Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tsarnaev should die


     When I heard that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been sentenced to death for the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, my immediate, unfiltered reaction was "good." I don't think that puts me too far out of the mainstream of American thought.
    That "good" comes despite my opposition to the death penalty
    Generally.
    But not in this case.
    Why? 
    What's the difference?
    If killing is wrong—that's why Tasrnaev's being punished, for murdering three innocent bystanders with the pressure cooker bomb he and his brother built—then isn't it wrong to turn around and kill a killer, even through a deliberative legal process? 
    Good question.
    On one level, the criminal justice system is broken, men are sentenced to death wrongly, as a matter of routine by overzealous prosecutors and colluding cops. It's  skewed against minorities and the poor. If killing is wrong, then the great United States of American should not kill people, for any reason, as an official act. It's bad enough that cops and soldiers kill in the name of society, and how often does that turn out to be error when the smoke clears?
     Let's call that Logic Loop A.
    Logic Loop B goes like this: I'm glad Timothy McVeigh is dead. The Oklahoma City Bomber should not be wondering if there's vanilla cake for dinner, and issuing his occasional manifestos, through his lawyer, explaining why he's glad he blew up the Murrah Federal Building and buried those toddlers alive in the day care center. Society needs a way to express its utter disgust, and jamming him full of poison and letting him die strapped to a gurney just feels right. 
     It's emotional.
     When you look at society's that don't kill such people—Norway sentenced Anders Behring Breivik, the fascist asshat who murdered 77 people, mostly teens, to 21 years in prison—that seems wrong. Justice calls for something more than two decades in a Scandinavian prison. Then again, Norway is Eden compared to the United States, crime-wise, so maybe we should pay more attention to how they do things, and ask ourselves whether killing Tsarnaev feels right because we're a murderous nation of gun nuts who've barely knocked the dust off our Wild West spurs, at least intellectually. Maybe we should worry about this feeling like the right thing. 
     It's a tough judgment call. I can see those who are against capital punishment in any form, far more than I could buy the Texas, kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-'em-out approach to criminal justice. 
      Bottom line, for me, is that executing terrorists is good for society. I can't pretend it has deterrent value. These are not long-range thinkers and, besides, half the time they intend on killing themselves anyway. At some point we have to re-establish that we're a culture with limits, and the need to not randomly kill others for your psycho nihilistic cause is a fairly low bar to set. 
    Regular life is so precious, and sweet, someone who would shatter in on a clear spring day, at a joyous civic event, how should that person be dealt with? You could argue that an application of the mercy and humanity that is at the core of our Western culture, or should be. I could see that. But emotionally it jars for me. I don't want to see TImothy McVeigh, out after 20 years, as dictated by our Norwegian stands of justice, in downtown Northbrook, licking an ice cream cone. Better that McVeigh is in hell, and good news that Tsarnaev will be joining him. Not every decision should be made by cool reason. Sometimes you have to go with your gut.   
  

46 comments:

  1. As long as the death penalty exists, it will be applied unfairly. The law can't say it's a possibility only for those whom we are really, really sure did it and who had excellent lawyers. Scandinavia is a strawman. U.S prisons are not Scandinavian prisons. esire for vengeance is understandable. But that's why civilized societies don't let the bereaved choose the punishment.

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  2. punishment is wrong. set the brother free

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  3. Disagree on this one, NS. I certainly am not going to be picketing nor shedding any tears for the guy, but "It's emotional." and "Sometimes you have to go with your gut." don't cut it for me. Nor does making it seem like it's a choice between execution or him getting out in 20 years, Norwegian-style. Life in prison with no parole may not satisfy your desire to have him sent to Hell A.S.A.P., but it satisfies the societal need for punishment and the maintenance of public safety. I don't believe there are any effective deterrents available, regardless, but for the 72-virgin crew, having to waste away in prison for decades would probably be a more effective deterrent than a prompt execution, anyway. This guy makes a classic poster boy for the death penalty. I get that. But sometimes you have to stick to your principles, whatever your gut is telling you. This country ain't Norway, but it shouldn't be competing with China or Saudi Arabia with regard to jurisprudence, either. IMHO.

