« High-profile developments in two high-profile cases | Main | "Seattle courts to trade jail for ankle bracelets" »

May 11, 2011

Efforts to abolish death penalty in Connecticut appear to be dying

As detailed in this new local report from Connecticut, "two Democrats in the state Senate that had previously supported a bill to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut have reportedly changed their minds after meeting with Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of a brutal home invasion and an outspoken supporter of capital punishment."  Here is more:

Senate President Donald Williams, a Democrat who backs the repeal effort, said the vote is close in the chamber right now but he does not have a formal vote count....  Sen. John Kissel, the ranking Republican on the legislature's judiciary committee and a supporter of the death penalty, said whether the bill will come up for debate in the Senate "is very much in doubt."...

One key lawmaker is Sen. Edith Prague, said she asked Senate leaders to defer a vote on the bill out of respect to Dr. Petit. One of two defendants in the killings of Petit's family is slated to go trial later this year.

Prague, a Democrat from Columbia and longtime supporter of the death penalty who became an opponent in 2009, said she continues to continues to believe the capital punishment should be repealed. But after meeting with Petit and his sister-in-law, she decided she could not support repeal this year.

"I spoke with Dr. Petit and his wife's sister and they told me if we repeal the death penalty at this point in time, it would be more difficult to get the death penalty for Komisarjevsky.  And I cannot cause this man and his family any more stress so at this point I will not support repeal out of respect for that family,'' Prague said in a brief phone interview this afternoon between votes.

"I don't care what anybody says: I want to give this man a little ounce of consideration here and that's my reason at this point in time to not support repeal. I have to live with myself...I could not for one second cause this family any more stress.''  Prague said she met with the family once. "That was enough for me...All I had to do was look at his face.''

May 11, 2011 at 04:07 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2014e885f09a6970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Efforts to abolish death penalty in Connecticut appear to be dying:

Comments

Perhaps those 2 Democrats on the Senate should focus on the real problem: the appeals process of Connecticut cases to get them past state remedies and into federal court.

Posted by: DaveP | May 11, 2011 4:39:04 PM

I had a feeling this would happen when they started stalling. The height of cowardice, once they make headway they give up. It's like they're afraid of doing anything decisive.

Then again, I guess as a death penalty supporter I should be grateful.

Posted by: MikeinCT | May 12, 2011 12:18:21 AM

Too bad Connecticut doesn't have referenda. If it did, then the people could decide, once and for all, on a matter of such importance and controversy. My hunch, though, is that abolitionists would be none too enthusiastic about such a prospect. What say you?

Posted by: alpino | May 12, 2011 2:44:04 AM

alpino --

I have never heard of the death penalty's being repealed by referendum. My standing proposal has been this: Let any state that cares to have a referendum on the DP, with both sides agreeing in advance that the loser will not attempt to change the result for at least ten years, and then only by another referendum.

If a person believes in democratic self rule, I don't see how he can oppose this plan. If he doesn't believe in democratic self rule, that says all I need to hear. I mean, didn't we fight off King George so that we could make our own rules rather than have them thrust upon us by People Who Take Themselves To Know Better?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 12, 2011 4:30:01 AM

After the IL Legislature passed and the cowardly IL Governor signed the DP repeal bill, a Murderer decided to kill his victim after researching online that there was now no longer a death penalty in IL. Maybe these two CT legislators had second thoughts. Kudos to them. Why take the ultimate punishment away in a balnket move - if not for pure politics- when a governor can commutate any sentence if he believes there is just cause? Answer: because the cowards believe they wont be the ones making all the decisions and can't trust future elected officials. In my opinion Gov Richardson (NM) and Quinn (IL) are gutless and vain. Lets hope WV, AK, and WI go the other way soon, and bring back the Death Penalty.

Posted by: DeanO | May 12, 2011 9:15:36 AM

DeanO at 9:15 A.M.: "Lets hope WV, AK, and WI go the other way soon, and bring back the Death Penalty."

Why do you identify these three States and, in particular, West Virginia?

Posted by: Fred | May 12, 2011 10:17:50 AM

Here is how someone can oppose your plan: it seems more democratic to excise the 10-year rule agreement, and the only change by referendum agreement. Maybe there are folk who want the death penalty in an non death penalty state, and, want to preserve their right to put it on the ballot the following year or two years later.

