Re: Nobody Favors Saddam’s Execution

by Andrew C. McCarthy

This brings up an interesting point. 

I was ambivalent at best about the death penalty until I worked on terrorism cases.  Having been in government for many years, and seeing how screwed up (which is to say, human) it can be, I was not thrilled at the machinery of death, an incorrigible penalty, being in the hands of the state.  Also, though I am a lapsed Catholic at best, I remained troubled that there was probably a lesson intended for us in Jesus’ execution at the hands of the state.  I wasn’t convinced there was, or that I was necessarily divining the right lesson, but it was certainly cause for pause. 

Finally, a lot of the bad law prosecutors have to deal with (growing out of the defendants’ rights revolution of the 60′s and 70′s) arises from death penalty cases.  That is, philosophical opposition to the death penalty was so strong that in several cases — there having been in those cases no legal problem with the sentencing proceedings themselves — scrutinizing courts discovered flaws in other aspects of the trials (having nothing specifically to do with capital punishment).  Those discoveries naturally took on constitutional dimension … such that they were then applied to the benefit of every criminal, whether it was a death penalty case or not.  It seemed to me to be way too high a price to pay just to execute the occasional murderer, however, heinous.

National security cases, though, are different.  Someone like Saddam is destabilizing in a war for national survival as long as he lives.  Jihadists, similarly, become much more influential in the jihadist world when they have been convicted for acts of terrorism and are imprisoned. 

Bin Laden, for example, credits the Blind Sheik for the fatwa that authorized the 9/11 attacks — issued in 1996 when the Blind Shiek was in prison serving his life sentence.  Sayyid Nosair became a player among radicals after he killed Meir Kahane in 1990 — and was thus able to inspire and participate in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, from jail.  And bin Laden’s close associate, Mamdou Salim, maimed a prison guard in New York during a hostage-taking/escape attempt, while he was awaiting trial for the 1998 embassy bombings.

These “defendants” are enemy combatants, not just criminals.  Their survival has to be weighed against the safety of the nation, not just individuals they might endanger.  That tilts the scales, heavily in my view, in favor of their execution.