing charged Pantano, a Wall Street trader and media entrepreneur who became a US Marine lieutenant, with the premeditated murder of two unarmed Iraqi civilians. Two weeks after the killing and mutilation of four US mercenaries in Fallujah in 2004, Pantano had the handcuffs removed from the two detained Iraqi men after searching them, then ordered the two US soldiers present to look away. Almost immediately, he then shot the Iraqis - emptying his M-16 in them, reloading and emptying again - firing a total of 60 times. Pantano said he acted in self-defense, thinking the Iraqis were charging him. One of the US soldiers who was ordered to look away thought he saw the Iraqis trying to flee. Pantano explained the excessive firepower: "I had made a decision that when I was firing I was going to send a message to these Iraqis and others that when we say, 'No better friend, No worse enemy,' we mean it. " [84] Pantano admitted he then wrote a sign and hung it over the bullet-ridden bodies: "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy". [85], [86] Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, where Pantano's unit was based, urged President Bush to intervene and dismiss charges. [87] The military officer presiding over the hearing recommended that murder charges be dropped, but that Pantano receive nonjudicial punishment (possibly 30 days' arrest in quarters and forfeiture of half a month's pay for two months) for "conduct unbecoming an officer" for hanging the sign, which the presiding officer described as a desecration, and for excessive shooting: "Shooting 30 extra rounds of ammunition into two bodies to send a message [to the enemy] is not moral and just," he wrote. "Once we allow ourselves to traverse down that slope, we become no better than the insurgents we are fighting." [88]

Pantano's commander ruled that Pantano would face no punishment for any of his actions. [89] Later that year Pantano resigned from the military. But in Feb. 2007 he returned to uniform as a North Carolina deputy sheriff, working as a guard at a county jail. [90]

US Torture by Security Forces

Amnesty International reports: [78] In June, three detainees died in Guantanamo, apparently as a result of suicide. They included Abdullah Yahia al-Zahrani who was reportedly aged 17 when he was taken into custody. The deaths heightened concerns about the severe psychological impact of the indefinite detention regime.

To measure the fatal impact of the detention regime within the US, we must look to BJS figures for 2003-05: [91]

Arrest-related deaths, by cause of death, 2003-2005
 Number of arrest-related deathsPercent
Cause of death 2003-05 2005 2004 2003 2003-05
All causes 2,002 703 677 622 100%
by law enforcement 1,095 364 365 366 54.7%
by other persons 11 4 4 3 0.5%
Intoxication 252 90 81 81 12.6%
Suicide 234 91 87 56 11.7%
Accidental injury 140 47 41 52 7.0%
Illness/natural causes 113 38 49 26 5.6%
Other/unknown 157 69 50 38 7.8%

Among the seven listed causes of arrest-related death, suicide and death by other/unknown causes stand out for their rising numbers. Even if the 2006 suicide figure fell back to the 2003 level, the US still would average over one arrest-related suicide per week.

In November 2007, the United Nations Committee against Torture stated at the conclusion of its 39th session: [92] The Committee was worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use. This suggests that death following Taser electroshock is a human rights problem that needs to be reported under the grouping "death in detention following torture", as in the case of Syria. Amnesty International reports that in 2006 more than 70 people died in the US after being shocked with Tasers. [78] The 376 justifiable homicides recorded by the FBI were all firearms deaths. The 70+ Taser-related deaths are not included in those FBI figures.

Summary Of US Respect For The Right To Life

With the US official death in custody rate comparable to the higher rate cited for India, it seems appropriate to use the State Dept.'s report on India [52] as a template for describing the severity of deaths under US government forces. Incorporating a summary of the above data in that template produced this State Dept-style summary on the US record in respecting the human right to life: The government has numerous, serious problems in its record of respecting the human right to life. Security force officials who committed human rights abuses generally enjoyed de facto impunity and the government made little attempt to combat the problem, except for a few instances highlighted by the media. The lack of firm accountability permeated the government and security forces, creating an atmosphere in which human rights violations often went unpunished. Although the country has numerous laws protecting human rights, enforcement was lax and punishment of police was rare.