Of course, to eliminate the perception of unfairness, you can read the previous sentence as "those who don't want the death penalty in a death penalty state" also.

Posted by: = | May 12, 2011 11:14:01 AM

it seems cheaper to elect those who make promises to do something, and then kick them out when they go back on their promise, than it is to get something on the ballot and get enough support for it. at least when I elect someone, I have a face and a name to point to for not making good on promises. with a referendum, it's just "they."

Posted by: = | May 12, 2011 11:17:53 AM

Dallas, Texas - May 12th 2011
After spending over 26 years in prison, Johnny Pinchback has been released after DNA testing proved he is innocent of two counts of aggravated sexual assault. In 1984, Mr. Pinchback was convicted of raping two teenage girls in Dallas, Texas. Both girls identified Mr. Pinchback in a photo line-up and again at trial. After his conviction, Mr. Pinchback was sentenced to 99 years in prison for each count. Mr. Pinchback strongly maintained his innocence throughout the initial police investigation, throughout his trial, and throughout the many years he spent incarcerated.
The Innocence Project of Texas (IPOT) began a formal investigation of Mr. Pinchback's case in 2009. In September 2009, IPOT filed a motion for Post-Conviction DNA testing on behalf of Mr. Pinchback. In July 2010, the State agreed to the testing of pubic hair cuttings that were collected from one of the victims of the attack, and the Court granted the motion. The cuttings were the only piece of biological evidence still remaining in the SWIFS storage facility. DNA testing conducted by the Orchid Cellmark laboratory showed that the tested hairs did in fact belong to the victim, that they did test positive for seminal fluid, AND that the contributor of the male DNA in the sample was someone other than Mr.Pinchback.
In another context, this man might have been executed. That is why Connecticut, Texas and all other States who retain the death penalty, should abolish it NOW!

Posted by: peter | May 12, 2011 3:35:29 PM

@ Peter:

What basis do you -- what basis could you -- have for possibly suggesting that these two monsters in Connecticut are factually innocent and that executing them would irrevocably keep them from exoneration? I assume that's the reason for the story you posted, as an illustration "why Connecticut . . . Texas and all other States [that] retain the death penalty, should abolish it NOW!"

If you're unfamiliar with the facts of this home-invasion triple-homicide/double-rape, they memorialized their premeditation of the crimes through text messages to each other. They were caught fleeing the victims' house that they set ablaze, having raped and murdered the family's mother and the 11-year-old daughter, leaving the older daughter (who was tied up but broke free) to die of smoke inhalation and leaving the father, who they had beaten into unconsciousness, for dead in the basement. (He escaped.)

Unless your point is (a) to prevent the possibility that any factually innocent person will be executed, the state must be banned from executing anyone, even those whose factual guilt is truly incontestable; or (b) it doesn't matter how factually guilty these people in Connecticut are, the state shouldn't be able to execute them. If it's (b), then it's quite disingenuous to cite a story about someone who got released from prison after postconviction DNA testing.

There's no disagreeing with your moral view that some period of imprisonment is the maximum penalty a civilized society should be able to impose for conducting a planned home invasion; abducting the mother while holding the teenaged daughters hostage; forcing the mother to withdraw money from the bank; raping the mother and strangling her to death; raping and sodomizing the eleven-year daughter, and then burning down the house so that any living inhabitant will be burned to death. That's your view; you're entitled to it.

Just be intellectually honest enough to say "for me, what they did and how obviously guilty they are is entirely irrelevant -- I believe that Connecticut should not be allowed to execute them." Don't pretend that Connecticut must abolish the death penalty because we might find out afterward that these two monsters really didn't do it. It's unworthy of someone who considers the death penalty worthy of opposition strictly on principle, as opposed to practical grounds.

