Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Death of the Death Penalty

In Norway, the Anders Breivik trial has entered a few days worth of fascist blather into the court's records, into the world's news reports, and can never result in true justice for the 77 people killed by that white supremacist psychopath. 

There are lesser men in the USA, killing only one or two people, who have gotten the death penalty and had it actually carried out. There are serial killers who have killed dozens of people who have only life terms, although sometimes their lives in prison are not long -- even criminals have limits to what behavior they can accept from their cellmates.

There are wars all around the world, mass murderers who ache to use "WMDs" of whatever kind to inflict their hatred or sense of "justice" on their enemies. The 9-11 bombings by Islamists seems little more than sheer murder when carried out against some 3000 people who had no dog in the fight. In addition to a few actual soldiers or politicians in the Pentagon, thousands of uninvolved men, women and children were mercilessly slaughtered in the "name of Allah", whatever that is supposed to mean. 

In response, in the dozen years since, as is our habit our soldiers have employed ever more deadly weapons to kill the enemy, or at least their Islamist protectors. Although I am not aware of any single attack by our own forces which has killed 3000 people at once, there have been thousands of equally innocent men, women and children killed via the massive air campaigns, artillery bombardments, machine guns, mines, and so forth, that our soldiers use to seek and destroy the "terrorists".

I am not a pacifist in the strictest sense, whereby I would rather die than lift a finger in defense of my home. That seems untenable in a world where violence has molded every creature that exists. Yet I would like to reserve warfare to those situations which truly deserve it. If there is some existential threat to our home due to hordes of maniacal religious extremists building terror weapons as fast as they can, well then by all means put them down with whatever weapons are necessary (within reason). 

I am very glad we were able to "take out" Osama Bin Laden, and only hope that many others like him are also similarly disposed. Yet I am not happy to kill children and women whom many of those like Bin Laden surround themselves with.

A person sitting in an air conditioned room at a computer terminal can pilot one or more UAVs over any place on Earth and guide highly destructive bombs into the enemy's bathroom windows. If those bombs kill innocents, as often happens, that is considered a mere side effect of combat. It is not immediately considered a crime. However that same act can be repeated time and again, where some small number of terrorists are taken out for every larger number of innocent bystanders. At some point the "mere side effect" becomes a criminal event -- certainly not of any higher morality than the tactics of a terrorist.

So, for a country who wages war on this kind of scale, as we do, then the capital punishment of our own criminals does not seem any worse, and seems even a more humane thing in comparison. Whereas we might (usually) prove the guilt of the executed prisoner, we do not always prove the guilt of those killed with rockets or bombs from UAVs. For a criminal like Anders Breivik, whose murders cannot be considered anything but ghastly, the Norwegian system of weak punishments is puzzling to those in the USA. I can understand that puzzlement.

Yet, our country is not Norway. They are the ones who decided their laws, however strange they may seem to us. If they decide that prisoners should never be executed, regardless of the heinous nature of their crimes, then so be it. Many states of the USA also refuse to use capital punishment, for the very same reasons as Norway. Yet most of our states have far more severe prison terms, such as life without parole, ninety nine years plus one day, and even multiple hundred years (just to make damn sure they don't get out, no way, no how.) 

The criminal Jeffrey Dahmer was a cannibalistic sexual predator in the USA who murdered many young men in hideous ways. Of course he was given a harsh, life-without-parole prison sentence. But not too long into that sentence he was killed by another inmate. So much for leniency or "liberal elitism". If we were truly liberal elites we would have provided round the clock guards to prevent such an outcome.

I know very little about the Norwegian prison system, nor how one is protected from violence or other barbaric events in their prisons. It could be that such a person, hated by so many in that country, would be considered some kind of celebrity amongst other inmates. I have no idea. But I'll bet that the brutality of his crimes, especially those against helpless children trapped on an island, will insure that he is kept caged like a psychopath for his entire remaining life, one way or another.

I do think that, like Norway, the USA might eventually eliminate death penalties. If my own family member were murdered in some heinous manner, then there is no way I would want such a criminal to go free, and I might wish to kill them myself in revenge. But unless the laws can give me that right, then no one should have the right. Allowing the state to merely administer some dreamy injection as a trade for brutally torturing and murdering children does not seem like equity. Nothing the state could do would ever bring justice to families whose children's lives have been snuffed. 

The USA has laws against "cruel and unusual" punishments, which conjures images of impalement, burning, mutilation, crucifixion and other horrible manners of execution. There is no "eye for an eye" justice here, unless one carries it out themselves. There are soldiers who do such things, and prison inmates that obviously do such things, and our TV and movie screens abound with cops or other agents administering such forms of justice. It seems to be a human psychological need to assure that equal measures are somehow invoked for those who are wronged.

Yet, unless you can kill somebody 77 times, there is no such equal measure, in Norway or in any other place. Like Nero, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Vlad and so many others, mass murderers can never be punished adequately. The families of those 77 in Norway can only try to live their lives some other way, and banish the memory of their loved one's murderer from their minds. If that is even possible.

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