The following additional human rights problems were reported: extrajudicial killings and killings of persons in custody, executions, extraterritorial killing, torture by security forces.

Lessons Learned

Human rights monitors overlook violations of the right to life in the US

The message of the US State Dept. Country Reports is explicitly propagated to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that monitor human rights and use the State Dept. reports as their primary source of data. For example, the Cingranelli and Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Project claims: Covering 24 years (i.e., 1981-present), 13 separate human rights practices, and 193 countries, the CIRI Human Rights Project is the largest human rights data set in the world. [93]

But the project's FAQ reveals: The primary source of information about human rights practices is obtained from a careful reading of the annual United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Coders are instructed to use this source for all variables. For a group of four rights known as "Physical Integrity Rights" (the rights to freedom from extrajudicial killing, disappearance, torture, and political imprisonment) coders also use a second source, Amnesty International's Annual Report. Both reports can be found online for recent years. If there are discrepancies between the two sources, coders are instructed to treat the Amnesty International evaluation as authoritative. Some scholars believe that this step is necessary to remove a potential bias in favor of US allies, although Poe, et al, (2001) have found evidence of great agreement between these reports.

Reference: Poe, Steven P., Sabine C. Carey, and Tanya C. Vazquez. 2001. "How are these pictures Different? A quantitative comparison of the US State Department and Amnesty International human rights reports, 1976-1995." Human Rights Quarterly 23.3: 650-677. [94]

Another widely-used source of human rights data is the Political Terror Scale (PTS): The PTS measures levels of political violence and terror that a country experiences in a particular year based on a 5-level "terror scale" originally developed by Freedom House. The data used in compiling this index comes from two different sources: the yearly country reports of Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.[95]

These two data sources, CIRI and PTS, then form the basis for other influential works used to compare and rank countries by respect for human rights, like the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators [96] and Simon Fraser University's The Human Security Report Project [97].

Although the US positions itself as a human rights champion, we've seen that the State Dept. reports do not examine or report on the US human rights record. Because of this void, critical discussion of the US human rights record is monopolized by Amnesty International's Annual Report. While Amnesty's contribution to the dialogue on human rights has been exemplary, and it has led the probe into the effect of Tasers on human rights in the US and elsewhere, there are glaring shortcomings in Amnesty's Annual Report on the US, evident in the introductory summary: [78] Thousands of detainees continued to be held in US custody without charge or trial in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In June, the US Supreme Court struck down the military commissions established by President Bush and reversed the presidential decision not to apply Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions to detainees suspected of links with the Taleban or al-Qa'ida.

Congress passed the Military Commissions Act stripping the US federal courts of the jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus appeals from such detainees, providing for trials by military commission, and amending the US War Crimes Act. In September, President Bush confirmed the existence of a programme of secret detentions run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

There were reports of possible extrajudicial executions by US soldiers in Iraq, with a number of soldiers facing prosecution. There was a continued failure to hold senior government officials accountable for torture and other ill-treatment of "war on terror" detainees despite evidence that abuses had been systematic. There were reports of police brutality and ill-treatment in detention facilities in the USA. More than 70 people died after being struck by police tasers. Fifty-three people were executed in 14 states.

There is an obvious disparity.
On the US human rights record in its global conflicts (first 6 sentences): 169 words.
On the US domestic human rights record (last 3 sentences): 32 words.

Moreover, the standard terms of human rights discourse are used to discuss the US human rights record in its global conflicts, e.g.: There were a number of incidents of alleged extrajudicial executions or unlawful killings of civilians by US soldiers in Iraq. But what about incidents involving US domestic security forces? No mention of alleged extrajudicial executions (Sean Bell on his wedding day) or unlawful killings (92-year-old Kathryn Johnson). In Amnesty's US report, the abundance of evidence of US domestic violations of the right to life - ethnic discrimination in the use of lethal force, excessive force against the mentally ill, unjustified use of heavily armed paramilitary forces and tactics - is cloaked in the vague term "police brutality".

