Saturday, December 30, 2006

Capital Punishment Is Barbaric

 With the hanging of Saddam Hussein, Iraq affirms its membership in the group of nations that don't deserve to be called civilized.

38 comments :

  1. Agreed. I wish there were more people who saw it this way. The worst are those who gleefully gloat over his (or any death).

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  2. Capital punishment is just in this case, just ask the victims of his hideous regime or their surviving relatives before jumping on your moral high horse.

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  3. Killing Saddam will not bring about either truth or reconciliation in Iraq. To many in the Arab and Muslim worlds, it looks like victor's justice in a foreign-occupied country.

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  4. Capital punishment is just in this case, just ask the victims of his hideous regime or their surviving relatives before jumping on your moral high horse.

    So the emotive lust for revenge justifies a brutal killing? Congratulations, you have just discovered the rationale behind radical Islamic terrorism. Bin Laden will be very pleased that Americans are coming around to his way of thinking.

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  5. Tyler DiPietro said...

    So the emotive lust for revenge justifies a brutal killing? Congratulations, you have just discovered the rationale behind radical Islamic terrorism. Bin Laden will be very pleased that Americans are coming around to his way of thinking.


    So you see no moral distinction between the lawful execution of a criminal convicted in open court of the most appalling crimes and the mass murders of innocent men, women and children by a ruthless terrorist?

    You have a novel concept of justice. It would be interesting to hear your definition of the word.

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  6. You have a novel concept of justice. It would be interesting to hear your definition of the word.

    I won't presume to speak for Tyler, but my concept of justice would be longterm imprisonment, lifelong in the case of someone like Saddam who was responsible for so many killings and other crimes, and my concept also includes punishing those who helped him with his crimes instead of shutting him up so he can't help us convict them.

    But then that would be people like GHW Bush, Rumsfeld, Reagan, Wolfowitz. Interesting coincidence that trying Saddam in Iraq instead of the World Court allowed the administration to influence what chanrges he was brought up on, which by the greatest of coincidences included only some smaller crimes (not his biggest ones) in which the above Americans were not involved.

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  7. Ian,

    He was convicted of now such thing, lawful or otherwise. What he was convicted and sentenced to death for was a retaliation against a Shi'ite assassination attempt. His "crimes against humanity" weren't allowed to be brought to bear, and I suspect this might have something to do with it.

    And "lawful" or not, it takes some pretty totalitarian moral assumptions in and of itself to coherently declare that the state somehow transcends the moral restrictions individuals (or "us mere mortals", I should say) are bound by.

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  8. Ian H Spedding asks,

    So you see no moral distinction between the lawful execution of a criminal convicted in open court of the most appalling crimes and the mass murders of innocent men, women and children by a ruthless terrorist?

    The very fact that you ask such a stupid question means that you have lost your moral compass. Try to get it back before it's too late.

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  9. Larry Moran: "With the hanging of Saddam Hussein, Iraq affirms its membership in the group of nations that don't deserve to be called civilized."

    His lawyers murdered. Black hoods. Taunts. Saddam reciting the Shahada. Millions gathered in Mecca for the Hajj. Minutes before Eid al-Adha, the celebration of when God showed mercy and stayed Abraham's hand. Defiance. Saddam's last word, "Muhammad". Hanging. Public images of his death.

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  10. Zachriel said...

    His lawyers murdered. Black hoods. Taunts. Saddam reciting the Shahada. Millions gathered in Mecca for the Hajj. Minutes before Eid al-Adha, the celebration of when God showed mercy and stayed Abraham's hand. Defiance. Saddam's last word, "Muhammad". Hanging. Public images of his death.


    We say - and most would agree - that justice should be done and should be seen to be done. On those grounds alone there is a case for public executions.

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  11. Anonymous said...

    I won't presume to speak for Tyler, but my concept of justice would be longterm imprisonment, lifelong in the case of someone like Saddam who was responsible for so many killings and other crimes, and my concept also includes punishing those who helped him with his crimes instead of shutting him up so he can't help us convict them.


    What you are referring to is punishment which, for me, is a component of the justice ssytem but not the whole of it.

