Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Why Saddam Deserved To Live

I don't support the death penalty, whatever the crime, whoever the criminal. Seeing as Saddam Hussein was hanged just recently, it's a good time to explain why I will never support it. First I'll outline why I disagree with it generally, then in terms of Saddam.

The death penalty is supported for a variety of reasons, three main ones: 'eye for an eye', protection of society and preventing further crime via deterrence.

The 'eye for an eye attitude' is an ancient one, and not coincidentally barbaric. The idea of fairness is an idea that every human holds on a very primitive level; most complaints arise this way, especially in children (and the ignorant/socialists). I don't agree with the eye for an eye principle mainly because you lower yourself to their level by 'punishing' them for their crimes. Isn't it plainly ironic punishing a murderer by killing them?

Secondly is the idea that killing a criminal who has proved themselves dangerous protects society. It's true that a dead man can't kill again; it's also true that a man in prison for life can't either. Why go to the extreme of killing someone when we have a perfectly good alternative?

The last reason the death penalty is supported is the claim that further violent crimes will be prevented by making the penalties harsher. This claim is not supported by evidence, a study by William Bailey (1998) in Oklahoma found that the death penalty provided no deterrence for murder over the period it was in effect compared to when it wasn't. Indeed it found that murder increased after it was introduced.

The reason that people believe the deterrent effect is quite obviously that people won't risk being caught and killed, but they will risk it for life in prison. This seems logical, but the fact is many murders are in the heat of the moment, unplanned or committed by people who are willing to risk anything. People don't really sit down and think about killing another human.

However, the most important reason for not supporting the death penalty is the imperfection inherent in any justice system. Innocent people will be convicted, guilty people will go free. It's always going to happen.

With the death penalty, there is no turning back. You can't set a dead man free. You can release a man in prison for life. Here again evidence shows this, with 123 people being released on death row since 1973 in the United States. Until we have a perfect justice system, we cannot have a death penalty.

With regards to Saddam. The latter two arguments for the death penalty, protection and deterrence are easily rebutted in this case. It's unlikely Saddam would ever escape imprisonment, and even if he did it's preposterous that he would ever rise to power again. I also doubt that other dictators such as Kim Jong Il are going to be deterred from further totalitarianism after Saddam's execution.

Another point that doesn't really relate to any of the arguments relevant to the debate on the death penalty in general is the effect that Saddam's execution will have on Iraq. As I've said above, it will calm the fears of many Iraqis of Saddam coming back to power, however irrational that fear is. It also is likely to stir violence in the state, Saddam still had many supporters despite his atrocities. Even though the execution was ordered and performed by the Iraqi government, the feeling still will be that this was the United States meddling once again.

The third argument, the idea that the death penalty is a just punishment for heinous crimes, is a stronger one in this case. I hardly doubt Saddam was innocent; his atrocities are well documented and numerous. The question of wether a man should be punished for his crimes by another man, by death especially, is a moral one, which will be answered differently by everyone. Given in this case that his innocence is hardly in doubt, the only real dilemma is wether death is a suitable punishment.

I still do not support Saddam's execution, or murder, whatever term you want to use. He was a bad man, but aren't we for using his methods? The death penalty reeks of barbarianism, primitive emotions ruling the light of reason. The point of having principles like human rights is that they apply to all, not just the model citizen but the psychotic murderer too.

In fact it's the rights of the murderer that need protecting, not the common citizen. No one is going to trample the rights of John Doe.

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