But is Amnesty to be blamed for their monopoly? Workers in the human rights field could draw from additional sources. The Human Rights Watch World Report 2007 reports on the 2006 human rights record of the US. But, in the area of US domestic respect for the right to life, it is even more flawed than the Amnesty report: there is no mention of US police at all. [98] A more complete source is Beijing's answer to the US State Dept.'s unfavorable report on China: The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006, [99] which includes a section titled "On Human Rights Violations by Law Enforcement and Judicial Departments". [100] In addition, there is no lack of evidence of domestic US human rights abuses. Researchers in human rights could compile their own reports. What is the justification for continuing the blackout on the deplorable US domestic human rights record? When the world sees no mention of the US in the State Dept.'s country reports, and scarce mention of US domestic human rights abuses in Amnesty's annual report, the message is clear: human rights abuses happen elsewhere, not in the US.

US human rights record abroad and at home are linked

The link between the US human rights record in its global conflicts and the US domestic human rights record was well established by Abu Ghraib:

  • US Army Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., labeled the leader of abusive guards at Abu Ghraib, was sentenced to ten years for his role in abuse at the Baghdad prison. But earlier he had a tainted record of service in US prisons:
    • In 1992, he was working at a county prison in Pennsylvania with guards who acknowledge beating up prisoners as a means of control. [101]
    • In 1998, when he was working as a guard in a Pennsylvania state prison, he was accused by one inmate of slipping a razor blade into his food. [101] He was also at the center of an abuse scandal alleging that guards at the prison routinely beat and humiliated prisoners. After an investigation, the warden was transferred, two lieutenants were fired and about two dozen guards were reprimanded, demoted or suspended. [102]
  • Sergeant Ivan Frederick, the highest ranking guard to be charged, was sentenced to eight years. But before Abu Ghraib, Frederick worked as a corrections officer at the Buckingham Correctional Center in central Virginia, a medium-security prison. Alan Elsner, author of Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons called the Virginia prison system "one of the worst in the country...the most violent, the most racist, the most ready to resort to force." [103]
  • In October 2006, Human Rights Watch reported: One of the iconic pictures from Abu Ghraib shows an unmuzzled German Shepherd straining at his leash a few inches in front of a detainee, who is crouched in terror. Two Army Sergeants have been convicted in courts-martial of using their dogs to harass, threaten, and assault detainees. Yet five U.S. state prison systems - those of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah - continue to authorize the use of large unmuzzled dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners to secure their compliance with orders to permit themselves to be handcuffed and removed from their cells...Human Rights Watch knows of no other country in the world that authorizes the use of dogs to attack prisoners who will not voluntarily leave their cells.[104]

The background of the Abu Ghraib abusers, taken together with the latest career move of Ilario Pantano, gives new meaning to the claim that the US has a "revolving door" prison system. Tolerance of domestic human rights abuse enables agencies of domestic security forces to serve as both a launch pad and a docking station: acting as training grounds for the export of human rights abuse, while providing supportive sanctuary for returning abusers.

US arrest-related deaths need to be seen from the perspective of the universal right to life

Framing the issue of US killings by police and deaths in custody within the larger perspective of the universal human right to life provides alternative approaches:

  • It enables us to discuss the issue using more precise, standardized terms, instead of using the local terms that often serve to obscure rather than communicate. Reinforcing the myth that human rights abuses happen elsewhere, not here, US domestic human rights abuses are often described in euphemism. The term "extrajudicial killing", accurately describes the event as a killing outside of the due process of a judicial system. But the same event within the US is often termed an "officer-involved shooting": a term that serves to evade the issue of circumvention of justice and remove the shocking lethality, while assigning the killer a passive role - reduced to merely being "involved" in some unstated way.
  • We can weigh the severity of the issue, by placing it within the scale of police practices in comparable contexts around the world.
  • It permits us to shift from the ethical view, which offers no clear course, to a view based on the rule of human rights law and agreements, as argued by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions: It is tempting to focus on the ethical probity of law enforcement officials rather than the domestic rules regulating the use of lethal force. However, as I indicated in my first report to the Commission, in relation to respect for the right to life by military personnel, "Remedial proposals to inculcate higher 'ethical' standards or to develop a greater 'moral' sensibility [are] inadequate. Respect for human rights and humanitarian law are legally required and the relevant standards of conduct are spelled out in squarely on those standards". [105]

