Tuesday, November 10, 2009

About life and death

The Commonwealth of Virginia is going to use what is its greatest power tonight. At 9 p.m., inside the walls of Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, John A. Muhammad, 48, will be put to death.
Gov. Tim Kaine denied clemency Tuesday for sniper John Allen Muhammad, clearing the way for him to be executed for the attacks that terrorized the nation's capital region for three weeks in 2002...
...Muhammad was sentenced to death for killing Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas gas station during a three-week spree that left 10 dead across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Click here to read the AP story.

If anyone deserves the death penalty Muhammad has it coming to him. No need to rehash his many crimes in this space.

What response from the government is fitting when a citizen takes fiendish delight in murdering random strangers and terrorizing millions? What should you do to a man who transmogrifies an eager protégé, Lee Boyd Malvo, into a soulless sharpshooting assassin?

Well, if he does it in Virginia and gets caught he gets lethal injection. (I'm glad the electric chair across Belvidere St. from Oregon Hill is gone.)

Yet, if he does many of those same things, but directs his wrath at enemies in another country -- under the flag of war -- he might get a medal, or make millions as a private contractor. Hide and kill 'em when they ain't looking? No problem. There would be nothing wrong with training young men to follow his example.

Muhammad chose the wrong enemy for his personal war, the wrong society. He became a self-styled homegrown terrorist. Whatever his true motive was, he was clever but he got caught.

If I had been the judge to decide his punishment I would have stuffed him into solitary confinement for the rest of his life. Yes, permanent confinement and utter banishment seem totally appropriate to me. That's because I just don't believe executing Muhammad provides any genuine satisfaction in the long run.

For the families of the victims, closure is mostly a myth. And, in my heart of hearts I don't believe the state should coldly take a life in revenge, no matter how heinous the crimes. When the state takes a life, to some extent, it's like living under martial law.

The reason I say "revenge" is because that's what it is. Lethal injection is a state-sanctioned murder, supposedly more humane than electrocution. In our system, capital punishment doesn't save money. Nor does it truly deter crime. People who fear the consequences of their acts don't generally commit random murders.

Like war, an execution is another case of the government saying it's OK to kill some people, sometimes. Which, from a moral standpoint, is a tricky business, at best.

On the other hand, I will not weep for John A. Muhammad (formerly Williams). After tonight, he won't kill anybody else.

No, my tears will be saved for the young Americans who have been trained to kill foreigners who appear to be enemies, sometimes in their own countries. Some of those veterans will come home crazy. Some of them will not be able to leave their haunts or killing ways overseas.

Incidentally, Muhammad was a veteran of the first war in Iraq, remembered as Desert Storm. And, when he dies tonight, we all know it's inevitable there will be unlucky veterans of our current wars who will eventually tempt our society to put them to death.

Since I don't believe in an afterlife, either, I sometimes wonder if believing in heaven allows one -- Christian or Muslim -- to more easily accept the idea that killing other people, without it being a matter of self-defense, is OK.


Anonymous said...

What is your point here? Are you attempting to somehow equate the cowardice of Muhammad with the actions of our men and women at war overseas?

I disagree with capital punishment, but this comparison is absurd. Killing done in war is done in the name of the greater good -- Fat Man and Little Boy were dropped under the rationale that doing so would save more lives than it would cost in the short term -- execution serves no "greater good" in the absence of a deterrent effect, and study after study has shown there is no deterrent effect.

F.T. Rea said...

anonymous, thank you for commenting.

pigeater said...

Exactly. Soldiers fight for a cause, not for the pleasure of killing. I've never understood the whole "war is not the answer" bumper sticker mindset. War was the answer to slavery. It was the answer to most of the 20th centuries blood thorsty despots. Some people don't fight and end up in death camps. Some people, Gabrial Posser comes to mind, refuse to take it anymore and strike out, only to end up being hanged. Does that make him a 19th century Beltway Sniper? No.

Sometimes war IS the only answer. Some people, like Mohammad or the Harvey butchers, just need to be put down.