    But then that would be people like GHW Bush, Rumsfeld, Reagan, Wolfowitz. Interesting coincidence that trying Saddam in Iraq instead of the World Court allowed the administration to influence what chanrges he was brought up on, which by the greatest of coincidences included only some smaller crimes (not his biggest ones) in which the above Americans were not involved.

    US involvement in Iraq is not in question but it has no bearing on whether Saddam was guilty of the crimes of which he was accused or the sentence that was imposed for those offences.

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  12. Tyler DiPietro said...

    He was convicted of now such thing, lawful or otherwise. What he was convicted and sentenced to death for was a retaliation against a Shi'ite assassination attempt. His "crimes against humanity" weren't allowed to be brought to bear, and I suspect this might have something to do with it.


    Does the claim that it was retaliation for an assassination attempt make his response any the less a crime? That the numbers involved were less than in other charges lined up for him to answer does not diminish the appalling nature of what was done.

    And "lawful" or not, it takes some pretty totalitarian moral assumptions in and of itself to coherently declare that the state somehow transcends the moral restrictions individuals (or "us mere mortals", I should say) are bound by.


    As has been said many times before, you or I are entitled to kill in self-defence if there is no reasonable alternative. In addition, police are permitted to kill to prevent the commission of another offence if there is no reasonable alternative. Members of the armed forces have a positive duty to kill enemy soldiers in time of war.

    And, personally, I would have no problem with killing someone who I was satisfied had murdered a relative or friend of mine if there were no system of justice to take action against the offender on my behalf.

    The prohibition against killing is not absolute.

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  13. Larry Moran said...
    Ian H Spedding asks,

    "So you see no moral distinction between the lawful execution of a criminal convicted in open court of the most appalling crimes and the mass murders of innocent men, women and children by a ruthless terrorist?"

    The very fact that you ask such a stupid question means that you have lost your moral compass. Try to get it back before it's too late.


    My moral compass is pointing true, thank you very much. Yours is the one that seems to be spinning.

    So how would you define justice?

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  14. US involvement in Iraq is not in question but it has no bearing on whether Saddam was guilty of the crimes of which he was accused

    That's the thing -- he was accused of a tiny fraction of the crimes he committed, leaving things such as the gassing of some 5,000 Kurds in a limbo which tells those Kurds "who cares about you?". I'd like to have seen him charged with all or most of his crimes, but doing so would also impliocate those people who helped him (as it should if you actually want justice instead of a coverup).

    So the bottom line is that those who are satisfied with the trial and execution really care more about a coverup of Saddam's accomplices than they do about justice.

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  15. Ian H Spedding FCD: "We say - and most would agree - that justice should be done and should be seen to be done. On those grounds alone there is a case for public executions."

    The process did not provide justice, but revenge.

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  16. The prohibition against killing is not absolute.

    I never said it was. I said that revenge wasn't a valid motive or justification for killing. Try to leave to strawmen at the door.

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  17. Oh, and by the way, pointing out U.S. involvement was not intended to exonerate Saddam, but to emphasize the fact that this was hardly "justice", it was a show trial intended to entertain armchair warmongers in America.

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  18. Re Zachriel

    Wasn't victors' justice what was done at the Nuremberg war crime trials? Several folks were hung after being convicted at those trials (Herman Goering committed suicide to avoid hanging).

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  19. slc: "Wasn't victors' justice what was done at the Nuremberg war crime trials? Several folks were hung after being convicted at those trials."

    The danger at Nuremberg was always that the trials would be seen as victors' justice. The international composition of the tribunals and the meticulous nature of the trial procedure meant that most of the world, and history, have viewed Nuremburg as a fair dispensation. And most importantly, the trials were a vehicle to make the truth known. Nuremberg strengthened the international legal system and put into place basic principles concerning war crimes.

    Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. The government is entirely corrupt. Saddam did not receive a fair trial, nor did most of the victims have a chance to see justice done in their cases or for the truth to be discovered at trial.

    They do have their revenge, though.

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  20. Ian H Spedding says,

    My moral compass is pointing true, thank you very much. Yours is the one that seems to be spinning.