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    2. I have to agree with you, Jakash. Just because heinous acts engender a visceral response is no reason to conclude that such a response is a proper one. I see this issue as similar to First Amendnent issues: just as freedom of speech is protected for even the most vile, so too must an anti-death-penalty stance still apply to those who commit the worst crimes.

      I also agree with Philippe below.

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  4. I've never understood how the death penalty could not be considered cruel and unusual. It's definitely unusual. The number of murders that actually carry the sentence is small and the time it takes to carry it out is so long that the definition of usual (habitually or typically occurring or done; customary) does not apply. And killing is cruel, whether it is state sponsored or committed by an individual.

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  5. In this case, Neil, I think you'll eventually change your mind. I too would like to distance myself from the mindset of someone who could kill innocent people to make a political point and say, "Yes, this person does not deserve to live." But I cannot.

    John

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  6. Not everything is so black and white when dealing with beliefs and emotions. Just think if Gacey were still around, he would be giving interviews every few years and people would be interested in bullshit that he would spewing.

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  7. While the bombing was certainly terrible I would not give him the death penalty. If anyone really deserved it,it was Charles Manson. I ithink California had outlawed the death penalty by then. I would not put the worst of the worst to death. I don't know if there is anything to learn as to why people do these terrible deeds. Some people are just plain evil. I have read where where killers have been executed and it still didn't make the families of the victims feel any better. I think it is better to let them rot in prison.

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  8. I'm not a fan of the death penalty, but not because killing is wrong. There is justified taking of life going on every day, in every state, without the process of judicial judgement. My problem is the flawed system that condemns the innocent.

    In this case, there is no doubt. There is a name for people who view other humans as disposable collateral for their sick crimes. They're monsters. McVeigh was a monster, as are the Tsarnaev brothers. Included in this group are the sick bastards who think nothing of imprisoning and torturing their victims, though they may not always kill them, like that animal who imprisoned three young women for over a decade to satisfy his lust. He didn't kill them, but he wasn't any better than Gacy, in my opinion. They're proud to stand as martyrs for their psychotic beliefs or behavior? I see no reason to delay their very well deserved extinction.

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    1. It seems more aggravating when the monster is from some Muslim nation or an illegal that hates us from day one and whose parents didn't belong here. They come here and then exploit and endanger us. They speak of their beloved natons, yet they don't stay there.

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    2. WendyC, The John Wayne Gacy case is an excellent example in support of your, and Mr. Steinberg's position. It became an issue during the strange gubernatorial campaign of Dawn Clark Netsch. Gacy had legions of fans writing letters to him in prison. Gacy corresponded with a select few, who were publicizing the text, when offering the letters for sale. The letters had rather nasty things to say about his victims, and their families. Even Dawn, a staunch supporter for eliminating the death penalty, said she would make an exception for Gacy, if she was governor. But of course, if the legislators pass a law, and the governor signs it into law, there can be no exceptions. With his execution, the families of the victims can be at peace.

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  9. Brevik was sentenced to only 21 years, but Norway doesn't have a higher sentence. They can, and probably will, keep renewing his sentence as they see fit. He won't be out any time soon.

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  10. "Sometimes you have to go with your gut". Isn't that what anti-gay religious people are doing?

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    1. Yes, but in that case, they're hurting innocent people for no good reason, and thus are in the wrong, morally, using strained bits of non-argument like above.

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  11. Using an extreme example like Norway is not non-argument, which is lucky for all

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  12. I emotionally believe that Jon Burge and the CPD torturers should get a lethal injection too. Shouldn't be held to Abu Gharib torturers' standard of no punishment.

