I have been thinking about death penalty lately. It started with the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, followed by the death of Clifford Olsen and the assassination of Anwar al-Alwaki.
I was upset at the execution of Davis. I am not a death penalty advocate for several reasons. I don’t think vengeance through death will bring any more closure for the victim’s family. I don’t think it is any more of a deterrent than life in prison. I don’t know if it is that much cheaper given the costly appeal process. In most death penalty cases, the person executed is usually some member of a marginalized group. And in many cases we may not be 100% certain that the right guy is being killed.
I have not included the sanctity of human life as an argument.
Many people insist that Davis is guilty and he may very well be. The doubts however were significant enough, not necessarily to set him free, but at least to keep him alive.
But what about Olsen who was clearly guilty, had no hope of rehabilitation and whose crimes were so heinous that it is hard to imagine humans capable of doing such things. I doubt that there was anybody – even whatever family members he may have – who felt anything remotely sympathetic when they heard of his illness and death. Even if we had given him no medical care at the end of his life, his death would still be mild compared to what he inflicted on his eleven victims and their families.
If we had the death penalty, he is the kind of guy we would want to see executed. But imagine if we did have the death penalty at the time of his murder spree. Would he have pled guilty and saved us a prolonged trial? Would the bodies have been recovered? And what of David Milgaard and Donald Marshall who were in jail for murder at the same time? Is it better to have all three alive or all three dead?
Note again that the sanctity of human life is not part of the equation. In fact, is it more torturous to lock someone up for the rest of their life so they can die of cancer or to put them out of that misery as early as possible? There are organizations advocating for the right to allow people suffering terminal illnesses to die with dignity. I am guessing that the people who oppose the death penalty support this option and those that support the death penalty are on the opposite side arguing the sanctity of human life.
And then we get to al-Alwaki and this article. alaskadispatch.com/article/w … -al-awlaki
Now I am even more conflicted. I really don’t have a problem with a government ordering the killing of a terrorist who has planned and is likely planning more terrorist attacks. Is he innocent until proven guilty in a court of law even if we can’t catch him and only have circumstantial evidence which might convict him? How far can we extend the right to self-defence? If we are almost certain that someone is driving to our house to do it and us fatal damage do we have the right to blow up the car before it reaches our street?
Clearly a blanket policy is impossible and a case by case policy makes more sense. I understand the need to take out al-Awaki. I understand the feelings that demand Olsen’s death, but I don’t see the need. And the death of Davis makes no sense to me at all.