    My version of justice does not involve killing people. That's not justice; it's vengence and it's barbaric.

    Your morality condones killing (execution) in your name and calling it "justice." I can distinguish between state sponsored killing after a trial and the mass murder of innocent children but the distinction is only one of degree. Neither is moral as far as I am concerned.

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  21. I'm happy to have found a point of complete agreement with Larry. We can't have both a civilized society and capital punishment. Most of the developed world already acknowledges that. Maybe too much of Ian's morality was developed by watching American movies -- the revenge theme remains strong in them.

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  22. Anonymous said...

    So the bottom line is that those who are satisfied with the trial and execution really care more about a coverup of Saddam's accomplices than they do about justice.


    Which accomplices are we talking about here?

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  23. Zachriel said...
    Ian H Spedding FCD: "We say - and most would agree - that justice should be done and should be seen to be done. On those grounds alone there is a case for public executions."

    The process did not provide justice, but revenge


    What is justice other than institutionalised revenge?

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  24. Tyler DiPietro said...
    "The prohibition against killing is not absolute."

    I never said it was. I said that revenge wasn't a valid motive or justification for killing. Try to leave to strawmen at the door.


    One more time: what is justice other than institutionalised revenge?

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  25. Tyler DiPietro said...
    Oh, and by the way, pointing out U.S. involvement was not intended to exonerate Saddam, but to emphasize the fact that this was hardly "justice", it was a show trial intended to entertain armchair warmongers in America.


    Saddam was tried and convicted in an Iraqi court for crimes committed in Iraq at his behest when he was head of state. The Iraqi courts had jurisdiction. And he hardly behaved like the sort of broken submissive mouthing scripted confessions normally seen in show trials.

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  26. SLC said...
    Re Zachriel

    Wasn't victors' justice what was done at the Nuremberg war crime trials? Several folks were hung after being convicted at those trials (Herman Goering committed suicide to avoid hanging).


    The Nuremberg trials were criticised by senior US judges as being victor's justice and for making up law and applying it retrospectively.

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  27. Larry Moran said...
    Ian H Spedding says,

    "My moral compass is pointing true, thank you very much. Yours is the one that seems to be spinning."

    My version of justice does not involve killing people. That's not justice; it's vengence and it's barbaric.


    Very well, you've said what your version of justice doesn't involve. Now, tell us what it does involve.

    And tell me that the various systems of justice are not institutionalised revenge to some extent.

    Your morality condones killing (execution) in your name and calling it "justice." I can distinguish between state sponsored killing after a trial and the mass murder of innocent children but the distinction is only one of degree. Neither is moral as far as I am concerned.

    I don't view execution as being done in my name but rather by society on behalf of the victim or victims since, in my view, they are what justice is primarily about.

    And I find it ironic to be lectured about the morality of killing by scientists who blithely sacrifice large numbers of animals - of other species - in the name of research and who have no qualms about killing large numbers of human fetuses just to save women from the inconvenience and admitted discomfort of pregnancy and childbirth.

    Unless, of course, you can show that the animals and human fetuses are not truly alive.

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  28. AndyS said...
    I'm happy to have found a point of complete agreement with Larry. We can't have both a civilized society and capital punishment.


    And I say you cannot have a just society without capital punishment.

    Most of the developed world already acknowledges that.

    How much of the developed world has ever been asked its opinion on the subject? In the UK, the death penalty was abolished by Act of Parliament, even though opinion polls then, as now, showed a majority of the general public were in favour of it. The issue was never put before the British people in the form of a referendum.

    Maybe too much of Ian's morality was developed by watching American movies -- the revenge theme remains strong in them.

    No, I believe in the principle that is already embodied to some extent in current sentencing practice of proportionality - "let the punishment fit the crime". My argument is that, carried through to its logical conclusion, the principle requires that the worst crimes incur the most severe punishments - in other words, the approriate sentence for murder is death.

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  29. Ian H Spedding: "What is justice other than institutionalised revenge?"

    The determination of truth. A balancing of the scales. Social reconciliation by the wise application of forbearance and mercy.

