Of late, I have discussed the death penalty. More specifically, I came out in favor of it for Zacarias Moussaoui and Saddam Hussein (a real stretch on both counts), and for the summary execution of Saddam. That brought up the usual disagreements, in particular the “making a martyr out of them” theory. “lunacy” quite effectively shredded that argument by mentionind Uday and Qusay Hussein, but I really think the issue deserves more attention.
Dead terrorists and dictators have quite a few things to recommend them.
1) They won’t ever plot or act again. Very few corpses commit crimes against humanity. In fact, they tend to renounce composing plots and schemes in favor of de-composing.
2) They tend to make lousy bargaining chips. Recently, a German terrorist who killed American sailor Robert Stethem during a hijacking was released from prison. While not officially stated, it is widely believed that he was traded as a concession to other terrorists. But if someone kidnaps some Americans and wants us to turn over Moussaoui’s rotting corpse, fine.
3) They make
rotting rotten political bargaining chips. A dead terrorist may somehow win a pardon (Dr. Mudd won his pardon about a century after he was falsely convicted in the Lincoln assassination), but will never gain their freedom.
4) They will never be the subject of sympathetic interviews, sob-stories, and gain renown among the elites as “wrongfully oppressed” victims. Does the name Mumia Abu-Jamal ring any bells?
5) There will be no endless string of appeals, hearings, and the like. The families of their victims will be spared the endless recaps of how their loved ones were killed. They will no longer suck up scarce resources in keeping their worthless lives going.
On the other hand, sometimes the death of someone leads to major upheaval, and to great triumphs for the cause they stood for. I’ve heard something like that happened about 2,000 years ago, and something kinda similar happened in 1968. But that’s only two incidents in two millenia, and in both cases they were men of peace, not of violence — and the changes their deaths brought about were pretty good ones.
Now, I’m not calling for the wholesale execution of criminals. But there are those whose crimes are so beyond the pale that they merit death, and in the worst of cases (such as Saddam) the trial is a waste. They literally have no reason to continue living and the sooner they are gone, the sooner the rest of the world can hope to move on and get over their evil.