George Bush Jr never witnessed an execution. I did, in June this year. I felt nauseous and angry

''I am confident that every person that has been put to death in Texas under my watch has been guilty of the crime charged and has had full access to the courts," George Bush Jr said on the NBC programme Meet the Press. This man has presided over the execution of 138 men and one woman during his five years in office - far more than any other governor of any state since the Supreme Court allowed the reinstatement of death penalty in the US in 1976. Whenever Bush is asked about the fairness of the death penalty, he ducks the question by saying that the power of decision lies not with him, but with the 18-member parole board. Yet, as governor, Bush appoints the members of this board (they stay in office for six years) and he selects its chairman.

The board is a secretive state agency that has been repeatedly accused by human rights lawyers of not thoroughly reviewing the death row cases for which it is responsible. The members, who earn $80,000 a year, consider evidence separately - they do not even hold conference calls - and send in their decision by fax; Texan legal eagles refer to the process as "death by fax". Bush has to date opposed all legislation that would force the parole board to make its deliberations public. To do so, he warned, might create "a chance for people to rant and rail - a chance to emotionalise the process". And so on he goes, pushing his deadly agenda, deaf to entreaties from human rights groups.

This presidential candidate is opposed to gun control legislation; he has toughened the punishment for juvenile offenders and made some convicts serve longer terms; he has presided over the largest prison- building programme in the US - the prison population in his state now stands at 545,000, and he's already in-vested $3bn to expand the system. It's not a pretty picture - and it threatens to become the whole picture, if Bush can lead America in the way he has led Texas for the half-decade of his governorship. And then they ask me why I am so adamant in my support of Al Gore.

Governor Bush has never witnessed an execution - it would seem that in Texas, it's death by remote as well as death by fax. I witnessed, on 22 June this year, the state-sanctioned murder of Gary Graham. Graham, a 38-year-old black man convicted of petty crimes and a murder, named Governor Bush as witness and asked him to be present at his execution. I had met Graham twice before he was executed - indeed, I was his last visitor. During that meeting he told me, over the telephone used to communicate with inmates beyond the Plexiglas, that he was in pain - he had tried to resist his transfer to Huntsville Prison, known as the Death House, and in the scuffle, he claimed, prison officers had broken his rib.

He maintained that he was innocent - as he had done throughout his 19 years in jail. His crime, he told me, was that he was black, poor and couldn't afford a proper legal counsel. He was an eloquent young man with burning eyes that bored into you. Until the last minute, he believed his life would be spared - and indeed, the execution that had been scheduled for six o'clock was postponed until eight, while his lawyers appealed for a reprieve. Gary had named the Reverend Jesse Jackson, his minister, and myself to be his witnesses - along with Governor Bush. We arrived at the Death House at 5.30pm. The media were on the doorstep.

I was trying to keep calm, but once we entered the Death House, Jackson began to cry uncontrollably. We went to the waiting room and officers body-searched us. They led us to the third floor - a journalist met us on the way who said he'd witnessed 165 executions. I couldn't believe it: I could hardly bear the thought of witnessing one.

At eight o'clock, they came to tell us that all the appeals had been lost. We walked through a courtyard and an officer brought us into a very narrow room with a big Plexiglas. Through the glass we could see, in the centre of the room, a gurney attached to the floor. Gary was strapped to it, and he was handcuffed. He had a restraint around his head. The parts of his body that I could see were black and blue. Gary was asked to make his last statement, and the moment he began to speak, I began to cry. "I would like to say that I did not kill Bobby Lambert. That I am an innocent black man that is being murdered. This is lynching . . . an outrage for any civilised country . . . it is wrong." He thanked me personally for coming. We told him we loved him. A prison officer had injected him with the poison as he was talking. When he had said those last words, he died. I felt nauseous, dizzy - and, above all, angry.

I attended the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. I was representing People for the American Way and the Creative Coalition. Through them, I had access to different booths (sponsored by groups such as the Democratic Finance Committee) at the Staples Center. I noticed that the food being served varied according to how much people contributed to the party coffers: for those whose pockets could not stretch to sizeable contributions, there was the usual suspect shrimp and corn chips; for those who had paid a few grand, there was champagne and lobster thermi- dor. Not so very democratic, I thought. The whole event was badly orchestrated - the Republicans had created a seamless symphony of mood music. The Democrats, by contrast, had lousy music, long silences between speakers and no choreographed cheerleading. In the end, it didn't matter; when Gore delivered his speech, it was passionate, eloquent and stirring, a wow of a performance. Even before that kiss.

This article first appeared in the 25 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Women: still firmly in their place