Posted by: guest | May 12, 2011 9:53:13 PM

guest
What a sorry excuse for an intellectual response to my post. I made no judgment on the guilt of anyone. As you are well aware, my opposition to the death penalty is total and multi-layered. On this occasion I took the example of a case in Texas, one of many around the US, where there has been demonstrable failure of justice, of such enormity, that a man has had his life destroyed over a period of 26 years because of incorrect identification by 2 victims. YOU would have called the identification evidence of the victims incontrovertible - enough to say factually guilty (as did the jury). You may be correct that in the case of Dr Petit's family and the accused, there can be no possible doubt. But even if this were so, it equally cannot possibly be right that a demonstrably unreliable system of justice, as illustrated by the Pinchback case and many others, can be allowed to risk the life of innocents. Every case that leads to a murder conviction and the death penalty is suspect because police and prosecutor procedures are potentially flawed as a result of known error rates, known legal abuses, and discrimination in one form or another. Decades of trying has not eliminated these issues, and there is no realistic prospect of doing so. My point is obvious and crystal clear. There is no justification to threaten, and in some cases, take, the life of an innocent man merely to support the understandable anger and grief of another's family. That is institutional murder.

Posted by: peter | May 13, 2011 4:32:46 AM

@ Peter:

"What a sorry excuse for an intellectual response to my post."

Typical ad hominem response. Why was it "sorry," again?

"As you are well aware, my opposition to the death penalty is total and multi-layered."

Which means that you think -- and you're entitled to believe -- that capital punishment is "institutional murder" no matter what the defendant did and no matter how incontestable the defendant's guilt.

"On this occasion I took the example of a case in Texas, one of many around the US, where there has been demonstrable failure of justice, of such enormity, that a man has had his life destroyed over a period of 26 years because of incorrect identification by 2 victims. YOU would have called the identification evidence of the victims incontrovertible - enough to say factually guilty (as did the jury)."

I don't know a thing about the Texas case and you haven't the faintest idea of what kind of evidence I'd consider incontestable. We were talking about (Prof. B.'s post was about) the legislative efforts to abolish capital punishment in Connecticut, which have stalled because of a specific extremely well-publicized and extraordinarily horrific crime -- the massacre of the Petit family -- before YOU tried to change to subject to a Texas case involving someone who got released because of postconviction DNA testing, arguing that "[t]hat is why" Connecticut, as well as every other state, need to abolish the death penalty now. (I can see why an advocate of total abolition would rather talk about other cases: the Connecticut case offers few, if any, of the issues that make people question fairness of enforcement: (a) those defendants' factual guilt really is clear beyond all possible doubt; (b) the defendants cannot claim they are being subjected to disproportionate punishment on the basis of race or any other minority group status because they are white and, moreover, it is virtually inconceivable that any juror not disqualified from capital jury service by complete or near-complete inability to vote for a death sentence would not vote for a death sentence for any defendant who did what these two defendants did; and (c) at least one of the two defendants apparently even grew up in privilege.

"You may be correct that in the case of Dr Petit's family and the accused, there can be no possible doubt."

I am correct. In this particular case, there can be no possible doubt. That is why this case stands as an exception to your broadside attack that "Every case that leads to a murder conviction and the death penalty is suspect because police and prosecutor procedures are potentially flawed as a result of known error rates, known legal abuses, and discrimination in one form or another." These defendants' guilt is clear beyond possible doubt; the error rate in this case will be known to be zero; and any suggestion that "discrimination in one form or another" factors into this case would be risible.

"My point is obvious and crystal clear. There is no justification to threaten, and in some cases, take, the life of an innocent man merely to support the understandable anger and grief of another's family. That is institutional murder."

Your point is not obvious or crystal clear and it doesn't become clearer simply by saying that your opposition is "multi-layered and total" or that my response is "sorry." To which "innocent man" are you referring? Surely not the two in Connecticut. So your point, I take it, must be something like (A) "these two in Connecticut are obviously clearly guilty, but allowing the prospect of capital punishment would threaten the execution of other factually innocent defendants, even if that particular concern obviously doesn't apply to these two" or (B) "the factual guilt of these two in Connecticut is irrelevant because it is just as much a case of 'institutional murder,' to execute an incontestably-factually-guilty murderer than a person who's innocent."

Unless Bill Otis is right, and your point is (C): you think the entire idea of "guilt" is a false construct anyway, because there really are no criminals, only pitiable vulnerable victims of cruel society.

I'll assume it's not (C). So what is your point? And don't just suggest that if I don't already know, I'm just too obtuse to understand it.

