Death penalty: How does U.S. compare globally? you read further, answer this question: How does our rate of execution in the U.S. compare with the rest of the world? Do we rank 5th, 20th—or what? What’s your guess?

Remember that most nations around the world do not have the death penalty. The U.S. allows it, but it’s considered a state-by-state matter. On Tuesday, we showed a year-by-year chart of executions in the U.S. But where do we rank compared with other countries that have the death penalty?

For an extensive report on the matter, click on the illustration at right and your computer will download a free copy of the Amnesty International 2010 report.

Here’s what you’ll find: Last year, China executed the highest number of people, according to Amnesty International’s report. The exact number is hard to pin down, but Amnesty says that it’s at least in the thousands. Iran comes next, with at least 252 state-sponsored executions. Third is North Korea—at least 60 executions in 2010. Fourth is Yemen—a minimum of 53.

The United States ranks fifth. We had 46 reported state executions last year. Saudi Arabia is next, with at least 27 executions. Then come Libya and Syria (at least 17 each). Bangladesh and Somalia hold places nine and ten—at least 8 each.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the French nobleman who toured early America and wrote a definitive treatise on our young nation, said we were exceptional. Exceptional, in de Tocqueville’s writing, means unique, unusual, different. One way we are different today is that we have a higher number of state executions than other Western democracies.

Are you surprised at these global statistics?

What does this comparison say to you about our system of justice?

Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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