I haven’t really been following this story, although it has obviously come across my radar the past several days because it’s all the newsdogs can talk about. So I thought I would put my two cents in, not on the specifics about Saddam Hussein, his trial, his execution, etc. – but rather on the subject of capital punishment.
Here in Canada, we don’t have capital punishment at all. We’re even careful (usually) about extradition to countries that do practice capital punishment. However, in my family, my parents do believe in the death penalty. Their sense of justice is taken from the bible – the ten commandments, an eye for an eye. So this is the climate I grew up in: conflicted.
I have never been conflicted about the death penalty. I have always thought it to be wrong wrong wrong. Capital punishment is state-sanctioned murder. If murder is wrong, then it is wrong for anyone, including the government. How is it an example to the people for their government to be murderers? Killing is not killing, by any means: I have no problem with killing in self-defense if it is necessary. And although I don’t agree with the action, I do understand what drives some people to vigilante murder. But I do have a problem with the idea of vigilante justice running a justice system.
Years ago, I discussed the statistics of the time with my father, about how many people in the US had been put to death and it was discovered they were innocent. I can’t recall it now, and it is not the bulk of my position now, but it was a useful “in” to opening the discussion with my dad. He did change his position slightly – but he still thinks that the “real” monsters should be executed – like Saddam. Every time a high profile psychopath comes along, like Jeffrey Dahmer or Paul Bernardo, he says something like, “I don’t believe in the death penalty, but for this guy…” Lately, he has simply asked me, “Do you support the death penalty for ______________?” My answer is always no.
No matter what a person has done, I do not believe that execution is the correct response from any justice system. Where is the line drawn? How many killings/rapes/tortures should be the limit? Is the victim’s identity important? The killer’s/rapist’s/torturer’s? How is it decided who will receive the death penalty and who will not? How often does politics play into that decision?
Since our justice system in north america has been shown to be one arm of a racist governmental monster, incarcerating people of colour in staggering disproportion and keeping people of colour in situations of desperation and poverty, when our justice systems includes capital punishment it means people of colour are executed by our governments more often than white people. Not only are people of colour kept down, denied opportunities, and pushed into crimes of desperation, they are then killed for it. And this is justice?
The other day, my father asked me if I support the death penalty for Saddam, a man who has killed or ordered the killing of thousands of people. My answer was no. Then something happened that has never happened before in these discussions – I was accused of supporting the terrible deeds that Saddam had committed during his lifetime by refusing to acknowledge that he deserved to die for those actions. I quickly caught the logical error for my father, explained that no indeed, I did not support anything the man had done by holding to the principle that capital punishment is state-sanctioned murder and it was therefore wrong to kill Saddam for his crimes.
Support for the death penalty is conversely and inconsistently related to ableism. The general principle in ableism is that it is better to be dead than live a certain kind of life – a life in a (dis)abled body. Yet the principle with the death penalty is that death is the ultimate punishment, and so it is better to live any kind of life than to die. american culture practices both of these things; the value placed on life is shifty and unstable. At the same moment a healthy person who is a murderer is executed, a (dis)abled fetus could be evacuated.* The two conflicting principles are put into practice simultaneously. If it is better to die than to live a life of constrained freedom (as in a (dis)abled body – which is entirely environmental and can be remedied fairly easily with an environment suited to the ability of the person in question), doesn’t it make more sense to keep the murderer alive in order to punish him/her more?
I’m not saying that it is better to die than to live a life of constrained freedom, or that living a life of constrained freedom is punishment, just pointing out the inconsistency in applying both of these principles. (Dis)abled lives are not given enough value, while the lives of criminals are given, in a theoretical way, too much.
There is too much inconsistency with the death penalty. It is illogical that the very crimes for which a person is executed should be the form of punishment for those crimes. If killing another person (outside of self-defense) is wrong, then killing another person is wrong. Period. Even Saddam.
Here’s what Rev. Jesse Jackson had to say about the execution. I agree 100%:
It will not increase our moral authority in the world. … Saddam’s heinous crimes against humanity can never be diminished, but he was our ally while he was doing it. … Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth will make us blind and disfigured. … Saddam as a war trophy only deepens the catastrophe to which we are indelibly linked.”
*For the record, while I am for a woman’s right to abort any fetus she does not want to carry at any time during her pregnancy, I do not support the wide-spread social practice of aborting fetuses for the sole purpose of eliminating (dis)abled bodies.*