    If every death requires a death, then the killing never ends. If revenge is the purpose, then the judge is the next to be judged.

    There is more to justice than just revenge.

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  30. More graphically, by all accounts Saddam should be tortured and murdered thousands of times. As that is not possible, then perhaps extended torture done publicly over several years would be "just".

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  31. Ian (Spedding):

    Given your previous pronouncements on the safeguards that you agree to be necessary before capital punishment should be administered, how can you possibly support the hanging of Saddam Hussein?

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  32. Zachriel said...
    Ian H Spedding: "What is justice other than institutionalised revenge?"

    The determination of truth. A balancing of the scales. Social reconciliation by the wise application of forbearance and mercy.


    Thank you, Zachriel, I'm glad someone is prepared to spell out what they mean by justice.

    And I would agree with what you say here. I just believe that if you allow that retribution or punishment is a part of justice then proportionality requires that you retain the death penalty for the very worst offences.

    If every death requires a death, then the killing never ends. If revenge is the purpose, then the judge is the next to be judged.

    I don't believe that every death requires a death but there are some that are so heinous that capital punishment is the only sentence that is a severe enough retribution for what was done to the victim.

    If you reject the death penalty then that is the first step along the road which leads to the decoupling of sentencing severity from the gravity of the crime. In effect, the victims are treated as more as if they are accident victims; they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Offenders are viewed more as patients, victims themselves of whatever disorder is diagnosed as having caused them to act as they did and no blame attaches.

    There is more to justice than just revenge.

    I agree, but revenge or retribution is still a part of jutice.

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  33. Zachriel said...
    More graphically, by all accounts Saddam should be tortured and murdered thousands of times. As that is not possible, then perhaps extended torture done publicly over several years would be "just".


    I realize that the massacre of thousands as in 9/11 is more shocking than the killing of half-a-dozen by a roadside bomb but I would argue that before the law all victims are equal. If Saddam had murdered just one person in the way that thousands died, he should still have been executed. His hanging should stand as proper retribution for all those that died at his hands or at his behest.

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  34. Robin Levett said...
    Ian (Spedding):

    Given your previous pronouncements on the safeguards that you agree to be necessary before capital punishment should be administered, how can you possibly support the hanging of Saddam Hussein?


    Hallo, Robin, I thought you'd pop up sooner or later.

    Yes, in a perfect world, Saddam's case should have been automatically appealed and reviewed.

    That said, if - as appears to be the case - there is overwhelming evidence that Saddam was responsible for some terrible murders then hanging was an appropriate sentence.

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  35. Ian, you said:

    That said, if - as appears to be the case - there is overwhelming evidence that Saddam was responsible for some terrible murders then hanging was an appropriate sentence.

    So if you "know" that the defendant was guilty there's no need for the safeguards you've proposed in the past?

    You are aware that the murders of which Saddam was convicted were executions following conviction by the revolutionary court of involvement in an assassination attempt against Hussein, aren't you? So it's all right for the current Iraqi court to pass death sentences, but not Saddam's courts?

    Again, if we accept your claim that judicial killing is a species of self-defence by the state, what could be more self-defensive than action taken in defence of the head of state?

    As to the overwhelming evidence, there may or may not have been such. Bear in mind, however that in this case three defence lawyers were murdered by death squads not unconnected with those in power; there was evidence that some of the victims weren't even dead; defence witnesses were, prior to the conviction, arrested and charged with perjury for contradicting the prosecution evidence (in particular as to the health of the victims); at least one prosecution witness was shown to have perjured himself, although the judge tried to refuse to allow the evidence in; and the conduct of the trial was decsribed as "flawed" by the same human rights organisations that had been trying to draw the attention of the West to Saddam's abuses while he remained "our sonofabitch".

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  36. Robin Levett said...
    Ian, you said:

    "That said, if - as appears to be the case - there is overwhelming evidence that Saddam was responsible for some terrible murders then hanging was an appropriate sentence."

    So if you "know" that the defendant was guilty there's no need for the safeguards you've proposed in the past?