As the US finds itself in the abhorrent position of discussing how much torture to allow and which methods are acceptable, it is useful to ask how the self-proclaimed monitor of human rights got to such a state. We can answer with another question: who's been monitoring the monitor? As long as the US is not held to its own standards there are no safeguards, no limit to the depths of horror US human rights practice can descend to.

George Bush received a reply to his claim, quoted at the beginning of this report, nearly 50 years before he stated it:

Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world ... . Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. But to uphold their rights, such concerned citizens need first to know them. "Progress in the larger world," must start with human rights education in just those "small places, close to home."
-- Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the UN commission that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [106]



[1] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

[2] Appendix A: Notes on Preparation of the Country Reports and Explanatory Notes

[3] U.S. Human Rights and Democracy Strategy

[4] Nguyen Tat Thanh ( Viet Nam) at the Sixty-first United Nations General Assembly, Third Committee

[5] "The Right To Life In International Law",
Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, submitted pursuant to Commission resolution 1997/61, Addendum: Mission to the United States of America

[6] Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[7] See [2]

[8] The U.S. Human Rights Report -- Its Evolution

[9] Background Note: Canada

[10] Background Note: New Zealand

[11] Background Note: United Kingdom

[12] Background Note: Australia

[13] Appendix E: Country Assistance FY2006

[14] Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance", Issue Brief for Congress
But another calculation puts it at nearly double that:
see The Cost of Israel to U.S. Taxpayers: True Lies About U.S. Aid to Israel

[15] The United States in the General Assembly

[16] Israel and the occupied territories: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[17] Palestinians who died following an infringement of the right to medical treatment

[18] President Delivers State of the Union Address

[19] State Sponsors of Terror Overview

[20] Background Note: North Korea

[21] Background Note: Libya

[22] Australia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[23] United Kingdom: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[24] Syria: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[25] Cuba: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[26] To encourage States to report such deaths to the Attorney General, the Act declared that, in order for a State to be eligible to receive a grant for correctional facilities, its grant application must include assurances that the State will follow the guidelines established by the Attorney General in reporting, on a quarterly basis, data on deaths that occur in two primary stages of the criminal justice system: first, deaths that occur "in the process of arrest" or during transfer after arrest; and, second, deaths in any municipal or county jail, State prison, or other local or State correctional facility.
RE: Amendments to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, United States Statutes at Large, 13 Oct. 2000

Data collection from local jails began in 2000, State prisons were added in 2001, State juvenile correctional agencies were added in 2002, and coverage of arrest-process deaths began in 2003.
Corrections Statistics: Deaths in Custody Reporting Program

[27] Press release

[28] Justifiable Homicide: by Weapon, Law Enforcement, 2002-2006 - see footnote 1

[29] Uniform Crime Reports- Frequently Asked Questions

[30] See table at [28]

[31] Photos online brew trouble, The News & Observer, 15 Jul. 2007

[32] Reservist Due for Iraq Is Killed in Standoff With Police, Washington Post, 27 Dec. 2006

[33] Fatal Shooting of Veteran Justified, State's Attorney Finds, Washington Post, 11 April 2007

[34] Did Police execute Antonio Bryant?, The Hudson Valley Press, Vol. 24, No.2

[35] How Newburgh's two worlds collide, Times Herald-Record, 1 Nov. 2006

[36] Witness Rejects Police Account of Fatal Shooting, Washington Post, 28 Sep. 2006