Posted by: guest | May 13, 2011 9:11:47 AM

guest
I see you are from the school that believes the more you write (the equivalent of how long and loud you shout), the more influential and right you must be. In your first response you chose to speculate way beyond the point I made in my post. In the second, you try disassembly of my response and again speculate beyond the facts stated. A typically disingenuous strategy to confuse and dilute the thrust of an uncomfortable truth. However .... I've the time.
The thread leader discusses the decisions of legislators to delay the attempt to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut - it is not a debate about the guilt or innocence of one man.
If you fear that the example I gave from Texas has no equivalent relevance to Connecticut because such enormous injustice never occurs in that state, let me point you to the case of James Calvin Tillman, freed in 2007 after 18 years in prison before exoneration. His appeals of innocence were again turned down by the courts, multiple times, before the Innocence Project performed the DNA tests which proved beyond doubt that he was innocent of the crime.
Although neither case involved the death penalty, merely sentences of 45 and 99 years in prison, the spotlight on the broken criminal justice system in the US is palpable.
YOU may be unable to face the reality of the extent of unreliability in the criminal justice systems of the US, and of the failure of the US Supreme Court to ensure that individuals are adequately protected from the resulting abuses against them, but there is no hiding place. The death penalty is an unnecessary sanction, is a cruel and unusual punishment in the civilized world today, and is an insult to any proclamation of Human Rights allegiance.

Posted by: peter | May 13, 2011 10:32:31 AM

@ peter:

(1) I don't believe my last post remotely qualified as shouting.

(2) You didn't begin to answer to question about how the Cheshire, Connecticut defendants demonstrates "unreliability in the criminal justice system" or why, given a case as to which even you seem to concede that there is "no possible doubt," you felt that the story about the Texas case was relevant, which you obviously did. Unless, once again, your point is either (a) any system that allows anyone -- even the incontestably guilty -- to be executed also runs the risk of executing a factually innocent person and so cannot be allowed to stand; or (b) what the incontestably guilty Cheshire, Connecticut defendants did is irrelevant to -- ought to have no bearing on -- the maximum punishment you think ought to be meted out by a civilized society because it would be 'institutional murder' just the same to execute them. You are entitled to feel the way you feel, even though the overwhelming majority of people in this country (including those who would like to see the death penalty further restricted although not abolished altogether).

(3) Your posts have officially become less interesting than those of Supremacy Clause. At least with SC's posts, there is occasionally the kernel of an interesting thought underneath the rhetoric, as opposed to rhetoric that might as well just be cut-and-pasted from an advocacy group's website. And at least with SC's posts, figuring out whether the post is one where there's a semblance of a point is so much less time-consuming.

Posted by: guest | May 13, 2011 11:26:43 AM

@ Peter:

By the way, this is (seriously) not intended to be an ad hominem attack. You should realize how much of a turn-off the smug sense of moral superiority (or what comes off in print as a smug sense of moral superiority, anyway) is to someone who is not a big capital-punishment enthusiast and who might like to see its application restricted, but is unwilling to support complete abolition. You might think it's worth considering whether it's more important to you to actually influence someone or to simply feel superior. This wasn't meant as an attack. I'm serious about this.

Posted by: guest | May 13, 2011 11:30:08 AM

"your posts have officially become less interesting"
Wow! Now who is being superior? Who are you to claim anything "officially"?
My post began as a simple relay of a highlighted piece of news from the Innocence Project of Texas, which seemed to me to illustrate one of the main reasons the Legislators in Connecticut were considering putting forward a bill to abolish the death penalty in that state. I made no further comment on that news other than to suggest that if the case had been a dp one, and he had been executed (very likely after 26 years in Texas!) then an innocent man would have died. That seems to me to be a very valid reason for abolishing the death penalty. I did not do a rant, in the fashion of SC, or engage in outrageous rhetoric in the fashion of Bill or Federalist. If you prefer that, then this blog has ceased to be a serious place to debate.
I do not take part on the blog to entertain, but to inform and generally to give balance against the strident voices of pro-dp commentators who exhibit no sensitivities at all to the innocent or to the families and friends of those who are charged and sentenced to death. Nor sensitive to those victim's families who courageously speak out against the culture of revenge. Nor sensitive to those exonerated, many of whom go around the US and abroad to speak of the abuses they have suffered as a result of the broken death penalty process in the US.
Therefore, you will find no apology from me for speaking out passionately on this blog against an anarchic, brutal and unnecessary practice that the great international forums have denounced, and that Europe, virtually the rest of the Americas, many Africa countries, Australia & New Zealand, and some Asian countries have now abandoned either in full or in part, or in practice.
If you find my posts so boring and devoid of interest, can I count on not receiving any more inane diatribes from you?

