Death Sentence 8/29/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

People love debating the death sentence.  It feels like I’ve been hearing arguments about it my entire life.  My mother, for example, took a very pragmatic view.  She said that if they’re never going to get out of prison anyway, they should save some money and just put them to death.  Of course, we’re not in the old west where “death sentence” meant a simple hanging and plopping the remains in an unmarked grave in the desert.  The counter argument to my mother’s pragmatic view comes in the form of a recently released study that shows that the cost of executing prisoners is shockingly high, to the point where it’s not clear which would be cheaper, an execution or life imprisonment.  I suppose it depends on how long the condemned would live in a life sentence. 

Another pro-execution argument comes in the form of an “eye for an eye”.  Of course, that philosophy leaves everybody blind.  Okay, cliché comment, but execution with this argument is weak anyway.  A murderer certainly doesn’t give his victim a chance to keep living and isn’t concerned about the victim’s fear in the final moments.  No doubt, anybody about to be executed is at least given the opportunity to feel this fear, but, honestly, only for the amount of time it takes to go from being prepped to actually flipping the switch.  That’s not much of a punishment, but the strongest counterargument to this logic really comes in the question of the purpose of prison.  If the idea of prison is punishment, then yes, this viewpoint supports the argument, but if prison is viewed as being about rehabilitation, a popular current philosophy, then the argument falls apart.  We cannot rehabilitate the dead. 

And, no, I’m not making a stand here.  Honestly, I don’t really have an opinion on this.  People who are anti-execution might argue the morality of killing the accused.  The “by what right do we…” argument.  This is largely a religious argument, dating back to the Old Testament of “thou shalt not kill”, but I also find a lot of hypocrisy in this argument.  If someone supports certain military actions, then why would they condone killing in that action but condemn killing a prisoner? 

Some might argue that killing the condemned is wrong because that is still a human being, and part of society.  Yes, technically this individual is a human being, and yet, if they’ve killed another person, they’re certainly not acting like one according to the ethics of our society.  The argument falls apart when you consider that this person has been physically removed from our society, so they are not even given the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.  This is why I don’t have a stand.  I cannot find a viable argument either way, and frankly, I don’t have a dog in the race.  I suppose if a loved one had been killed, I might feel differently, but this is a person who does not have an impact on my life whether they live or die.

There are, however, circumstances outside of prison for which I do have an opinion.  Recently, President Biden authorized the military to use drone strikes to take out two top operatives of a terrorist group behind a deadly bombing at the Kabul airport, killing multiple US military members and injuring scores of civilians.  I am operating on faith in the US intelligence community that they have the correct targets, but I do support this action.

Some might say that it was warranted because of how many people they killed and injured.  Frankly, the mathematics don’t interest me.  I’m not even convinced that this group cares about trying to kill people so much as they are likely jockeying for a political position in the newly forming Afghanistan political structure.  Afghanistan is a loose collection of warlords, and while the strongest might be able to jockey some of them to support them, in reality any peace in the country is more of an uneasy agreement that we won’t attack you if you don’t attack us.  But an action like this might get notice, and help cement one of these warlord positions. 

To me, the justification is that these people are still out there, have demonstrated both a willingness and skill set to kill, and are a danger to us and civilians alike.  Right now, with the Taliban armed with US weapons, I doubt we could have easily collected them to bring them to justice, so, yes, I support this death sentence to protect innocent people. 


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