[37] What Happened To James ChasseMental Health Association of Portland

[38] Leniency in Fairfax, Washington Post, 25 Mar. 2006

[39] Death raises concern at police tactics, BBC News, 21 Mar. 2006

[40] Va. Officer Might Be Suspended For Fatality, Washington Post, 25 Nov. 2006

[41] Potter fires cop, citing 10 mistakes, The Oregonian, 17 Aug. 2007;=7

[42] Shooting Review Board Review Completed Regarding Fouad Kaady, Press Release from: Clackamas Co. Sheriff's Office, 21 Jan. 2006

[43] Transcript of Taped Interview of Willard and Bergin

[44] 28 seconds: The Killing of Fouad Kaady (Video: Part 1 of 5)

[45] NY police in manslaughter charges, BBC News, 19 Mar. 2007

[46] Family of Woman Killed by Police Sues, New York Times, 22 Nov. 2007

[47] May 2, 2007: Rep. John Lewis on Kathryn Johnston Murder;=view&id;=114&Itemid;=1

[48] Conyers Calls on Justice Department to Seek Answers for Wrongful Death of 92-year-old Woman in Drug Raid, Press Release, 3 May 2007

[49] South Africa data found for 4/2005-3/2006 omitted: the custodial death rate of 14.0 skewed the range. Source: South Africa: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[50] CIA World Factbook

[51] Australia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005

[52] India: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006
Cites two sources, providing very different figures:

From January 2005 through July of the year, the Home Ministry reported 139 deaths in police custody. However, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) confirmed 1,730 deaths in police and judicial custody during the same time period.

[53] Malaysia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[54]Deaths during or following police contact: Statistics for England and Wales 2006/7

[55]Deaths during or following police contact: Statistics for England and Wales 2005/06

[56] United Kingdom: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005

[57] "Death in custody" does not have a standard definition. For the US, this report assumes the BJS term "arrest-related death" is roughly equivalent. To be clear about the term's definition, its's worthwhile to fully quote the BJS report:

Defining deaths "in the process of arrest"
BJS had to define the term "in the process of arrest," specified in the Death in Custody Reporting Act (PL 106-297). BJS staff consulted with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA), and criminal justice researchers to identify which circumstances involved an "arrest process."

All deaths of persons in the physical custody or under the physical restraint of law enforcement officers were included. This resulted in the reporting of 75 deaths over three years in which no criminal charges were involved. Law enforcement responses to people exhibiting mental health problems accounted for 44 of these cases, while another 9 cases involved persons who had to be restrained by police for medical transportation. In another 22 cases, the reason for law enforcement involvement was not specified, but the record indicated that no criminal charges were involved. The deaths of any other persons not subject to an attempted arrest were excluded, including bystanders and law enforcement officers killed during an attempted arrest.

State contacts were instructed to include all deaths resulting from use of force by law enforcement officers. Arrest-related suicides were also included in this collection, provided that law enforcement officers were in some type of contact with the arrest subject prior to the suicide. For example, if an armed suspect was surrounded by officers and chose to take his own life rather than surrender, the death would be included. However, if an offender was actively sought by police but committed suicide before the police located him, the death would be excluded. The reason for the exclusion is that no officers were present at the time of death to attempt an arrest.

Vehicular accident deaths that were not specifically related to arrest activities were excluded from the collection. States were instructed to include vehicular accident deaths only when law enforcement officers actively took some role in causing the accident during an arrest attempt. This included shooting at the vehicle or driver or forcing the vehicle off the road with a police vehicle or other obstructions (such as a spike strip to blow out tires or a roadblock). All other vehicular deaths were excluded.

States were also instructed to disregard whether an arrest warrant had been issued. Because officers frequently make arrests in response to unexpected events, requiring an arrest warrant would leave many arrest-related deaths unreported. Likewise, States were told to exclude the deaths of persons who had arrest warrants issued against them that went unenforced. For example, if an offender had a bench warrant issued for their arrest, but later died before any officers attempted to enforce this arrest warrant, the State was told to exclude that record. In such cases, the arrest warrant indicated an administrative criminal justice status and not an attempt to bring the subject into custody.

