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Saddam and the death penalty

with 42 comments

Andrew Leigh is arguing that we should be consistent in our protests against the application of the death penalty to Australians overseas by registering a protest against the application of the death penalty to Saddam Hussein.

This argument misses the point on many levels. As commenters on Andrew’s blog have already pointed out:

  • The protests that the Australian government has registered on behalf of Australian citizens facing the death penalty in other countries is on the simple basis that they are Australian citizens (think of it as their protection agency). Selfish and non-universalistic as it sounds, it is generally accepted that Australian governments have a duty to look out for the legal interests of their citizens travelling in other countries (including by extradition) as long as this is consistent with the performance of other duties. We would have our hands full protesting the execution of non-citizens in other countries which probably numbers in the thousands every year.
  • Quite aside from this, there is a qualitative difference between the actions of a foolish Australian tourist caught smuggling drugs into another countriy and the actions of a war criminal, mass murderer and terrorist. I know not all non-libertarians agree but it is my belief that currently illicit drugs should be legally available anyway. But even someone who doesn’t believe in the ending of insane Prohibitionist policies can see that there is still a big difference between selling drugs to consenting adults and razing Kurdish villages to the ground. To compare the two is worse than insulting to the memory of Saddam’s victims and to the unfortunate Australians that have ended up being executed in countries with drug laws much harsher than ours.
  • But even putting all these considerations aside there is another dimension to this issue. I am not convinced that there is a compelling case for the reintroduction of the death penalty in Australia. Nonetheless I would have no problem with the death penalty being used against war criminals. Are my two views inconsistent? I don’t think so.

    The strongest argument against normalised use of the death penalty in domestic criminal cases, which is what I am not convinced should be reintroduced, is that

  • errors can be made
  • the death penalty is irreversible and more importantly non-compensable if it has been wrongfully applied
  • If not for this consideration, the death penalty can be justified as an efficient deterrent. But there is a strong case for erring on the side of using deterrents that can be almost as effective but which don’t involve the judicial system in being a party to so many horrific errors. But why doesn’t my argument apply just as strongly to wrongful imprisonment? Because wrongful imprisonment is compensable. It may be almost as unfortunate as being wrongfully killed but at least you’re still around to be compensated.

    Let me put it this way. In my opposition to the normalised use of the death penalty, I am making the judgement that:

  • the additional deterrent effect of using the death penalty vs using other non-lethal substitutes is not worth
  • creating a situation where some innocents will be wrongfully killed as opposed to simply being wrongfully imprisoned which is a compensable error.
  • On the other hand, where the death penalty is used in special cases to try war criminals (as it was used in the Nuremberg trials), these considerations do not apply because

  • the number of times such trials will be adjourned is far,far less than the number of trials for possible domestic capital crimes like murder if use of capital punishment were to be renormalised for use against domestic crimes
  • there is especially great scrutiny to ensure the right verdict is reached.
  • Therefore if your sole opposition to the use of the death penalty is the one based on ‘error cost’ (as it is in my case), this is perfectly consistent with not being opposed to its use in extraordinary circumstances such as happened during the Nuremberg trials or as in this case, in the trial of war criminals like Saddam and possibly international terrorist heads.

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    Written by Admin

    November 6, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Posted in Uncategorized

    42 Responses

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    1. Jason:
      The main reason Saddam Hussein will swing very rapidly is that once he is dead, he can’t turn up as a very inconvenient and very talkative star witness at a future trial, inquiry, impeachment hearing or whatever…….

      Graham Bell

      November 6, 2006 at 10:56 pm

    2. Jason,
      Sorry – I have to categorically disagree with you. The only difference between Saddam and any Australian psycopath / sociopath (or other current term for this form of sociological maladjustment) is opportunity. Imposing a higher penalty on that basis is unjust.
      In any case, while I agree that the verdict is just, the appearence is, if anything, more important in this case than most others – and the appearence of this trial was not good. Executing on the basis of such a process merely increases the appearence of judicial murder.
      I would say that, on the basis of the historical record, if anyone deserves to be executed it would be dictators of this type. However, I do not believe the interests of either justice or or deterrence are met by this punishment. Life imprisonment without possibility of release turning him into an old, sorry figure for the future would be a much better option.

      Andrew Reynolds

      November 6, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    3. I take a different view, Jason. I believe that the death penalty is unconscionable in a democracy because in a democracy the state should never have the right or the power take the life of one of its citizens.

