Sunday, June 20, 2004

*On Terrorism and the Death Penalty*

Bear with me on this.

If, as we take current international law, terrorist are not defined as enemy combatants and hence are not accorded Prisoner of War status (POW) (for if they were, then this entire issue becomes moot) but are, under the Geneva Convention, as combatants in unconventional law 'shall in all circumstances be treated humanely'.

Now, the Death Penalty has already in abolished in the European Union and is under attack in the United States for reasons of being a cruel and unusual punishment. Admittedly, current legal statues acknowledge the difference between this and torture (which is outright banned) but a case could still be made that the death penalty should even so not be permitted as a legitimate instrument or at the very least, be applied consistently (John Kerry supports the death penalty only for convicted terrorist).

While I personally do not condone the death penalty (particularly for reasons of morality i.e. the state should not denigrate itself with the very act it condemns as well as the fact that the judicial system is not perfect), I wonder if this similarly applies to terrorist, domestic or otherwise.

First and foremost is the problem of rehabilitation. Can a person like Timothy McVeigh (who believed that the US Federal Govt was in cahoots with the UN to create a world govt and oppress citizens like him) or Osama bin Laden (who believes that the Christian West is an evil decadent monolith that needs to be put to the sword) ever change their minds to a point sufficient that they could be reintegrated into society and not be expected to commit similar crimes again (recidivism)?

If one cannot avow with any level of certainty that this is possible, then there are basically two choices left to us. One, permanent incarceration, whether in a mental institution on grounds of mental incapacity (the inability to tolerate and accept another viewpoint) or house arrest/prison. The other, of course, is the death penalty.

Do these people qualify for the death penalty under current legal strictures? Obviously yes, mens rea (the intent) and the actual act itself (actus rea) are both met (claiming credit for a terrorist act is a confession). Is it justified? On a purely retributive level, I suppose there similarly can be no doubt, an eye for an eye. And even if this aspect were ignored, are there any other viable alternatives?


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