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  13. Logic Loop A leaves out the most important part. It's one thing to say "the criminal justice system" convicts innocent people. It's another to deal with the implication of that and acknowledge that if you have a death penalty it WILL result in killing innocent people, likely skewed towards minorities. There's no way to 'draw the line' just to kill the ultra-deserving, no-doubt-about-it cases - the best you can do is minimize them to what you would consider an acceptable level, if you are the kind of person who has an acceptable level above zero. (For the record, I am - at least in theory I could support a death penalty if the criminal justice system had much greater protections built-in, but the resultant death to innocents is the horror that needs to be looked in the eye).

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    1. PS - I'd give drunk drivers who are convicted of DUI's over seven times the death penalty. By time seven, they can give up driving or stop threatening innocent lives, and if they're worried bout a wrongful conviction at time seven, they can stop driving at conviction five or six. Least. Injustice. Ever.

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  14. What he really deserves is to have just his legs blown off, and live like some of his victims. Too many bleeding hearts here and sometimes minorities are in jail because-Surprise, they might really deserve it. Let's see how much taxpayer money is spent on appeals. Notice the general crime rate in Saudi Arabia is quite low, maybe we should follow their leads. They can really set up deterrents. Why be holier than though? Our punishments here don't provide enough deterrent.

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    1. So the U.S. should follow Sharia law?

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    2. not quite or not fully

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  15. Read the John Fountain column in the ST today. He hits the nail on the head.

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  16. Prosecutors in this country have forfeited the right to sentence anyone to death. Just in Illinois, look who has been freed from prison while on death row and look at Rolando Cruz, Kevin Fox, and the Dowaliby case. Staggering criminal activity by inept prosecutors on behalf of "The People of the State of Illinois." No thanks. Don't put my name on your death warrants.

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  17. NS,

    You respond to Phillipe Orleans by concluding "...using strained bits of non-argument like above." I'm not sure whether that refers to the "anti-gay" folks he was referring to, or to all of us who posted above that comment disagreeing with this post.

    Logic Loop A: "If killing is wrong, then the great United States of America should not kill people, for any reason, as an official act."

    Logic Loop B: "I'm glad Timothy McVeigh is dead." "... just feels right." "It's emotional."

    Seems to me that the strained bits of non-argument reside within Logic Loop B.

    Then you state: "Bottom line, for me, is that executing terrorists is good for society." which is a completely unsubstantiated assertion that you decide to hang your hat on.

    I thought that much of the point of this country and its constitution and its laws was to, as best as possible, enable reason to outweigh emotion and faith when it came to dealing with difficult matters of governance. I think you'd admit that Bin Laden got much of what he wanted when he goaded this nation into its dive down the rabbit hole of large-scale military intervention in multiple places after 9/11. Launching wars may have "felt right" at the time, but look at the world we've ended up with. I apologize for my presumptuousness, but it seems to me that you're letting this Boston "monster" cloud your judgment in a similar way. An exception to your long-standing, reasoned disapproval of the death penalty because, in this instance, it makes you feel better? That still sounds like loopy logic to me.

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    1. Well-said, Jakash. I might be able to push toward the, "It feels right but it isn't" argument. But I'm not there yet. This piece is abbreviated, meaning, not as developed as it could be. But that doesn't mean it couldn't be. Saying something "feels right" doesn't mean there aren't also practical arguments as well. I would say that Charles Manson living the past 45 years has been corrosive, glorifying his crimes and personality. That society would have benefited had he been put to death 40 years ago. Society killing people is demonstrably not wrong -- we allow 25,000 people to die every year in support of our value of getting places quickly in cars. We could, as a society, vote for more life by reducing the speed limit to 30 mph everywhere, but that feels wrong, and has the practical argument that more life would be spent driving than would be saved by people not being killed.

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    2. Thanks very much for the thoughtful reply, NS.