      That said, though that is my belief, if I ever met the parents of Anita Cobby I hope I would have the grace to keep quiet about it.

      Rob

      November 6, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    4. It would be fucking grossly insensitive not to hang regime leadership involved in that sort of gratuitous and vindictive mass-murder that Saddam used to get up to.

      Soldier once they lace their fingers behind their head are respected people.

      Terrorists ought to be something quite different.

      But these real bastards that actually seem to take pleasure in gratuitous killing and torturing….

      That go after whole families when they have a problem with just one man.

      That have proffessional rapists on the payroll.

      They would torture children in front of the parents.

      They would restrain a new mother with her baby just out of reach so that she would watch it starve to death and not be able to do anything about it.

      They’d put a four-year-old in a sack full of starving cats.

      Saddam held over as hostages everyones families to every individual in Iraq.

      That is to say the position of each individual is that his entire family were in effect hostage to anything he might himself do.

      Saddam has to die and the Iraqi people should watch.

      And I say this as someone who doesn’t agree with the death penalty even for the worst of civilians.

      And also because I can’t imagine how we could work it so that he could be permanently tricked out for torture with aggrieved family members being able to line up to put him through it until the hurt had subsided somewhat.

      Killing and humiliating mass-murdering regime leadership after a war need not predjudice the new democracies legal system.

      I don’t know about the Captain going down with his ship. But filth like Saddam should have at least had the dignity to go out fighting like his filthy sons.

      If regime leadership of the mass-murdering kind screws with us we should be scrambling over the top eachother just to put them at the end of a rope.

      Because if the come-uppance isn’t directed at them it falls on conscripts and your average Joe less in control of events.

      GMB

      November 7, 2006 at 12:25 am

    5. I broadly agree with Jason.

      I am against the death penalty in Aus for the same reason as Jason.

      And by extention I oppose application of same penalty to Australians in any country, and especially for non-violent crime.

      As for other countries applying their law to their citizens, it’s their business. I may even go as far as say that I don’t like their law, but if a certian law exists, the only way I can support is for the law to be followed. It would rather odd if not illegal if common criminals were hanged but not Saddam.

      Boris

      November 7, 2006 at 2:46 am

    6. I’m with GMB here.

      One wonders why we keep Bryant alive, for example. Of course if we made him turn a handle (like Oscar Wilde in reading Gaol) in his cell for 14 hours a day and whipped him if he he didn’t do enough turns, then that would be OK. In fact, we could solve two problems at once if we eschewed the death penalty and licensed some private school educated sadistic thugs to regularly administer punishment beatings to murderers and rapists. In that way we could allow the licensed thugs to take out their aggression in a socially beneficial manner, and ensure that the criminals received a truly nasty punishment.

      Rococo Liberal

      November 7, 2006 at 7:53 am

    7. the biblical concept of an eye for an eye is about proportionate punishment from which we get let the punishment fit the crime.

      When there is NO doubt a human being has taken the life of another human being wantonly and deliberately then capital punishment fits the crime.

      Deterrence should NEVER enter into this as it is an EVIL concept.
      If one person then commits the same crime then the punishment was not just.

      Bring Back EP at LP

      November 7, 2006 at 8:47 am

    8. Maybe it’s the lawyer talking, but I just can’t countenance the death penalty. The common desire to inflict some sort of cruelty with it (as I saw last night) is very disturbing, and I just don’t think that should be encouraged.

      skepticlawyer

      November 7, 2006 at 9:05 am

    9. populate

      c8to

      November 7, 2006 at 9:12 am

    10. la la la

      c8to

      November 7, 2006 at 9:13 am

    11. I agree with Jason, both on the death penalty for war criminals and on opposition to death penalty for what he calls normalised criminal cases. The war criminal has cost so many lives already that the fey calculus of ‘better that 10 war criminals walk free’ simply does not apply. It is ghoulish to be cheering on someone’s death, but people who stand up for Saddam in the name of opposition to the death penalty are picking the wrong example, wasting their breath and discrediting the whole movement against the death penalty. Amnesty, in particular, whould have pulled their heads in and changed the subject.

      Rococo Liberal undermines his own case when he objects to keeping Bryant alive but is happy to have “some private school educated sadistic thugs” (a better class of thug, eh?) on the payroll.

      The death penalty only ‘deters’ people who wouldn’t commit those sort of crimes anyway, whose only experience with them is watching cop dramas on the ABC where the offender is caught but never tried or sentenced. Any ‘deterrence value’ in the death penalty is more than outweighed these days by the martyrdom/celebrity factor, and the ‘suicide by cop’ where offenders deliberately provoke police into shooting them.