Deaths of arrestees were subject to the data collection from the time police encountered them in the field until the time they were booked into a local jail facility. This included deaths of arrest subjects who died at medical facilities due to injuries or medical problems, as well as any persons who died in transit from an arrest scene in a police vehicle or ambulance. All deaths in jails are reported to BJS under a separate DCRP collection with different questionnaires.

Once records of arrest-related deaths were submitted to BJS, the forms were reviewed to ensure that each case met the established guidelines. Deaths were checked against the DCRP database of jail facility deaths for the same year to avoid double-counting. BJS staff and the State contacts routinely discussed and resolved cases that were ambiguous or appeared to involve circumstances that would exclude them from the collection.

from "Methodology", Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report: Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States, 2003-2005

[58] Yearly police killing rate found, but omitted to avoid data skew:

El Salvador (2005) = 3.4
Jamaica (2006) = 66
Jamaica (2005) = 54
Saint Lucia (2006) = 17.6
Saint Lucia (2005) = 24
South Africa (4/2005-3/2006) = 8.0

[59] Poland: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

[60] Jamaica Braeton Seven - A Justice System on Trial: Question and Answers, Amnesty International Report, AI Index: AMR 38/004/2003 [61] Gun-happy police add to Jamaica's killing spree, The Observer. 2 Sep. 2007

[62] Australian crime : facts and figures 2005

[63] Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2006/07

[64] Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2005/06

[65] Violent Crime Overview, Homicide and Gun Crime 2004/2005

[66]Murder - Crime in the United States 2006

[67]Murder - Crime in the United States 2005

[68]Murder - Crime in the United States 2004

[69] About the IPCC

Belgium has Standing Committee P:

The organic law of 18 July 1991 on monitoring police forces and intelligence services and on the Coordinating Body for Threat Analysis introduced specifically external monitoring of the police by an independent and neutral body: Standing Committee P.
In particular, Standing Committee P monitors the way in which efficiency, effectiveness and coordination are achieved and the way in which fundamental rights and freedoms are respected during police work...
Committee P's mission to protect the fundamental rights of citizens in the context of police work makes it an important Belgian partner for international human rights bodies, notably the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT), the Human Rights Committee, European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
The diversity of information currently possessed by the Committee and the expertise in assessing failings in the police system which it has built up over the past 10 years in its capacity as a global police watchdog make it a reliable source of knowledge and of some use to the international bodies responsible for monitoring respect for human rights.

[70] Revisiting Who Is Guarding the Guardians?, Chapter 4 - External Controls

[71] A Brief History of NACOLE

[72] U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section: Overview

[73] The rush to clear police in shootings,0,4405016.htmlstory

[74] Police gun sanctions infrequent

[75] Editorial: Police Shootings, Hold your fire [76] The Use of Force/Discipline's obstacles/Few complaints against police upheld - even fewer bring serious discipline

[77] District Police Lead Nation in Shootings: Lack of Training, Supervision Implicated as Key Factors

[78] USA, United States of America, Taken from the Amnesty International Report 2007

[79] 4 U.S. marines face Haditha murder charges

[80] Marine accused of leading Haditha massacre avoids murder charges

[81] Interrogator Found Guilty of Negligent Homicide in Death of Iraqi Officer

[82] Iraq general's killer reprimanded

[83] Michelle Malkin: An Interview With Ilaro Pantano

[84] Ilario Pantano Biography, American Entertainment International Speakers Bureau

[85] Hell's Kitchen

[86] Marine charged with murders of Iraqis

[87] Jones Asks For President's Protection of Marine's Rights

[88] Marine's Shooting of Iraqis Called Justified

[89] Marine cleared in deaths of two Iraqis

[90] Pantano, other vets ready for law enforcement careers

[91] See [57]

[92] Committee Against Torture Concludes Thirty-Ninth Session

[93] David Cingranelli biography

[94] CIRI Human Rights Data Project: FAQ

[95] About the Political Terror Scale

[96] Worldwide Gorvernance Indicators, 1996-2006, World Bank

[97] The Human Security Report Project

[98] World Report 2007: United States, Human Rights Watch

[99] The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006, The Information Office of the State Council of the government of China

