Saturday, June 10, 2006

Zarqawi and the death penalty

The death of the villainous Abu Musab al-Zarqawi forces me to come to grips with what at first might seem to be diametrically conflicting personal beliefs. I am inalterably opposed to the death penalty. Yet, I welcomed the news of Zarqawi's death. I wanted it to happen, and I am glad it did. Why don't I feel the same way about the men and women sitting on death row today? I don't, and here's why. Whatever you might think about the Iraq war, there seems to me to be little doubt that the American military has been heavily engaged in an armed struggle with enemies who would, if they could, fundamentally change our way of life. I believe there is a very real protective perimeter around our society, and we have our armed forces to thank for maintaining it. The things we enjoy most--the arts, sports, cultural endeavors, careers, family stuff, etc.--are made possible only because that perimeter has been steadfastly maintained by the sacrifices of generations of soldiers, sailors, aviators, and Marines. Life inside the perimeter is good. Here, we live according to the rule of law. Life outside the perimeter is savage. There, the rule of law gives way to the brutality of war. Efforts to establish and enforce a "law of war" have never really succeeded. Enter Zarqawi. Videotaped beheadings, suicide bombings, indiscriminate killings of civilians, mass executions, and other similar purposeful tactics cannot possibly exist or be tolerated inside or outside our perimeter. The news stories today are filled with speculation about whether Zarqawi survived the initial bombing and was subsequently "shot" by American troops. The fact that this kind of questioning is seriously considered is stark evidence of how highly valued the rule of law is inside the perimeter. Sometimes we even lose track of where the perimeter ends. Exit Zarqawi, and good riddance. There is certainly much room inside the perimeter for differences of opinion about the death penalty. I have mine, and it is based primarily on my own ideal notion of "civilization." There is something about the methodical, step by step, phases and stages procedures leading up to an execution which is just too "premeditated" for me. Perhaps I can justifiably be accused of silly idealism, but I prefer a society which deliberately spares life under all circumstances. Like all other citizens, however, I vote only once, and I commit myself to abide by the rule of law as it is enacted by our legislatures, enforced by our executives, and interpreted by our courts. In the meantime, I will continue to work pro bono on capital cases, and I applaud the countless other lawyers "inside our perimeter" who are doing the same thing on a daily basis.


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