      Andrew Elder

      November 7, 2006 at 9:35 am

    12. Andrew,
      There is no question as to whether 10 war criminals should walk free – he clearly will not. The question is whether the appropriate punishment for his deeds is to hang him by his neck until he is dead.
      Your last paragraph contains nothing in favour of the death penalty – so where is your reasoning?
      .
      Homer,
      An eye for an eye is Old Testament (Exodus 21: 23-27, to be precise) – the new is to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38:39). If you want to use the Bible to inform current law making we should at least reflect its ambiguity. We perhaps also be consistent – Leviticus, the book of laws, also has death as the appropriate punishment for adultery and homosexuality. Eye for an eye? hardly. Lets look at what works in a modern centext.

      Andrew Reynolds

      November 7, 2006 at 11:01 am

    13. Andrew R
      My response would be what is the argument against using the death penalty? What’s so bad about it aside from the ‘ick’ factor. It’s simple and effective and it has a huge deterrent effect. My answer is that the only intellectually serious argument against the death penalty is the error cost argument as I’ve set out. There are also reasons not to expand its use too much because this can dilute the deterrent impact of other penalties and can increase the incentive for the criminal to kill more to avoid apprehension.

      Where this does not apply, there is no reason not to use it for the most serious of crimes.

      BTW aren’t you exaggerating hanging for the effect? Saddam isn’t going to be ‘hung until he is dead’. A trapdoor is opened from under him and his neck gets snapped quickly.

      If the fellow prefers to go out by firing squad, he should have his wish.

      Jason Soon

      November 7, 2006 at 11:07 am

    14. Got any figures for this “huge deterrent effect” Jase?

      On war criminals or any other potential criminals?

      I know I don’t want to die, but then I’m in my right mind and won’t kill anyone anyway.

      FDB

      November 7, 2006 at 11:34 am

    15. Andrew R , your theology is poor.

      turn the other cheek and eye for an eye do not address the same issue.

      turn the other cheek is what one does when your enemy hits you.

      Eye for an eye is the punishment for the crime committed.

      We still use Leviticus to determine sinful acts the thing that has changed is the punishment.
      Whereas Israel agreed that people who committed such acts unrepentantly should be put to death nowadays the church merely expels them.
      See 1 cor5.

      Bring Back EP at LP

      November 7, 2006 at 11:36 am

    16. ‘If you want to use the Bible to inform current law making we should at least reflect its ambiguity’

      The Bible is not ambiguous at all. The ‘new testament’ is the unauthorised sequel. 🙂

      Sinclair Davidson

      November 7, 2006 at 11:36 am

    17. See this and the references cited
      http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/2005/12/

      Jason Soon

      November 7, 2006 at 11:38 am

    18. oh really homer…

      leviticus hey…

      so you still punish those who wear cotton/nylon blends and call out the priests to examine the leprosy (mould) in your bathroom?

      c8to

      November 7, 2006 at 11:49 am

    19. c8to try to understnd the difference between the church and the theocratic state of Israel.

      And to think people make fun of silly things such as creationism when nincompoops can utter this!

      Bring Back EP at LP

      November 7, 2006 at 11:55 am

    20. Hmmmm….

      The notoriously reliable econometrics work, which shows wild variation in results versus exhaustive comparative studies which unanimously show no deterrent effect.

      Pre-death penalty vs post in one location? No effect on homicide rates.

      US states with death penalty vs without over same periiod? No effect on homicide rates.

      Countries with death penalty vs without. No effect on homicide rates.

      http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=12&did=1176

      FDB

      November 7, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    21. Jason,
      I, too, would be interested in any evidence of deterrence. I very much doubt there is any such evidence. With most of these people’s overblown sense of self-importance I think (without evidence, I will conceed) that treating them like a common, if major, criminal rather than putting them in a category of their own would be more effective.
      Certainly for major crimes, though, cost and efficiency should be lesser considerations than justice.
      .
      Homer – sorry, but they do address the same issue. Why should society’s reaction be greater than the individual’s? If I forgive my attacker should the government be able to over-ride my gift of forgiveness? I am speaking here from a libertarian POV now, rather than a Christian (or Judaic – thanks Sinclair) POV.
      I do not see the relevance of 1 Corinthians 5 – this covers expulsion from the Church in the case of sexual immorality.