Posted by: peter | May 13, 2011 1:51:08 PM

guest --

"Unless Bill Otis is right, and your point is (C): you think the entire idea of 'guilt' is a false construct anyway, because there really are no criminals, only pitiable vulnerable victims of cruel society. I'll assume it's not (C). So what is your point?"

Here's the problem: It IS (C).

As your highly admirable efforts on this thread attest, after a while -- and not much of a while -- you run into a wall.

The analytical arguments in favor of the DP are overwhelming: Incarceration is impossible to envision as justice for some grotesque crimes; the unique incapacitating effect of the DP is unarguable and, for some types of killers, of great value; and the scholarly, historical and ancedotal evidence for deterrence has become, if not conclusive, very, very one-sided.

What's left is the wall. And that's what you're seeing.

The remaining question is, why is it there?

As peter and a few others have made clear, without saying so in haec verba, the answer is that American society stinks to high heaven, to such an extent that it has no reasonable basis, and even less moral standing, to punish what normal people think of as criminals. This is so even if the crime is murder.

This is, for example, why it's so hard to get peter and other abolitionists to talk in detail about the specifics of any particular murder, in the Petit case or otherwise. The reason is not just that they're being obtuse. The reason is that, to their way of thinking, facts about the defendant's behavior don't matter, because the defendant is not the problem. WE'RE the problem.

We're too selfish, too racist, too class-oriented, too brutal, too materialistic, too callous, too primitive, too ______ (fill in the blank).

Since the problem is not the defendant, it's unfair -- indeed, irrational -- to look for the solution in what we should DO to the defendant. So what we should do, if a point be made of it, is nothing (except shovel him a boatload of social services).

In short, the reason you're hitting the wall is that you're misconceiving abolitionism's emotional motor.

Drop in on Crime and Consequences. We don't have much a wall over there.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 13, 2011 5:33:05 PM

Bill
According to you, American society is so riddled with criminal elements that over 2 million of them are justifiably locked up at any one time, and you would probably advocate throwing away the key. That approach was matched at Guantanamo where more than 150 known innocent men and boys were held for years without charge, including an 89-year-old Afghan villager and a 14-year-old boy. Your problem is that you only recognize as valid and relevant, that element of American society which agrees with you. You would seek to justify the waterboarding, 183 times, of Khalid Sheik Mohammed - an action that Senator McCain now publicly admits as torture, and which yielded only false and misleading information.
What is done and said in the name of the American public by you and others is quite distinct from the American society that I come into contact with and know well. And thank God for that. On the question of public attitudes to the death penalty, there is a world of difference between saying someone deserves to die for their actions, and actually choosing to execute them as opposed to imposing secure detention. Most juries are evidence of that as the option of LWOP has revealed. You do not represent American society any more than I do. But by all means run away to Crime and Consequences where you obviously feel more comfortable in the company of the like-minded.

Posted by: peter | May 14, 2011 2:34:02 AM

peter --

"According to you, American society is so riddled with criminal elements that over 2 million of them are justifiably locked up at any one time, and you would probably advocate throwing away the key."

I generally stay away from aggregates in favor of looking at the outcome in each case, one at a time. Part of the reason for that is that "aggregate justice" just isn't ringing a bell with me. I have noticed, however, that there is such a thing as an aggregate crime rate, and that it's at a fifty year low just at the point where we are experiencing the so-called incarceration nation you bemoan. Do you think there might be a relationship between the fact that we have in prison so many people who commit crime and the fact that less crime is getting committed?

"You would seek to justify the waterboarding, 183 times, of Khalid Sheik Mohammed - an action that Senator McCain now publicly admits as torture, and which yielded only false and misleading information."

Senator McCain, a courageous and admirable man, is wrong in this instance, as in a few others. The past head of the CIA (Michael Hayden) and his successor (Leon Panetta) have both confirmed that information that helped build the trail to Osama was in fact obtained by waterboarding.

While we're on that subject, let me ask you this: If we could have averted 9-11 by waterboarding an al Qaeda captive in August 2001, but otherwise could not have averted it, would you have approved the waterboarding?

