“Capital punishment is a term which indicates muddled thinking.” George Bernard Shaw The “muddled thinking” that Shaw speaks of is the thinking that perpetuates the controversy over capital punishment in the United States today. The impractical concurrence of a theoretical, moral argument and definite, legal application has left all sides in this controversy dissatisfied with the ultimate handling of the issue. There are legitimate ethical and empirical considerations that stand on both the side that favors and on the side that opposes the death penalty. The general incompatibility of these considerations renders them irreconcilable. It is within this condition of irreconcilability that the government must initiate and implement its policies regarding capital punishment. This fixed condition has led to the necessity for and creation of comprises between both sites of this debate, attempting to synthesize the considerations of the two. The contentious issue of the capital punishment was rekindled in the 1970s when, in 1976, the Supreme reinstated the practice after a four-year hiatus. The arguments that comprise much of the legal debate on the issue stem from the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. The eighth reads, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” 1
The final clause of the first section of the fourteenth amendment explains, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 2 The 1976 ruling of Gregg v….
… middle of paper …
… sides, regardless of personal conviction. The inherent incompatibility of the arguments prevents any solution from meeting the expectations and satisfying the moral obligations of all parties. This paradox leads to the need for compromise, in place of reconciliation, in death penalty legislation. The status quo of the American legal system allows legislators to weigh the considerations of each side and come to some practical conclusion for the impractical clash of moral ideologies.
1 “Amendment VIII”. Constitution of the United States.
2 “Amendment XIV”. Constitution of the United States.
3 Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976). United States Supreme Court. Pp. 168-187.
4 “Leviticus”. The Soncino Chumash. Pp. 760.
5 “Capital Punishment 1996”. Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. December 1997. Pp. 3.
The Death Penalty for All Terrorists
Much intelligent discussion of the current security crisis that the United States, and not just the United States, faces has centered on to what extent we and other civilized countries now find ourselves at war — and if indeed we are at war what constraints precepts of natural justice and sound international jurisprudence impose on the retributive military actions that our government, perhaps aided by its allies, is currently contemplating.
This much seems clear and uncontroversial: our immediate enemy (I prescind here from considering those states who, directly or indirectly, sponsor terrorism) is not a sovereign political state, existing within defined territorial boundaries and composed of combatants and non-combatants. It is an international terrorist network, a private army, that has already declared war on the United States, and not merely the United States — and that has already, by all the evidence, demonstrated its determination to wage war, not merely on the US political regime, but on American citizens and civil servants, at home and abroad. Any lingering doubt, especially in the Islamic world, that the Al Qaeda network and its acknowledged leader, Osama bin Laden, was directly responsible for the atrocities of Sept. 11 should have been removed by now with the concurrence of the government of Pakistan in this judgment.
Al Qaeda is not a political state, but it is certainly a band of pathological outlaws; and, it must be noted, Al Qaeda is not strictly speaking waging war: for its direct, deliberate, and intentional taking of the lives of non-combatants, it is engaging rather in a systematic campaign of wanton homicide against, at least, anyone who happens to hold an American passport. Th…
… middle of paper …
…faced with another consideration. That terrorists, particularly terrorist leaders, in prison represent a continuing threat to our society which ordinary criminals, even heads of organized crime families, do not. It is easy for us to imagine the kind of atrocities, now in the name of extorting our government to release bin Laden or others, that members of Al Qaeda still at large might engage in to free him. Therefore, it seems there is a powerful argument, even for those of us who think the state justified in administering capital punishment only in those today practically non-existent cases where state self-defense demands it, that this may well be one of these extremely improbable cases. If this is so, the execution of bin Laden and his collaborators would not be an act of vengeful, cowboy retribution but the discharging of a weighty moral obligation by the state.