      Andrew Reynolds

      November 7, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    22. homer,

      you just claimed that you still use leviticus to determine the sin, just the punishment has changed…

      i know how modern christian churches work…they just interpret the bible in whatever way that suits them…which makes it pretty arbitrary…

      c8to

      November 7, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    23. ‘If I forgive my attacker should the government be able to over-ride my gift of forgiveness?’

      SL should comment on this. Is this the difference between a crime and a tort? Are some actions so heineous that society should override personal forgiveness?

      Sinclair Davidson

      November 7, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    24. Like quoting the prohibition on homosexuality without mentioning adultery, relations during a “monthly period”, working on the Sabbath or the lawfulness of the keeping of slaves.
      Like to see Homer get away with having a few slaves around.

      Andrew Reynolds

      November 7, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    25. William Landes and Gary Becker editied a classic on the deterence issue (out of print, I suspect).
      Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, (National Bureau of Economic Research 1974).

      The econometric evidence is in dispute, but the price theory is clear. I’m happy, in this instance, to err on the side of caution. To the extent that deterence may be a factor in saving (existing) human life, I’m happy to keep hanging criminals.

      While Saddam et al. may not be deterred by execution, I’m still happy for him to be executed – there can be no moral equivalence between a mass murderer and drug smugglers etc.

      Sinclair Davidson

      November 7, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    26. SL is in and out of court just now but will try to comment this afternoon 😉

      skepticlawyer

      November 7, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    27. Andrew and C8to,

      please note there was the theocratic state of Israel.
      It agreed to a covenant with God.

      The Church is not the State of Israel.
      Those laws which were exclusive to that State no longer apply nor do the food laws which Jesus annulled.

      Unfortunately for Andrew the crime in 1 Cor 5 has the punishment in the O/T of death yet he we have God telling the Church to merely expel them.

      Andrew you may not appreciate the difference between someone hitting you and someone who kills you but I do.

      just for edification slaves came about because of a lack of bankruptcy laws. You would note of course their debt was annulled at Jubilee

      Bring Back EP at LP

      November 7, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    28. Andrew R and Jason: the last paragraph of my earlier post only served to address the myth that the death penalty has a deterrent effect – it doesn’t, never did, and the negating effect of the allure of ‘death by cop’ ought not be underestimated.

      There is no question as to whether 10 war criminals should walk free – he clearly will not.

      It is entirely possible that he could be pardoned by some future regime or busted out by the Fedayeen Saddam, and the longer his death is delayed the more likely this is. If there is any of that AWB slush fund left, and he has access to it, he could be mighty persuasive in getting any custodial sentence overturned.

      My previous post was not a definitive philosophical statement and did not try to be. This one is little better but will have to do: basically, the old argument about it being better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man deprived of his liberty simply does not apply to genocidal psychopaths against whom the state has expended blood and treasure. The morality of hanging Saddam is the same as blowing up a tank on the way to Basra, but more so in the sense that it draws a line under the old order and allows the new to go forward secure in the knowledge that restoring the status quo ante is a non-starter. A soldier disarmed ceases to be a belligerent, but Saddam never will.

      Look at how Stalin warped postwar politics by fudging the fact that Hitler had died – the whole notion of Hitler and Bormann sitting by swimming pools in Paraguay or Buenos Aires injected a moral equivalence into Cold War politics that should never have been there.

      SL, please don’t refer to yourself in the third person.

      Andrew Elder

      November 7, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    29. Thanks Andrew E. Your exposition moves it away from the tangent this thread was heading towards since I see no compelling need to reintroduce the death penalty domestically even if there is a slight marginal deterrent benefit. My original point was that war crime trials are almost sui generis and therefore there is a sense in which usual considerations about the death penalty can be suspended. After all, as you rightly put it, Saddam could just as well have been killed in battle.

      Jason Soon

      November 7, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    30. War crimes tribunals and hearings are not sui generis. The critical difference between dropping a bomb on a tank and hanging Hussein is that the tank crews were and are not lawful prisoners of a State which claims the trappings of justice and democracy.
      ‘Drawing a line under the old order’, Andrew? The old order is hardly the problem, and executing Saddam Hussein won’t assist reconstruction any more than it would have been helpful to hang the Kaiser in 1919 to stop Europe going fascist.

      just for edification slaves came about because of a lack of bankruptcy laws

      What the fuck, Homer? Slavery not an institution of power, war and exploitation but a result of economic imperfection? Now that’s market fundamentalism.

      Liam

      November 7, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    31. Liam,

      the context was slavery in Israel in the O/T!!!

