Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Letters on the death penalty

Two letters have appeared in today’s Sydney Morning Herod, both written in opposition to the execution of the Bali bombers:

The crime of the Bali bombers is heinous ("Rudd faces pressure on death penalty", October 21). Their lack of remorse is (to us) a shocking indictment of their religious beliefs. They need to be imprisoned at least until they are no longer a danger to anyone who happens not to be a Muslim. But it would still be wrong - and bad public policy for Indonesia - to execute them. Indonesia and Australia both need governments that are better than murderers.

Geoff Mullen McMahons Point

The impending execution of the Bali bombers will achieve nothing. Australia is opposed to the death penalty, even when fundamentalist Muslims slaughter our families and friends. An eye for an eye is not justice. Let's solve the problems that created these crazed jihadists, and not condone state-sanctioned terrorism.

Michele Grant Ocean Shores
The first one’s assertion that “[t]hey need to be imprisoned at least until they are no longer a danger to anyone who happens not to be a Muslim” is very telling. Clearly Mr. Mullen sees no place for punishment as an end in itself. Most people, one suspects, would not yet be infected deeply enough with utilitarianism as to think that the terrorists ought not to be gaoled for life, even if people oppose the death penalty. But one infers from his letter that Mr. Mullen views imprisonment as nothing more than a means to ends such as crime prevention.

The second person’s assertion that “[a]n eye for an eye is not justice” is most curious; does he or she really not think that there is a due relation between the crime of putting someone’s eye out and the punishment of having the offenders eye put out? Let me hasten to add that I do not approve of such disfigurement as a punishment in the present day, but ‘an eye for an eye’ is certainly true in principle. Furthermore, this person’s utilitarianism is made clear in his or her plea to “solve the problems that created these crazed jihadists, and not condone state-sanctioned terrorism”. So for him or her all that needs to be done is to prevent such crimes from happening in future—a principle that it at the heart of the insidious ‘restorative justice’ ideology.

Unfortunately, neither letter writer elaborates much on the logic underlying their opposition to the death penalty. (For what we are always assured is a ‘principled position’, there sure seems to be a lot of emotionalism involved.) So let me do their work for them. As far as I can tell, there are four possible reasons to oppose the death penalty (though none of them stacks up, of course):

1) One’s definition of justice: the essence of justice is that each person gets what he or she is owed, so that good deeds are appropriately rewarded and bad deeds are appropriately punished. Thus punishment is an end in itself. But the ‘restorative justice’ crowd tries to re-define justice, smuggling into it things that are distinct, indeed separable, from it e.g. rehabilitation, deterrence. But such ends, though worthy, are not essential to justice, hence the death penalty is not opposed to strict justice, but is in fact the very satisfaction of it.

2) The ranking that one accords justice in the hierarchy of virtues: traditionally, justice is one of the cardinal virtues—a virtue on which all other virtues hinge. Death penalty opponents invert the traditional hierarchy and demote justice to a subordinate goal, if indeed it is even any goal at all for them.

3) The due relation between crime and punishment: this is another serious weak point for the death penalty opponents. It is absurd to deny that there is a due relation between taking someone’s life unlawfully and having one’s own life taken in consequence. And the problem is that whereas one need not observe ‘an eye for an eye’ literally for other crimes, in the case of murder there is simply no other combination of temporal punishments that can balance the scales of justice. Though of course, an extreme ‘restorative justice’ supporter would deny that a due relation between crime and punishment is even necessarily desirable.

4) The nature of the act of execution: one might try to argue that, even if execution satisfies the first three criteria, there is something intrinsically wrong about taking someone else’s life. But it is not intrinsically evil to will to take someone else’s life and to carry this out, so long as one does so in one’s capacity as an organ of the State rather than in one’s capacity as a private individual. Otherwise it is inconceivable that there could be any such thing as a just war, though extreme humanistic pacifists do indeed deny this. Execution is not ‘state-sanctioned murder’ or ‘judicial murder’, since the State has the rightful authority to execute its subjects.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
22.X.2008 A.D.


dudleysharp said...

There is also a fundamental flaw in both letters.

One speaks of incarceration until they are no longer a danger and the other says the death penalty achieves nothing.

They go together and both are wrong, from a rational standpoint.

As we know, they are all devoted fascists Islamists, meaning they wish to murder all who don't believe as they do.

Executing them prevents them from spreading their hatred to other inmates, who could otherwise be influenced to become terrorist murderers. Executing them also prevents them from murdering or otherwise harming priosn personel or other prisoners. Execution also prevents any future idiots from releasing these committed murderers, as well as preents them from inspiring a bloody esacpe attempt, which could be successful.

So, far from nothing, execution prevents this remorseless murderers from ever harming or murdering, again.

Regarding, there possible "rehabilitation". Please.

All prisoners face 3 prospects - they can become worse characters, they can stay the same or they can improve. Even improvement, for many prisoners, may only mean that they becoame a bit less dangerous, but very dangerous, nontheless.

However, for dedicated religious terrorists, to get better means to murder more innocents in pursuit of their goals.

Sure, they could become peace loving pacifists but, you know, would you bet your life, or someone's elses, on that?

Cardinal Pole said...

Some good points there, Mr. Sharp; thank you.