Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is Assange a Nobel distraction for Ryan?

RYAN: Will he win this year?
I can think of one “advantage” to having WikiLinks founder Julian Assange being among those under consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize – it would mean that George Ryan would be far from the most controversial person whose name has been put forth for the prize meant to honor people whose work helps contribute toward “fraternity among nations.”

Assange got nominated for the prize, whose winner will be announced in October, by a youthful member of the parliament in Norway on the grounds that his use of his Internet presence to disclose assorted government documents and cables (some classified, but most just embarrassing to the government officials named) benefits mankind by making information public.

YET THE FACT that some of the information made public was classified, and the fact that the humiliation experienced by some government officials may very well drive the “fraternity among nations” further apart may well mean that Assange is the last person who ought to get the Peace Prize.

Give it to the person who comes in and fixes the mess caused by Assange – who these days is preoccupied with trying to avoid going to prison for allegations of sex crimes committed in Sweden.

By comparison, the best we have locally is the repeat performance of former Gov. George Ryan being nominated for the prize for the actions he took as governor that have brought our state’s death penalty procedures to a grinding halt for more than a decade.

Personally, I don’t think Ryan has much of a chance of getting the Nobel Prize this year. I believe that if it were ever going to happen, it would have happened quickly when his noble activities worthy of a Nobel were still fresh (and not nearly a decade old).

BUT THE UNIVERSITY of Illinois at Urbana law school professor who in recent years has repeatedly touted Ryan for the Nobel said this week that he once again made his nomination – which was due to the Nobel Foundation by Tuesday.

The reality of our society today is that the death penalty as punishment for violent crimes is on the decline. The few states that persist in using it regularly are more interested in making some statement about their own view of life, rather than trying to impose penalties that would actually discourage others from committing crimes.

The fact that Ryan, while he was governor of Illinois, imposed the moratorium on executions that remains in place to this day and also cleaned out the state’s death rows of the just over 160 condemned inmates at the time are being portrayed as bold acts that helped trigger the movement away from capital punishment during the first decade of the 21st Century.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier this week, Francis Boyle of the law school wrote in an e-mail, “thanks to Governor George Ryan, there have been no…executions by the state of Illinois for over a decade.”

THAT PART IS true. Illinois hasn’t had an execution since 1999 when Andrew Kokoraleis was put to death at the prison near Tamms in far Southern Illinois. That was the only execution Ryan presided over. It was soon after that Ryan began taking an interest in issues related to the state’s capital crimes statutes.

Personally, I respected Ryan’s actions, and wish/hope/demand/beg that current Gov. Pat Quinn would take the next logical step in that direction by signing into law the measure approved by the old General Assembly to abolish the state’s capital crimes statutes. Because the Illinois status quo that Ryan created (a death penalty that we don't use) was only meant to be temporary.

Which is why I’m not quite sure that Ryan's actions qualify for a Nobel – unless one wants to believe the line of thought that giving the ex-gov the prize would be a jolt of support for the movement around the world to abolish the death penalty, which Ryan himself did NOT do.

The prizes awarded in recent years to Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama were seen as symbolic gestures of support for the direction those two men wanted to take our society (and a rebuke to the conservative ideologues who have their own ideas about where our country should be headed).

ACCORDING TO REPORTS, Boyle included in his nomination of Ryan this year his belief that the reason the former governor is in prison is because prosecutors wanted to punish him for taking actions against the death penalty.

That might be an over-simplification, although I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that many of the people who are most vehemently opposed to Ryan and who take the greatest pleasure in his current incarceration at the work camp near the maximum-security correctional center near Terre Haute, Ind., are the ones who remain offended that he took such actions.

All the other issues involved in Ryan’s case are of lesser importance to those people – similar to how Al Capone may have offended us with his racketeering and violent gangland activity, but prosecutors used federal tax law violations to justify putting him in prison.

Yet compared to Assange, he’s just boring – if not downright conventional.

THE IDEA OF considering Assange for the Peace Prize gives us a story with elements of national security, espionage and sex (blonde women who claim they were taken advantage of). Ryan comes off as a stuffy, grouchy ol’ grampa by comparison.

Perhaps it will take a few more wild-eyed nominees like an Assange to make Ryan appear to be the favorite.


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