Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Should Tsarnaev Be Executed?

Daniel Payne at The Federalist argues that there's no good argument for putting the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhohkar Tsarnaev to death and that it's "barbaric" to do so. I disagree with him on both counts. Here are a few of the salient passages from his article:
Upon the recent announcement that Dzhohkar Tsarnaev received the death penalty for his crimes in Boston, we were treated to a great many opinions that what would happen to this 21-year-old man was good, and justice: he had killed people, so now he will be killed. “What a relief,” everyone seemed to say. “Now the score will finally be settled.”

I confess to being baffled by this line of argument, chiefly because it seems to have no grasp on the workings of either scores or settling. To settle the score between Tsarnaev and the public — to put everyone back at square one — is not a matter of killing the murderer but raising his three victims from their graves.
I confess to being baffled by this as well. I never heard or read anyone say the things Payne claims "everyone seemed to say." I know of no one who thinks that killing Tsarnaev will "settle the score," and I suspect that Payne doesn't either. I wonder if he's not simply erecting a straw man. Anyway, there are more substantive claims laying ahead of us. He writes:
Tsarnaev should not be put to death. There is no satisfactory reason to execute him, and I am not positive than anyone who supports executing him can articulate a coherent reason for doing so. This is not to say that supporters of the death penalty are arguing in bad faith, only that they are arguing with bad arguments. Payne then goes on to outline some of the bad arguments.

The Catholic Church, which for centuries has acknowledged the legitimacy of the death penalty, has over the years approximated a rather stringent set of criteria for why we might execute a human being, and it is worth studying these to determine what we are going to do. According to the church, capital punishment can be justified on the grounds of either retribution, rehabilitation of the criminal, defense against the criminal, or deterrence of future criminals.

It seems needless to point out that Tsarnaev’s execution will satisfy none of these obligations and that killing him would thus be a pointless endeavor....

I am at a loss as to any other reasons one could give for killing this young man, other than simply out of spite....

There is no case to be made for killing Tsarnaev. Indeed, there was likely no case to be made for the other 1,408 inmates executed in the United States since 1976. The only reason we seem to have for executing another human being in cold blood is that doing so will make us feel a little bit better for a little while.

“What a relief,” people will say. Why?
I doubt many people will say "What a relief," but that aside, I think Payne is wrong to think he has exhausted all the reasons for invoking the death penalty. There's another which I think can be illustrated by the following example: A man attacks and rapes a woman and traumatizes her in the process. There's no doubt of his guilt, and when the sentencing hearing takes place the rapist is given the maximum sentence allowed by law - two months of community service.

If we were to discover that that was the maximum sentence in our society we'd doubtless be outraged at the leniency of it, but why? One reason, of course, is that it's a fundamental principle of justice that the severity of the punishment should be proportional to the severity of the crime, that the worse the crime, the worse the punishment, and that the very worst crimes deserve the very worst punishment.

A corollary to this, I think, is that our outrage at the relatively light sentence given to the rapist in our example is indicative of a lack of value society places on women. The sentence suggests that society believes that forcing women to submit to male sexual impulses is not such a big deal. A society which places a high value on the dignity and well-being of women would affix a severe punishment to the crime of violating them.

A similar argument can be made for the death penalty. Deliberately, maliciously, causing severe bodily injury and death to others is one of the worst crimes a man can commit. To impose anything less than the harshest penalty for doing it is to say, in effect, that the lives he ruined aren't worth taking his own life over.

In other words, contrary to what Payne apparently thinks, a society that refuses to exact the most severe punishment for the very worst crimes is essentially declaring that no one's life is so valuable that even if a murderer robs those we love of their lives the murderer should not be required to pay the ultimate penalty. It is, in fact, to place more value on the life of the murderer than on the life of the victim and is, for that reason, fundamentally unjust.