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Feeble Effort



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There’s something admirable about the doggedness of Richard Cohen’s opposition to the death penalty, and his willingness to write a column arguing against executing Saddam Hussein. But there are three things I really dislike about this column.

1) “Along with such pariah nations as Sudan, the United States still executes children (under 18) and the mentally feeble — and, inevitably, the innocent.” I don’t think that it can actually be demonstrated that the U.S. has executed an innocent man in 100 years, let alone that it regularly does so. But I’ll take the “inevitably” as a way of softening the apparent empirical claim. But the U.S. executes the “mentally feeble”? Atkins v. Virginia (2002) forbids executing the mentally retarded. Unless Cohen is making some technical distinction between “mentally feeble” and retarded people, he’s just wrong. And I’d figure someone who writes as much about capital punishment as Cohen to know about the 2002 case.

2) Lieberman’s complaining about The Hague because it “sorely lacks a gallows, and for that matter a torture chamber.” That’s just a cheap shot.

3) “In the United States the right of the government to take life is almost universally accepted — if not applauded. In Europe there is no such consensus. That’s because in the past century, much of the continent suffered under fascist or communist governments that routinely murdered their own citizens, often ‘legally.’” Let’s pretend there’s no implicit argument here on the order of the-Nazis-discouraged-smoking-so-discouraging-smoking-is-Nazi-like. Is this really the only explanation for the difference between American and European practices that comes to Cohen’s mind? How about this: European countries are more disposed than America is to letting elites force through policies the populace doesn’t like, and a sizable chunk of the populace is willing to revise its views after the fact. Maybe it has something to do with their experience of fascism, or their susceptibility to it.



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