      It seems to me that war, or the police killing somebody who is armed and actually shooting at THEM are better examples of justified killing than auto accidents. There's intention involved in those that is absent from a car crash. The purpose of cars is not using them to kill people; fatal accidents are an unfortunate side effect of the general utilization of autos.

      But in war, or in the case of the proper use of police force, the person on the other side is still a threat, for whatever reason, and is trying to kill you. Somebody locked away in Supermax for life is no longer a threat. If he/she were, we'd insist on the execution taking place tomorrow, instead of after ten years of appeals...

      The references to Gacy, above, and yours to Manson, point out bugs in the system, not necessarily primary features, it seems to me. Sadly, yes, certain weirdos may be drawn to communicate with such guys. Am I sorry that Gacy is dead? Of course not. Do I wish that none of his paintings or thoughts had ever received any publicity at all? Sure. Did the messiness and undoubted heartache and fury caused by him having lived in prison until his execution warrant the state ending his life, and keeping intact a system of state executions that apply to other, less sensational cases? I don't think so. Others clearly disagree.

      "Charles Manson living the past 45 years has been corrosive, glorifying his crimes and personality." Perhaps, but had Manson been executed in 1975, people would still read Helter Skelter. Hitler has been dead for 70 years, and there are those who still glorify his crimes and personality. It has more to do with the nature of the people doing the glorifying than with whether the subject of their devotion is alive or not, it seems to me. A martyr is just as good, if not better, for such folks' purposes as a prisoner.

      As with Encyclical, below, I'm right there with you on the emotional front. But I think he/she makes a very good point about not allowing the "power of the anecdote to overwhelm sober judgment."

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    3. Jakash, so many of your posts leave me wishing there was a "like" button here.

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    4. or a dislike one for hairsplitting and showing off

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    5. Or one for pointless snark.

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  18. I don't understand why NS would subject himself to criticism in this way with having all his opinions and thoughts ripped apart or put under a microscope. He must be a glutton for punishment.

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    1. I would guess that he likes stirring up lively debate. Anyone who writes for publication knows he'll get disagreement. And (usually) it doesn't descend into personal attack.

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    2. Yeah, this isn't unpleasant at all. I don't put stuff up here because its the holy truth. In this case, it was my thinking during a particular half hour yesterday. I try to be fluid in my views, that is, not cling to positions and dig in and never change no matter what. This is a subject where, as reflected in the piece, I go back and forth. A good argument like Jakash's has weight. Many issues have no good answer. Take expungement -- the clearing of criminal records. On one hand, felons have a right to change their lives and get jobs. In fact, we demand that of them. On the other, you have a right to know who it is you're employing. How to balance those values? I don't think there is a perfect balance. I originally was going to work that into today's post, but it got cumbersome. I really wanted to raise the issue and step back, precisely because I am so unformed about it. I can see that the general criminal justice capital punishment is a horrendous miscarriage of justice. But I want Timothy McVeigh dead. Those are two very divergent values to try to accommodate.

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  19. And this one example, of a fair trial conducted in full daylight with competent defense attorneys, would provide the justification for how many lower-profile trials without those mitigating factors? The thing about designing a system is that you don't get to just look at individual iterations, you have to contemplate its repetition. If William Tell is such a skilled marksman that he can hit the apple 9 times out of 10, simply looking at the success story -- his son lived! The system works! -- doesn't give you the whole picture. That won't emerge until a couple hundred shots later.

    I'm right there with you on the emotional front -- I'm certainly not going to be crying any tears for the loss of this particular life. But this illustrates the unfortunate power of the anecdote to overwhelm sober judgment. All that we know about the death penalty in practice evaporates in one visceral reaction to one well-told story, and off we go down the rabbit hole to terrible policy.

    We know it's terrible policy by the other facts you mention -- doesn't act as a deterrent, is unevenly applied, sometimes the wrong people are convicted, sends the societal signal that sometimes killing is okay provided you feel strongly about it, etc.

