Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Capital Punishment (Briefly) Revisited

By Jim Glover

The Bush Crime Syndicate has me rethinking the death penalty..

Bush himself, as you know, is a big fan of it. During his relatively short stint as Texas Governor, he denied 152 clemencies, which is to say 152 people were killed by the state under his "leaderhsip." That made him the nation’s all-time leading politician-executioner [1].

Bush even seemed to get enjoyment from at least one execution, that of Faye Tucker. Her case came up in a Bush interview for “TALK” magazine. Bush, it was reported, riffed into an imitation of Tucker begging for mercy. He pursed his lips in mock desperation. Then, “please don’t kill me,” he said, in a put-on whiney voice[2].

Bush was aided in all this by the now U.S. Attorney General, Alberto (the Geneva Conventions are “quaint”) Gonzales. Gonzales served as Bush’s legal counsel in Texas. He wrote confidential memos for Bush regarding clemency appeal cases. Journalist Alan Berlow gained access to 57 of these memos. In a 2003 article for the “Atlantic Monthly”, Berlow said that “the memoranda suggest that Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise Bush of some of the most salient issues in the cases at hand [3]”.

Thus, working together, George and Alberto made state-sponsored death happen. And now, just a few years later, we clearly have a federal administration that endorses liberal applications of capital punishment.

All this makes me wonder if we should not indeed have a death penalty, but only for one especially heinous kind of act. That, of course, would be war crimes. War criminals, after all, make those whom we call serial killers look inconsequential. Our most famous ones, to the best of our knowledge, committed murders whose numbers read as follows:

Ted Bundy: Confessed to 30, MAY have killed up to 100 [4]

Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway: Estimated killed 50 [5]

Jeffrey Dahmer: 17 [6]

By comparison, an absolute minimum of 24,865 civilians were killed in the first two years of our illegal Iraq invasion. That’s a minimum because it’s a number carefully compiled by “Iraq Body Count,” which only includes known individuals whose deaths are reported in at least two independent news reports [7].


Like to get more specific? IBC also reports that U.S. led forces accounted for 37 percent of the 24,865 civilians killed. That works out to a DIRECT serial murdering of 9,200 civilians by the U.S. in two years [8]

And that, of course, does not count the several thousand civilians killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Nor the hundreds of thousands (including a disproportionate number of children) who have died from illnesses directly related to our so-called sanctions and deliberate destroying of Iraqi agriculture, plumbing, sewage treatment facilities, and other key infrastructure[9].

The above-mentioned mass murder, furthermore, was done for bogus reasons. Even the New York Times and Washington Post are finally having to admit it. And so it easily follows that the usual suspects – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, at al – are mass murderers of the worst kind. If a death penalty is NOT imposed for their kind of murder, then surely it should never be for any crime.

There are several models for implementing this. One of course is the Nuremburg Trials, where the criminals were hung virtually on the spot as soon as the trials finished.

The trouble there was that it was mainly the Americans, British, and Russians who tried the Germans. This was hypocritical, of course, in light of the crimes the Allied forces had themselves committed. Also, it denied the German people the chance to make their own decisions, get their own revenge even, on a few of the men who brought such darkness upon them.

Far better, I think, for the criminals’ own countrymen to make the call. The Italians, for example, addressed the matter most directly. According to the official story, their chief war criminal, Mussolini, was captured by an armed group of Communist Italian “Partisans” (resistors). He was promptly executed by gun shot, then hung upside down along with several other Fascist leaders for the enjoyment of the rest of the Italian people to whom he had caused so much disgrace, suffering, and loss of life [10].

I’m not recommending such vigilantism. But you might be surprised at some famous ethicists who hinted at it. Thoreau, for example, in Walden, refers to the exploited workers who built the Great Pyramids. He finds it remarkable

“that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs [11]”.

Henry is not exactly advocating such mob-driven capital punishment. But he sure seems to have, at some level, a sympathy toward it.

Then there’s the Enlightenment giant, Voltaire. His most famous novel, “Candide,” rings rather familiar today. It was a kind of protest against the Catholic Church’s response to the death of several thousand Spaniards in an earthquake in Lisbon.

The Bishops had decided that it was the victims' own fault -- for sinning so much.

And Voltaire’s most famous line, perhaps, is that humans will never be free until
“the last king is strangled with the guts of the last priest [12]”. Much like Thoreau, he’s not exactly endorsing such violent rebellion, but he does wonder if it might not sometimes be justified.

Having said all that, I find myself still unable favor a death penalty even for war crimes. Killing is bad karma, whether it’s state sponsored mass killing (war), mob enforced revenge (making dog meat out of the bastard), or the endgame of a judicial contest (capital punishment).

We should, however, do what needs to be done. We need to get these mass murderers off the street, and lock them away some place where they cannot do any more harm.

[1] http://www.bushkills.com/facts.html
[2] http://www.bushkills.com/record.html

[3] http://weblinks1.epnet.com/citation.asp?tb=1&_ua=bt+TD++%22ATL%22+shn+1+db+aphjnh+bo+B%5F+BDB9&_ug=sid+0EA4B4EF%2D69B7%2D4FB1%2DB2B1%2DA3DAF57E21C4%40sessionmgr2+dbs+aph+cp+1+59D7&_us=frn+21+hd+False+or+Date+fh+False+ss+SO+sm+ES+sl+%2D1+dstb+ES+ri+KAAACBZD00011428+1FAF&_uh=btn+N+6C9C&_uso=%5F1&fn=21&rn=22

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Bundy

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_River_Killer

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_dahmer

[7] http://www.iraqbodycount.net/press/pr12.php

[8] http://www.iraqbodycount.net/press/pr12.php

[9] http://www.unicef.org/emerg/media_9419.html ; http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article6616.htm

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini

[11] http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/thoreau/walden/chapter01c.html

[12] http://www.parkeriters.com/voltaire.htm

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