Jim Wallis of Sojourners regrets the execution of Saddam Hussein and argues that it is wrong to resort to capital punishment. He states a number of objections which are pretty much summarized in his last two paragraphs. The first is contained in a quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury:
"I think he deserves punishment, and sharp and unequivocal punishment; I don't think that he should be at liberty, but I would say of him what I have to say about anyone who's committed even the most appalling crimes in this country; that I believe the death penalty effectively says 'there is no room for change or repentance'."
How much horror must a man inflict upon people before the Archbishop and Mr. Wallis conclude that whatever change the man undergoes is insignificant by comparison? Saddam had plenty of "room for repentance." He has been feeding people into wood chippers for decades, gassing children and cutting out tongues and torturing people to death for decades. How much time is enough?
The argument that if we only give him time enough he might repent and be saved is a peculiar one. By extension it essentially calls God unjust because He allows people to perish for eternity, and sometimes even causes their deaths, before they've accepted the gospel. It's even more peculiar when offered by someone of Calvinist proclivities who holds that God foreordains who will be lost and who will be saved before they're even born. If Saddam was elected for salvation then he will be saved no matter what the Iraqi government did to him, and if he is to be lost then he will be lost no matter hjow long he lives.
Wallis concludes his piece with this paragraph:
Saddam Hussein, like other murderers before him, was a violent and remorseless man. But by taking his life, we sink to his level. If we truly believe that all human life is created in God's image, then no matter how distorted that life may become, we do not have the right to take it. We simply should not kill to show we are against killing. It is indeed to prefer revenge over justice.
Let's take this a couple of sentences at a time. The second sentence is, to put it politely, inadequate. To put those who support the legal execution of a mass murderer on the same level as the murderer is morally ludicrous. We do not sink to his level by endorsing his execution but rather we make a profound moral statement, i.e. we tell the world that to take the life of innocent people is the very worst crime one can commit and merits the most severe penalty. It is to tell the world that we value innocent life so much that one who wantonly destroys it will be required to pay the highest price that he can pay, the forfeiture of his own life. Conversely, to refuse to exact the highest penalty from one who has butchered and terrorized innocent people is to implicitly say that the lives of his victims are not so precious that their loss justifies the death of their killer.
The third sentence is a logical confusion. How does Wallis get from being made in God's image to being insulated from ever having to forfeit one's own life? What's the connection between the two? Being made in God's image means having rationality, personality, and a sense of justice, etc. It does not mean that one's life is absolutely inviolate.
The fourth sentence simply asserts a moral preference that hangs unsupported by any reasons. By Wallis' logic we should not incarcerate kidnappers nor fine embezzlers, since we simply should not deprive persons of their freedom in order to show that we are against depriving people of their freedom, nor take money from people to show that we are against taking money from people.
In the final sentence he states that an execution is to prefer revenge over justice. This is perhaps the most incredible claim of the lot. What is it about executing a man who has murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people that is unjust? How is it unjust to mete out to someone the same as they have done to others? The Christian obligation to be merciful dictates that we don't torture Saddam but it would certainly not be unjust to do so.
Moreover, even if Wallis is right that the Iraqis were motivated by revenge what is it about revenge that is unjust? There is nothing wrong with revenge, i.e. the desire to see someone who is responsible for an evil be made to pay for that crime. Indeed, revenge is an essential component of justice. Without it there is no motivation to punish criminals at all. The only problem with revenge, and why it is generally disapprobated, is that it is sometimes arrogated by individuals. Revenge is a perfectly acceptable motive, however, for the state and indeed Paul says as much in Romans where he tells us that vengeance is the prerogative of God who employs the state as His agent in the world.RLC