Sunday, December 18, 2005

What if there's a cheering squad?

This is an addendum to the previous post.

There is a group that should be the last ones spared if the death penalty is on the books. They are the people who have supporters actively condoning their actions. If these people are spared it should be through the abandonment of the death penalty, not through an act of clemency.

I am thinking of terrorists with supporters claiming their acts were justified and that they should be spared for this reason. If they are spared as a act of clemency then their supporters will interpret this as an admission that the terrorists acts were justified whether those showing clemency had this intention or not. They will take encouragement from this. I am not admitting that the death penalty would act a a greater deterrent than life imprisonment. I don't believe that it would. I think that an act of clemency would become twisted into an act of encouragement by their supporters.

I do not believe that the Australian government is being hypocritical by refusing to seek clemency for the Bali bombers while still seeking clemency for Australians convicted of drug smuggling. Death is an unjustly harsh punishment for drug smuggling. It is not unjustly harsh for terrorist mass murderers. If terrorist murders can be securely imprisoned until they are no longer a threat then I think that this should be done rather than killing them. But they should be seen to receive the harshest punishment that is available. I believe that the death penalty is ineffective as punishment for would be martyrs. I do not like what carrying out the death penalty does to people. But I will not be indignant if the Bali bombers are shot. I just believe that the price is too high. But the price of clemency would be higher. The problem with having the death penalty in the criminal justice system is that counter-intuitively it can play into the terrorists hands. We can be left with an unpalatable choice between giving the terrorists a platform for their martyrdom and giving their supporters encouragement through an act of clemency which they will see as an act of divine support.