      Bring Back EP at LP

      November 7, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    32. ‘Drawing a line under the old order’, Andrew? The old order is hardly the problem, and executing Saddam Hussein won’t assist reconstruction any more than it would have been helpful to hang the Kaiser in 1919 to stop Europe going fascist.

      The Fedayeen Saddam have killed thousands and are on of the most powerful, best-organised forces in Iraq. Hardly the problem, but certainly a problem.

      Exiling the Kaiser and cutting him off from his retinue prevented the return of Prussian militarism, and gave Weimar a chance (now, the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919 may have forestalled a Communist Germany for another quarter-century and retarded the effort that did come to pass, but that’s by the by). Your analogy is poor Liam in that the Kaiser was not a Hitler-style fascist.

      Andrew Elder

      November 7, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    33. I agree, Andrew. Hanging the Kaiser was never necessary; exile, disgrace and/or imprisonment are always an effective deterrent, especially in the case of radical nationalist dictators.
      As to Liebknecht and Luxembourg, your pro-murder and pro-torture stance is your own problem.
      The death sentence in legal systems, back on the topic, works perfectly well as a solution only for religiously or nationalistically inspired fanatics—on either end of the noose.

      Liam

      November 7, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    34. Just to clarify again.
      Given that the evidence for the additional deterrent effect on capital punishment is iffy as even Sinclair acknowledges, I am reluctant to ever normalise its use in deterring domestic crime. The ‘it saves lives’ argument is a load of hogwash since there are so many other ways to save lives from murder including preventing criminals being created in the first place through better spending on early childhood education or increasing deterrence by increasing the success rate of tracking down murderers – all of which the State would have less capacity to do if the death penalty involves an elaborate appeals system. AND given that the magnitude of harm from judicial error is so high in this case you want to have a near-perfect legal system before you even think about having the death penalty. No such thing exists in real life.

      But as has been pointed out many times, this ‘let 100 guilty men walk free so long as 1 innocent man isn’t hung’ argument simply doesn’t apply in the occasional Nuremberg trial or its equivalent a few times a century.

      Jason Soon

      November 7, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    35. I’ve only defended the death penalty after the fact of bloodthirsty dictators, and even then there’s a distinction to be drawn between actually calling for blood and not being so silly as to oppose the washing away of such a worthless clod. Saddam’s death does not diminish me.

      Liebknecht was an idiot in the mould of Lenin, and while the East German regime was nasty and brutish it was also relatively short – better 40 years of a cut-down version of a Communist regime than 70 years of the full catastrophe. This attitude fits more an anti-murder and anti-torture stance.

      Andrew Elder

      November 7, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    36. On the subject of evidence, just how many false executions are you wringing your hands over? How many people have been wrongly executed in the US and what probability does that represent? (not guilty on a technicality doesn’t count, i mean really innocent).

      And if the death penalty doesn’t deter, why do those on death row have such a strong preference for ‘life’ in prison?

      Another benefit from the death penalty is that we save the costs of incarceration for the taxpayer ($300 a day for maximum security).

      Grumpy Old Economist

      November 7, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    37. Andrew

      You said:
      “Rococo Liberal undermines his own case when he objects to keeping Bryant alive but is happy to have “some private school educated sadistic thugs” (a better class of thug, eh?) on the payroll.”

      My tongue was in my cheek. However, you have wilfully misunderstood me. What I was saying is that we could get some thugs to turn their thug-like tendencies to good purposes if we employed them to give periodic punishment beatings to vicious mirderes such as Bryant.

      This would be a far better deterrent than the death penalty in that hte prospective murderer would understand that if convicted he or she would face a life of constant pain and suffering. And as I said those giving the punishment beatings would sublimate their need to commit violnet acts and thus save themselves from a life of crime as well.

      Rococo Liberal

      November 7, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    38. Ummm, Andrew, was just having a little funny… I guess the emoticon didn’t help 🙂

      Anyway, my understanding from a legal perspective is that the death penalty doesn’t deter. Admittedly, the last time I read widely on this issue was in 2004, so there may well have been studies since that show deterrence, although it is hard to conceive of how.

      If the death penalty doesn’t deter, then were it to be introduced, there are two principle arguments against it.

      1. The ‘error’ argument, which Jason has already canvassed, and which I agree is quantitatively and qualitatively different for crimes in a standard common law jurisdiction (like Australia or the US) as opposed to ‘war crimes’.

