Orwell once wrote, "[He] who controls the past, controls the future." Texas Governor Rick Perry has apparently taken the lesson to heart. He's now removed a fourth member of the Texas commission responsible for investigating whether Texas (and Perry) executed an innocent man. It's whitewashing at its worst.
By now, you're probably familiar with the New Yorker article showing that Cameron Todd Willingham was almost certainly wrongly executed for arson and murder. In 2005, after the execution, Texas established a commission to investigate forensic errors, and the commission started reviewing the Willingham case. In the course of its review, the commission hired a nationally recognized fire expert who ultimately wrote a "scathing report" concluding that the arson investigation was a joke.
The expert was originally set to testify about his report on Friday, October 2. On Sept. 30, however, Perry suddenly replaced three members of the panel, including the chair, against their wishes. The new chair promptly canceled the hearing. More recently, Perry replaced a fourth member (he can only appoint four -- other state officials appoint the remaining five members).
What's amazing is not so much that Perry replaced the panel members, but that he felt secure enough to be so brazenly corrupt about it. It's a sad reflection on the state of politics in Texas that a governor could commit such blatant whitewashing two days before the hearing.
Of course, his motive is fairly clear. Perry contributed to the execution of an innocent person. And the formal recognition that Texas executed an innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake -- one that would clarify to an inattentive public the utter barbarity and immorality of Texas's criminal justice system.
So yes, I can understand Perry's motives. But it doesn't change the fact that he is acting in a profoundly immoral way. The whole thing reminds me of a banana republic dictator clumsily covering up his crimes.
But in addition to making me mad, I'm hopeful that this story will change some "hearts and minds." Specifically, I hope that social conservatives (particularly in Texas) take some time to reflect on the implications of the fact that Texas executed an innocent person -- and that Rick Perry is trying to cover it up. It's hard to think of something that more directly contradicts the "culture of life."
For this reason, though, it's an area where a political coalition of social conservatives and secular progressives could do a lot of good, if the political will existed.