Saturday, May 6, 2006

Should We Have Killed Him?

Personally, I was very happy to hear the jury's verdict in the Zacarias Moussaoui case.  To me this was really not about whether we should have a death penalty or not.  Even if I favored the death penalty, I would have wanted to see it handed down in this case.  Of course, if ever anyone deserved to be put to death, it would be someone who had a hand in the murder of thousands of non-combatants.

Just as an aside, my feelings about the death penalty softened a while ago. I used to be pro-capital punishment.  But, we have far from a perfect justice system.  As long as innocent men are convicted, I think we should avoid using the death penalty, if for no other reason than putting an innocent to death is an unnecessary, irrevokable mistake.  But, that's certainly a moot point in this case.  We all know, beyond the shadow of a doubt (let alone a reasonable doubt) that Moussaoui's guilty.  Also, I oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. But, again, let's assume I favored the death penalty.  Here's why I think it would have been a mistake in this particular case.
I am thrilled with the verdict from a strictly pragmatic POV. Killing Moussaoui would have made him a martyr in the Islamafacist world. His death for "the cause" would have elevated this low-level operative to the lofty status of a martyr.  Why do him that favor?  Killing Moussaoui would make us look like vengeful barbarians to the many civilized societies that opposed the death penalty.  The United States is one of the few developed Western Nations that still has the death penalty.  Such a public display of carrying it out doesn't make us look great in the eyes of our allies who already think they hold the moral high ground on this issue. It's bad international politics. Killing Moussaoui would have made us look more similar to the Islamafacists with their penchant for death.  Their eye for an eye mentality is what keeps things stirred up in the Middle East.  They cannot stop the cycle of violence because someone's always avenging someone else's death.

The death penalty in this country triggers an automatic appeal.  This would be more agony for the families of the victims to go through.  This would give Moussaoui another chance to get off on a technicality and keep him and his cause in the spotlight even longer.  Putting him to death would haved resulted in thousands of protests and massive publicity for years right up until the moment when we pulled the switch and sent him into martyrdom.

For me, this is the best possible outcome.  Hopefully, there will be no grounds for appeal.  Even if there were, I doubt his lawyers would hope for a better outcome.  So, let's hope this is the end of it.



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