      2. The ‘slippery slope’ argument, a version of which is often deployed by Amnesty international, which Andrew E has raised. This holds that once the death penalty is introduced for some offences, it then becomes easier to introduce it for others, until one reaches the absurd situation of the death penalty applying for a very large number of offences.

      As a sort of 2b added to the above, there is also a moral argument that the death penalty is inherently cruel and uncivilised. This is an argument with natural law foundations.

      As Jason has pointed out, the most powerful of the two is the ‘error’ argument, which is why most (although not all) lawyers are opposed to the death penalty. People make mistakes, no matter how careful they are, and when a mistake is fatal, it can’t be corrected.

      The complexity with war crimes/crimes against humanity arguments is working out the relevant jurisdictional regime under which miscreants are to be tried. International law – still largely the province of various UN bodies plus the European Court of Justice – is opposed at the treaty level to the death penalty, which makes it difficult, if not impossible for bodies like the ICTY and the ICTR to impose it.

      However, municipal courts (like the Iraqi body which tried Saddam, and a large number of domestic Rwandan bodies) can impose the death penalty according to their law.

      The risk associated with municipal justice is the appearance that justice has not been done (as people have already alleged with respect to Saddam). The risk with international law is twofold: (a) the relevant international law will not be complied with or that (b) the jurisdictional basis is insufficiently developed (the ‘international law is not real law’ argument). Both (a) and (b) are linked.

      If the death penalty is to be imposed in either circumstance, then these legal issues need to be more settled.

      skepticlawyer

      November 7, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    39. we could get some thugs to turn their thug-like tendencies to good purposes if we employed them to give periodic punishment beatings to vicious mirderes such as Bryant.

      Because it’s better to reinforce this behaviour and make these thugs think well of themselves? I haven’t “wilfully misunderstood” you, I reworded your own opinion and projected it back to you, which made you look (and clearly feel) bad. Same with you, SL – so whenever you haven’t got your facts together you’re just being a wag, is that it? 1+1=6, oops I left off the “tee hee!”.

      On the subject of evidence, just how many false executions are you wringing your hands over? How many people have been wrongly executed in the US and what probability does that represent? (not guilty on a technicality doesn’t count, i mean really innocent).

      False executions? Do you mean executions of those who are not guilty of the crimes which they committed? All of them.

      And if the death penalty doesn’t deter, why do those on death row have such a strong preference for ‘life’ in prison?

      Not sure what research you’re talking about there, but I think it’s a fantasy that someone stops short of committig a crime at the prospect of the noose – and even if there were such people, they are outnumbered by the increasing tendency of this.

      Another benefit from the death penalty is that we save the costs of incarceration for the taxpayer ($300 a day for maximum security).

      “We” don’t save anything when the wrong person is executed, or when society generally becomes more violent as damaged individuals see fewer means of escape than vainglorious “suicide by cop”. Paying the costs of justice is one of the most compelling reasons behind a social compact and compulsory taxation.

      Andrew Elder

      November 7, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    40. I have to agree with grumpy here (welcome grumpy old economist – don’t think you’ve posted here before). The probability of a wrongful execution in the US must be close to zero (if not actually zero), especially since it was reintroduced in the mid-1970s. Where I do disagree is on the relative costs. I did once see a stat that indicted the costs of the appeals etc. leading up to an execution outweighed the costs of life imprisonment. Can I say this is money well spent: if we’re going to execute lets be totally sure about it, even if it does cost more than life in prison.

      Sinclair Davidson

      November 7, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    41. Ha ha ha ha

      A ‘tribute’ to Saddam from a BBC TV producer.
      http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/david_cox/2006/11/saddam_a_tribute.html

      Saddam offered his people a harsh deal. Yet, their lives were at risk only if they chose to challenge his authority. Now, they die because of the sect to which they happen to belong. Soon, their country may fall prey to a savage civil war. If that happens, the Iranians will doubtless intervene, along, perhaps, with Turkey and Israel. No one can predict where that might lead, but the outcome is unlikely to be positive for peace, prosperity, justice or, indeed, human rights.

      If Saddam were still in power, he would have stopped this happening. Iraq’s dissidents would have paid a price, but the rest of us would be a lot better off. As he goes to meet the hangman, the world has cause to rue his demise.

      Jason Soon

      November 7, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    42. I think mordern Israel has a sensible position on death penalty. It is on the books, but it has only been used once in the history of the state: against Adolf Eichmann. Even terrorists don’t qualify.

      Boris

      November 7, 2006 at 6:13 pm


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