[100] "On Human Rights Violations by Law Enforcement and Judicial Departments", in The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006

[101] Records Paint Dark Portrait Of Guard: Before Abu Ghraib, Graner Left a Trail Of Alleged Violence

[102] Abuse Charges Bring Anguish in Unit's Home

[103] Abu Ghraib in Virginia: Abuse of Iraqi inmates follows a pattern established in Southern prisons

[104] The report goes on to say:

When Human Rights Watch began this research in 2005, two additional states, Massachusetts and Arizona, also permitted the use of dogs in cell extractions. In 2006, however, corrections departments in those states instituted new policies prohibiting such use of dogs.

"Summary", Cruel and Degrading: The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons

Later that year, Human Rights Watch followed up on their research, reporting:

...every state other than Connecticut that has used dogs for cell extractions has now given up the practice. Two days after the release of the Human Rights Watch report on the use of dogs for cell extractions, the Iowa department of Corrections announced it was ending the practice effective immediately, having decided it was "not necessary". Earlier this year, Massachusetts did the same thing, the head of its corrections department concluding that there are other ways to compel an inmate to comply with an order "than sending in an animal to rip his flesh".

Cruel and Degrading in Connecticut Prisons

[105] "Case study: the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials", Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

[106] In Your Hands: A Guide for Community Action for the Tenth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.", Eleanor Roosevelt, 27 March 1958, United Nations

Supplement: Gleaning A Standard From The Country Reports

To understand the Country Reports, their official purpose must be understood. The 1976 Foreign Assistance Act required the secretary of state to transmit to Congress "a full and complete report" every year concerning "respect for internationally recognized human rights in each country proposed as a recipient" of U.S. security assistance. The Act also imposed restrictions on U.S. security assistance to foreign governments that violate internationally recognized human rights. Subsequent laws added restrictions on economic (non-security) assistance to countries allegedly violating human rights. Consequently, the Reports expanded to include an entry on each member of the United Nations, along with countries that are not U.N. members (Taiwan, e.g.). [8]

The initial draft of the Report comes from US embassies, that gather information throughout the year. The final version is produced in Washington by the State Department. It is reasonable to assume that the economic influence of the Report would lead it to be biased toward presenting close allies in the most favorable light, and enemies in the least favorable way. The range of reporting standards can be observed by using the reports on close allies and declared enemies as the endponts.

Surprisingly, determining who are US friends and enemies, using State Dept. Background Notes, turned out to be less straightforward than expected. Allies that have traditionally been close to the US have recently shown greater independence than the State Department would like: The relationship between the United States and Canada is probably the closest and most extensive in the world. It is reflected in the staggering volume of bilateral trade--the equivalent of $1.5 billion a day in goods--as well as in people-to-people contact. About 300,000 people cross the shared border every day...Canada views good relations with the United States as crucial to a wide range of interests, and often looks to the U.S. as a common cause partner promoting democracy, transparency, and good government around the world. That said, it has pursued policies at odds with our own. Canada decided in 2003 not to contribute troops to the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq (although it later contributed financially to Iraq's reconstruction and provided electoral advice). Other recent examples are Canada's leadership in the creation of the UN-created International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, which the U.S. opposes due to fundamental flaws in the treaty that leave the ICC vulnerable to exploitation and politically motivated prosecutions; its decision in early 2005 not to participate directly in the U.S. missile defense program; and its strong support for the Ottawa Convention to ban anti-personnel mines. [9] Bilateral relations are excellent. The United States and New Zealand share common elements of history and culture and a commitment to democratic principles...New Zealand's legislation prohibiting visits of nuclear-powered ships continues to preclude a bilateral security alliance with the U.S. The legislation enjoys broad public and political support in New Zealand. [10]

A more favorable report is given for the United Kingdom (UK): The United Kingdom stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., and its military forces are part of the coalition force in Afghanistan...The U.K. was the United States' main coalition partner in Operation Iraqi Freedom and continues to have more than 5,000 troops deployed in Iraq to help stabilize and rebuild the country... Britain's participation in the Iraq war and its aftermath remains a domestically controversial issue. [11]

