Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'VE JUST BEEN READING some of the over 200 comments on the death penalty over at Kevin Drum's post about Tookie Williams' execution. Kevin's readers are making some excellent points. Here is a sampling:

"If it's wrong for the individual to kill, it is wrong for the state to kill. The Government should not be in the death business, and certainly not in my name."
"I think the truest argument against the death penalty is that imposing it damages the society that employs it. It is really nothing more than the extension of the moral argument against torture, which has the same effect.

The point here is that it's a mistake to think only of what the perpetrator "deserves", based on his crime. Yes, in a very real sense, a murderer may well "deserve" to be put to death himself. But also in a very real sense someone who tortures and maims an innocent deserves to be so tortured and maimed himself. But we understand that to do so by our government would degrade our society.

Why do people blanch at the idea of execution by firing squad, or by evisceration, even in cases in which the murderer himself performed his murder in equally horrible ways? Because it degrades us. We would feel we have stooped to the level of the murderer.

THAT is the argument, precisely, against the death penalty itself."
"One of the things that always bugs me about death penalty arguements, especially when they are centered around a 'case in point' such as tonight's, is the idea that Tookie Williams is a better candidate for receiving death because he has not admitted his crimes and "shown remorse".

Well, there's two possible reasons for him to not have admitted his crimes and shown remorse. One, he's as asshole who feels no remorse. Or two, he's not admitting the crimes because he's actually innocent!

I know next to nothing about Tookie Wilson, or the evidence against him. I am not arguing his guilt or innocence. I'm saying that the lack of a confession makes me very hesitant about a death sentence; knowing, really knowing, that the guy is guilty makes me more likely to go along with capital punishment in a given case (leaving aside the very large question of coerced confessions).

But the public as a whole seems to view it exactly opposite to me. The lack of a confession (and lack of certainty of guilt) is reason to withhold clemency and administer death, but confession and remorse (and their certainty of guilt) is mitigation, and increases one's chances for clemency.

Joseph Heller to the white curtesy phone. Paging Mr. Joseph Heller!"
"A civilized country should not have the death penalty."

That last one sums it up nicely.

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