Saturday, August 05, 2006

Death penalty

The government has been reconsidering the crimes that are subject to the death penalty in our penal system. Their reason for doing this is to align our system with international norms. In most of Europe, the death penalty has been abolished. On the other hand, this form of punishment is still applied in the United States. In the Middle East, the penalty is quite common, and it is applied without too much introspection.

According to the published sources, the government wants to abolish the imposition of the death penalty on weapons and drug cases, obstruction of justice and the rape of minor females. I don’t know why minor males are different from minor females. Terror and murder are not being discussed at this stage, although the king has indicated that he would like to see the death penalty abolished in the country.

The chief opponent of changing these penalties is the Islamist head of the bar association, Saleh Armoutui. He argues that foreign groups are pressuring the country to abolish the penalty, which he says is an unacceptable interference in the country’s affairs. Presumably, he should be against the abolition of torture, since foreign human rights groups are on that case as well.

Three other lines of argument are provided by the proponents of keeping the death penalty. These are that the punishment is in line with Sharia, that some crimes are so dangerous that their perpetrators should be eliminated from society, and that the abolition would encourage the return of tribal law of revenge (tha’ir).

Now, I am not particularly squeamish about the death penalty, especially with regards to terror and murder cases. People who commit such crimes forfeit any of my sympathy. However, I find that the Sharia argument particularly troubling. Christian countries (and Israel) have managed to ignore the inhumane punishments imposed by the Old Testament, although some fundamentalist Christians in the US would be comfortable with the institution of stoning and flogging as punishments for drunkenness, homosexuality, fornication and blasphemy (I like what Natalia wrote about this). I believe that most reasonable people reject such punishments as incompatible with modern sensibilities and human rights standards. The same can be said of many aspects of Sharia law.

The arguments about removing dangers from society and return of tribal revenge are more compelling. In theory, jailing a criminal for life removes the individual from society. More dangerous criminals are a menace to the other inmates and to the guards. On the other hand, central governments should monopolize imposition of the law by standards that it sets, and modern societies should show no tolerance for people taking the law into their own hands. Revoking the death penalty should not mean that tribal law should be excused, despite the fact that many people would see the justification.

The most compelling argument against the death penalty is the issue of mistakes. The fact that the penalty is irreversible is quite troubling, and mistakes have been documented where innocent people have been put to death. Sufficient safeguards should be built into the system to prevent this from happening.

So, my feeling is that the reduction of cases in which the death penalty is prescribed is a good step. I still believe that terror should be punishable by death. Regular murder is more problematic, and judges should be allowed to make decisions based on the specifics of the cases.

9 Comments:

At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Nas said...

i agree to an extent. i think both arguements have their flaws and it should neither be abolished nor abused. In other words I encourage a revision of the cases where it's used and it should be reserved for only specific cases and crimes.

moreover, islamically speaking, the religion has many safegaurds that makes it very difficult for the state to kill. the problem in my opinion is not with this system but with the way it is implemented. adultry is a good case study. some islamic countries will stone a woman based on an accussation from a hostile husband and they base this on religion even though there need to be two witnesses who actually saw the act happen and even then implementing the hadd is not a given.

in other words the concern has been on the legal consequence of a specific crime according to islam, and a tendency to ignore the system that preceeds that punishment.

that being said, due to a misapplication of islamic law there has been the arguement to have a moratorium on the death penalty. this is justified by the idea that islamically all state punishment is based on protecting the person while ensuring justice and if neither is happening then the system of implementation must be reviewed. umar alkhatab did this in his day. im not sure where i stand on this arguement as of now but it is worthy of consideration.

lastly, they are correct in saying that abolishing it will have tribal consequences. i dont know how they'll get around that which is why i believe it wont be abolished. it will be ammended and refined and reserved to specific crimes and specific cases. and that for me is the preferable scenario.

 
At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Hareega said...

We heard about the 2 convicted murdered who were executed 2-3 years ago in Jordan only to know later that they were innocent. I think wrong decisions like these will have a more negative tribal consequences than ablosihing the death penalty. Besides, if there is any tribal conflict related to a murder case, the settlemtn between tribes is achieved before the death penalty is reached.

 
At 5:58 AM, Anonymous a visitor said...

liberal tribalist are we? or conservative liberal?

your stance on issues is so confused that you seem to be weaving silk with wool, only so that you dont have to deal with nylon.

stick to a color of thought, and avoid those confused positions.

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Nas: You are certainly correct. However, even if one was absolutely proven guilty of adultry, modern standards would consider death by stoning to be a disproportionate punishment.

Hareega: You are right. There is no possible positive consequence for putting to death an innocent person.

Visitor: Please elaborate. Where have I ever said or implied that I was a tribalist or liberal? You need to go to other blogs that I know you like, where you can live in the comfort of an ideological straight jacket.

 
At 7:12 AM, Anonymous Nas said...

khalaf, it might appear that way yes but these hadd laws are supposed to be more of deterents than anything else. i mean if the punishment is to be carried out then it has to first be reported to the authorities for it to become a matter of state, and then you need 4 witnesses who saw the actual fornicating going on. the same way that they cant cut a thief's hand off if he stole out of necessity.

in other words if we really followed the process set up in the shari3a in order to reach that point of carrying out that punishment then id imagine that the number of people dying at the hand of the state would be incredibly low.

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Nas: But we are discussing the text fo the law, not how often it might be implemented. Don't forget that modern technology makes types of evidence available that was not so 1500 years ago. Do you really want to count on the lax enforcement of an undesirable law?

 
At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Nas said...

on the contrary, what i am suggesting is that IF we are going to have the law and call it shari3a then we should strengthen the legislative process that is outline by the shari3a.

the quran does not say to stone a married man or woman who have committed adultry based on 21st century DNA tests...it says there need to be 4 witnesses who saw the act happen. they can employ all the technology they want that scientifically proves that a person committed adultry without a doubt, but the case will fall apart without the witnesses or at the very least it eliminates the application of had punishment.

thats shari3a. the punishment is heavy but the burden of proof is heavier.

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that even in the United States, which has trial by jury, sophisticated fingerprint and DNA-analysis labs, and an entire justice system predicated on the idea that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond any (reasonable) doubt, STILL, there have been numerous documented incidents of people sentenced to death and later shown to be innocent.

There exists no possible set of "safeguards" that will prevent mistakes. Not for humans, anyway. There's only one sure way to avoid killing innocent people:

Don't kill anyone.

 
At 3:29 AM, Blogger Natalia said...

Hey! Thanks for the reference! I actually caught some flak for that posting of mine, but hey, you can't please everyone all the time, right?

In my mind: death penalty = barbaric. I studied under a very gifted criminologist who believed that it only brutalized society. And based on the evidence, I agree.

Pepole always bring up issues such as, "Well, what if your little brother was murdered in some horrible way?" What if? Killing his killer won't bring him back. I mean, I would certainly WANT to kill someone like that, but emotions should not dictate public policy. Forgiveness is a generative act. Revenge is not.

 

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