    No, I was pointing out that, as always, there are two distinct questions at issue. First, is there sufficient evidence of guilt to support a sentence of death and, second, if there is, is capital punishment appropriate given the nature of the offences.

    You are aware that the murders of which Saddam was convicted were executions following conviction by the revolutionary court of involvement in an assassination attempt against Hussein, aren't you? So it's all right for the current Iraqi court to pass death sentences, but not Saddam's courts?

    ...which raises the fundamental question of the legitimacy of courts. Are you saying there is no difference in kind between the current Iraqi courts and those under Saddam's regime? To take a more extreme example, what were the differences between the Nuremberg trials and those presided over by Roland Freisler in Nazi Germany?

    Again, if we accept your claim that judicial killing is a species of self-defence by the state, what could be more self-defensive than action taken in defence of the head of state?

    My argument for capital punishment is that it is the most appropriate retribution for the ultimate injury of unlawful death suffered by the victim.

    An intention to assassinate a head of state or an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate a head of state should not incur the death penalty although murder charges might be justified if others had died during the attempt.

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  37. Ian:

    I said:

    So if you "know" that the defendant was guilty there's no need for the safeguards you've proposed in the past?

    to which you replied:

    No, I was pointing out that, as always, there are two distinct questions at issue. First, is there sufficient evidence of guilt to support a sentence of death and, second, if there is, is capital punishment appropriate given the nature of the offences.

    Yet, earlier in the thread, you claimed:

    Capital punishment is just in this case

    Even given your support for capital punishment as an instrument of vengeance, surely you must accept that it was inappropriate in this case because the travesty of a trial which Saddam was given could in no way satisfy the safeguards you have previously subscribed to?

    Read the Human Rights Watch report on the trial. It's an eye-opener.

    Again, I said:

    ...if we accept your claim that judicial killing is a species of self-defence by the state, what could be more self-defensive than action taken in defence of the head of state?

    to which you replied:

    My argument for capital punishment is that it is the most appropriate retribution for the ultimate injury of unlawful death suffered by the victim.

    which looks like an argument for pure vengeance to the exclusion of self defence.

    Finally, you said:

    Are you saying there is no difference in kind between the current Iraqi courts and those under Saddam's regime?

    Judging by the HRW report, I'm not sure how different the Iraqi courts now are; the Tribunal certainly gave every appearance of doing the bidding of the government in the course and result of the trial. But that wasn't my point. My point is that once you accept that the state is entitled to take the lives of its own citizens in circumstances which it defines, it is difficult to see at what point in the spectrum between democracy and totalitarianism the state loses that right. Can you tell me?

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  38. Robin Levett said...

    Even given your support for capital punishment as an instrument of vengeance, surely you must accept that it was inappropriate in this case because the travesty of a trial which Saddam was given could in no way satisfy the safeguards you have previously subscribed to

    Read the Human Rights Watch report on the trial. It's an eye-opener.


    Yes, having read the report, on the face of it, that trial fell far short of what would have been necessary to reach a guilty verdict safe enough to support the death penalty.

    Even so, it does not alter my view that there are offences for which the death is the only appropriate penalty.

    which looks like an argument for pure vengeance to the exclusion of self defence.

    The only problem I have with 'vengeance' or 'revenge' is that, for me, the words do not carry any connotation of proportionality of response which is why I prefer 'retribution'. But I still believe that, at root, justice is a form of institutionalised revenge and we would do well to remember that.

    Judging by the HRW report, I'm not sure how different the Iraqi courts now are; the Tribunal certainly gave every appearance of doing the bidding of the government in the course and result of the trial. But that wasn't my point. My point is that once you accept that the state is entitled to take the lives of its own citizens in circumstances which it defines, it is difficult to see at what point in the spectrum between democracy and totalitarianism the state loses that right. Can you tell me?

    If by "state" you are referring to the governing political and administrative apparatus rather than the society as a whole, then its right to impose the death penalty will depend on the extent to which it reflects the views of that society. A dictatorship cannot claim that support because it never submits itself to the will of the people. Equally, a state that dispenses with the death penalty without having taken the views of its people has no justification for its action.

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