ACLU Praises Bush, Calls For Death Penalty Review

By John Rossomando | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has come out in support of the Bush administration's decision to delay Timothy McVeigh's execution. The ACLU indicates that the president's show of restraint opens the door for a possible discussion of how documents are handled in death penalty cases.

"We think what they have done is the right thing, so that we can be sure that they have not made an egregious mistake," ACLU spokeswoman Diann Rust-Tierney said. "We must see the words backed up with actions, so that it is not window dressing."

The ACLU sees concern in the McVeigh case because the Supreme Court interpretation of the US Constitution requires law enforcement to share any relevant evidence it may have with a defendant in a criminal case. The FBI's failure to reveal all of its documentation in the McVeigh case raises questions about the way the FBI handles evidence in criminal cases.

"It is telling that the federal government spent $50 million on the trial and a further $10 million on counsel, and that this kind of thing can happen where there is this kind of public scrutiny," Rust-Tierney said.

Rust-Tierney indicated that while she agreed with the administration's decision to delay McVeigh's execution, she believed that the FBI's failure to turn over documents to McVeigh's lawyers reveals a deeper problem with death penalty cases.

"This kind of problem with law enforcement is a common problem," she said. "Unfortunately it is more common than we would like to think."

A study published Friday in the Washington Post conducted by Columbia University professor Jim Leedman of 5,000 capital cases revealed that two-thirds of those cases were overturned due to serious errors that involved law enforcement.

The ACLU supports a bill currently making its way through Congress that would place a moratorium on federal executions pending a review of how the system operates from top to bottom.

ACLU officials believe a broad examination of the administration of the death penalty is necessary to ensure that the penalty is administered fairly according to racial and geographic considerations.

"It is unique that the federal government admits to making a mistake, and it gives hope of an examination of the process. Only holding steps to assurance allows the system to have integrity," said Rust-Tierney.