And also for Australia: The World War II experience, similarities in culture and historical background, and shared democratic values have made U.S. relations with Australia exceptionally strong and close...For example, both countries sent military forces to the Persian Gulf...both attach high priority to controlling and eventually eliminating... anti-personnel landmines... [12]

While it is not easy finding countries fully supporting the US, the list of countries supported by the US - i.e. receiving economic support from the US - in 2006 has one clearly dominant entry. The list reports that Israel, with less than 6.5 million people, received just under $2.5 billion of funding from this legislation [13], which was:

  • almost 70% of the total US assistance to all countries in sub-Sahara Africa
  • almost $1 billion more than the total US assistance to all countries in East Asia, the Pacific islands, Europe, and Eurasia combined
  • over 47% more than the total US assistance to all countries in the Western Hemisphere
  • over 19% more than the total assistance to all countries of South and Central Asia (which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan)

By financial measures, Israel has been a consistent US ally: The State Dept. reports that Israel has received $3 billion each year since 1985. [14] In addition, the US often found Israel was one of its only allies against world opinion in the United Nations. For example, in the 70 contested resolutions of the 2002-2003 General Assembly, the US voted no 49 times (70%) - on 4 of those casting the sole no (including a right to food resolution). Israel joined the US and a few small US-dependent Pacific island nations in a tiny minority bloc 25 of those times. [15]

Despite Israel's good standing with the US, the report on Israel [17] could not provide a useful indicator of State Dept. standards in reporting human rights practices. Although it was expected that bias would lead to some recasting of the events, the Israel report strays so far from the guidelines given that its usefulness as a standard is questionable.

For example, although the definition states that the section is about killings by government forces or through government complicity (including failure to punish), the section includes detailed reports of civilian casualties in Israel attributed to Hizballah and Islamic Jihad.

Furthermore, regarding Israel's so-called "targeted killings" (as Israel calls it's extrajudicial killings) in the Occupied Territories, the section titled "Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life" states: According to B'Tselem [human rights organization], Israeli security forces killed 22 Palestinians in targeted killings during the year and an undetermined number of bystanders.

But a few paragraphs down, the section titled "Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal and External Conflicts" states: During the year according to B'Tselem, 22 Palestinians directly died in targeted killings. According to Palestinian security and media reports, IDF forces killed at least 60 bystanders in these operations.

Thus, looking at only "Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life" misses 60 casualties, even though the definition states that "Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life" should include killing of bystanders.

In addition, "Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life" does not include Palestinians who died after medical treatment was delayed due to restrictions of movement (B'Tselem reports 3 cases in 2006 [16]).

Consequently, for the purposes of this analysis, the Israel report, though significant and revealing, is too flawed and thus is best viewed as an anomaly, a special case, in State Dept. standards in reporting human rights practices. Consequently, only the UK and Australia reports are used.

The enemy list has also dwindled under US economic and military dominance. The enemy list begins with the countries the US labeled in 2002 as constituents of an "axis of evil" [18], alleged to be pursuing weapons of mass destruction: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. But Iraq is now considered purged of official evil. Iran and North Korea are anomalies, since the US has no embassy in those countries. That means the Reports do not draw on the usual sources and are more limited. Next on the enemy list are countries the US labeled as "State Sponsors of Terror" [19]: Cuba, Iran, North Korea (In February 2007, the US agreed to begin the process of removing North Korea from this list [20]), Sudan, and Syria. Lybia was removed from the list June 30, 2006 [21]. For 2006, Libya and Sudan are reported as continuing to significantly cooperate with the US, so their status as enemies is in jeopardy. Only the Cuba and Syria Reports provided a useful view of State Dept. standards in reporting on the human rights practices of enemies.


Many thanks to members of the Coalition for Justice and Accountability, in Santa Clara County California, for their invaluable suggestions and support. Responsibility for the views presented and any errors, however, lies solely with the author.