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  20. As usual Charlie Pierce hits it out of the park

    Judging by the punditry, it is the popular "reasonable" liberal position to say that you don't agree with the death penalty, but if you did, Tsarnaev would be the perfect candidate for it. Which is a moral contortionist's masterpiece. Why Tsarnaev and not Rudolph? Or Kaczynski? Why are they somehow less "perfect" candidates for the exercise of national retribution? You start measuring your choices like that and, pretty soon, you need an electron microscope. Nobody is the "perfect" candidate for the death penalty because the death penalty is an abomination in a free society. One by one, the several states are coming to realize this. The federal government is bringing up the rear on the issue. This is disproportionate and grotesque.

    (Also, can we hear again about how we have to keep The Evil Ones locked away at Gitmo because the federal civilian criminal-justice system can't handle them? The same day that Tsarnaev was condemned to death, a former aide to Osama bin Laden was sentenced to life without parole in a New York federal court. In neither case did magical Super Muslims appear to vaporize the walls of the courthouses with their heat vision. And, yes, Lindsey Graham is a hysterical fool.)

    So the system got what it was aiming for all along. Some day, maybe a decade from now, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be killed by the federal government. And Eric Rudolph will still be alive.

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    1. I must give Rahm some credit for firing that racist guy at the Water Dept., though he was a pal.

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  21. Some of you have too much time on your hands, get out a bit

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  22. So true about L. Graham, Sanford.

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  23. With all due respect to others, I believe the death penalty in cases like this does not concern punishment as much as a rejection of this type of criminal. They do not deserve continued life. This is not emotional at all to me. It's acceptance that so heinous a crime must not be tolerated to the point the perpetrator must be given the ultimate sentence, rejected, erased, to show society will not tolerate or forgive extreme acts of abuse, murder or terror. I believe juries in these cases do not come to emotional conclusions, rather what is appropriate under the law concerning the nature of the crime.

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    1. "...a rejection of this type of criminal" is certainly a valid consideration, Wendy. And a solid majority in this country clearly sides with you on this issue.

      Indeed, some should get the "ultimate sentence". It's just that, in the 21st century, in most of the developed, evolved nations that are our peers, the ultimate sentence doesn't involve being executed, nor need it here. Life imprisonment also effectively sends the message that certain crimes will not be tolerated, IMHO. And you seem to have a lot more faith in the objectivity and discernment of, say, the average Texas jury than I do...

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    2. Jakash, my good friend, I don't believe we have evolved to the "ultimate sentence does not include execution", not in this country, and Texas is a good example. We as a society do not believe killing is wrong, as you can see by the vigorous defenses of the NRA and creation of Stand-Your-Ground laws. It's not surprising to me that defenders of the elimination of the death penalty do not cringe at the knowledge Tasrnaev will die. Death is justified and endorsed under the right circumstances by even the meek. At one point, many evolved to the acceptance of military torture during the reactions to 9/11 terrorists attacks, something this country always rejected in the past. This topic is fluid and changes with the times.

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    3. Just speaking for myself, I should clarify that saying I won't cry any tears over this one person's demise is in no way a statement of support for the death penalty. It's merely an admission that my emotions can be swayed. I'm explicitly saying that I have found my emotions, and by implications other people's emotions, to be an unreliable guide when it comes to crafting public policy.

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  24. good point, Wendy

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  25. My view is one mentioned earlier by NS: killing is wrong. It is one of the basest acts and, at its best, the lesser of evils. Therefore, it is something that should not be a codified act of civilized society when alternatives are available. It's not about what individual criminals deserve, which is subjective. (Is murdering a man worse than raping a child, for example?) It's about who we want to be. At its most simplistic, two wrongs don't make a right.

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  26. Seems nuts to me that this guy was half dead when he was captured, so we spent millions to save his life, put him on trial, for what - just to kill him? I say just let him rot in prison the rest of his miserable life.

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.