Saturday, January 6, 2007

What's capital punsihment good for, anyway?

The Blog Elayne Boosler: Execution Etiquette The Huffington Post

So I'm reading about the execution of Saddam Hussein, and it strikes me as odd that everyone is concerned about "taunts" leveled at him during the run up to the actual hanging. As if recording the execution for later broadcast isn't bad enough, people have to remind him he's about to get whacked. I should note here that I personally am 100% opposed to capital punishment, not out of any particular concern for the rights or dignity of mass murderers, but because (a) I don't trust government to get it right 100% of the time and don't like them having the power of God; (b) I don't buy any of the theories as to why capital punishment is necessary; and (c) even if the rationales offered are true, most executions really don't fit the crime anyway. Those reasons are ranked in approximate descending order of importance. My libertarian side doesn't like letting prosecutors and juries have the power of life and death, and death is often too good for the worst of the s***heads on death row. Take Tim McVeigh--the architect of the then-worst terrorist attack on American soil was strapped to a gurney and, as far as we know, given a sedative to go to sleep followed by a chemical cocktail to stop his heart. That was in the summer of 2001, meaning the trousersnake didn't even live long enough to see his masterpiece get bested by a bunch of Arabs that September. I have no idea, actually, if McVeigh was actually a racist or a white supremacist, but I'm sure it still would have burned to get overshadowed in the history books (damn hindsight). I guess the question is whether executing him or leaving him in jail to face eventual historical irrelevance is the better punishment. I have something of a modest proposal to offer...

Near as I can tell, there are two main rationales offered for capital punishment: deterrence and retribution. As far as McVeigh is concerned, deterrence didn't seem to work, as there are still white guys trying to blow shit up in the U.S. So how about the retributive theory? Well, if achieiving closure and healing for the victims of a murdered, tyrant, terrorist, etc. is the true goal, how is it really healing to allow someone to relatively peacefully pass into the beyond? McVeigh basically fell asleep, and Saddam Hussein probably only suffered for a second or two (I haven't seen the video, and I ain't gonna). If we really want justice, how about this: (1) equip some Kurds who survived the original gas attacks in the '80s with chemical suits and lock them in a room with Hussein and a canister of nerve gas; or (2) at a pre-announced time, fly McVeigh in on a helicopter to the site of the Murrah building, hover about ten feet up, toss him out, and let the Hobbesian theory of society take over? This latter idea could even have an additional societal benefit, as whatever pieces of McVeigh's body could be recovered could then be auctioned off to benefit the victims!

On the other hand, maybe we just keep executing people because no one has the cojones to take a stand against it.

Now, this entire post may blow up in my face. It may turn out that the majority of our society thinks this bit a facetiousness is a great idea, and we see a new reality show in which contestants, all victims of violent crime, are given thirty minutes to torture, main, dismember, and otherwise brutalize their assailants in the name of justice. If that's the case, then at least we'd all be more honest about why we have capital punishment.

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