I understand your first instinct will be to criticize the question rather than answer it; to say that it's hypothetical and that one could never be certain of its premises, etc.

Fine. I would nonetheless request that you answer it anyway, yes or no. Look at it as a thought experiment, if you like. Afterwards, there will be ample time to elaborate on your views.

"What is done and said in the name of the American public by you and others is quite distinct from the American society that I come into contact with and know well."

But the most important question in a country devoted principally to self-rule is not who you know or who I know but what the majority believes. In this country, a 2-1 majority believes in the DP, and that punishment is in keeping with our Constitution and law.

"On the question of public attitudes to the death penalty, there is a world of difference between saying someone deserves to die for their actions, and actually choosing to execute them as opposed to imposing secure detention."

There is less difference than you suppose, at least if one thinks the purpose of litigation is to give the parties what they deserve. And just as there is a history of fallibility in (initially) deciding to impose the DP, there is a far more extensive (and lethal) history of supposedly "secure detention."

It always come as a surprise to me when abolitionists insist that our systems are too flawed to be trusted with capital punishment, but that systems of "secure detention" ADMINISTERED BY EXACTLY THE SAME PEOPLE are guaranteed to be "secure."

"Most juries are evidence of that as the option of LWOP has revealed."

That American juries sometimes choose LWOP and sometimes choose the DP is evidence of nuance, an awareness of the option for mercy (earned or not), and of a flexible approach that should give you more confidence in them, not less.

"You do not represent American society any more than I do."

Actually I do. My views about the DP and drug legalization are held by the majority in this country, as illustrated by a variety of polls I put up recently on another thread. Your views are held by a minority.

"But by all means run away to Crime and Consequences where you obviously feel more comfortable in the company of the like-minded."

I put up at least as many remarks here as I do on Crime and Consequences -- so many, indeed, that some of your liberal allies (but not you, I'm glad to see) have called for me to be banned as too prolific. One could not really say that's an indictment for "running away," now could one?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 14, 2011 11:37:44 AM

Bill -
The emphatic answer to your question re torture is NO! There is a very good reason for the Geneva Convention and it's rejection of the torture of prisoners ... the history of the Second World War, and the means employed by Nazi Germany, and Japan, to extract information from those captured, was a sickening reminder that the cost to the very soul of humanity is too great to bear. A similar revulsion was experinced in more recent times in Northern Ireland, when the IRA or derivatives, captured and tortured British personnel and informers. The use of torture legitimizes its use by "terrorist" and enemy elements, at huge risk to your own. Senator McCain knows this better than most, and no amount of crystalballing of the knowledge that a person may or may not know, can justify such policies. As with crime in general, the best defence is prevention by self awareness of risk, and by education and support of those at risk of committing it. Because of its relative isolation from centres of middle-eastern terrorism, the US, in the case of 9/11, dropped its guard. The consequences were tragic and horrific .... but trying to justify subsequent use of techniques which the Geneva Convention clearly outlaws and classifes as torture, has only created a more dangerous world. You have to look no further than current events/practices in Iran and Syria, to know the revulsion such policies of torture engender in the democratic world.

Posted by: peter | May 15, 2011 3:56:49 AM

peter --

I thank you for your direct response and not trying to dodge.

Your answer, while candid, seems to me to elide half the problem. No normal person thinks torture is a good thing. Indeed, as you point out, it brings out the worst in human nature. The part you decline to address, however, is whether the alternative posed in my question -- i.e., allowing the 9-11 catastrophe to happen for want of the information we did not forcibly extract -- is an acceptable price to pay (or more correctly, for others to pay) to keep pristine the humanitarian values you correctly value.

And the answer is that it is not.

It's a trade-off. Under the hypothetical, we can have either (1) waterboarding, with its associated pain and terror to a particular al Qaeda operative, and which produces the info that enables us to stop 9-11; or (2) no waterboarding, which means that we will have kept ourselves "pure," but at the cost of thousands of people being crippled, disfigured, burned, crushed, mutilated and, of course, killed.

To me, this is a very unhappy choice, but an easy one. I am not about to send 3000 innocent people to a gruesome fate in order to save one guilty one from several minutes of torment.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2011 10:43:20 AM

Bill -
The finest rebuttal and demolition of your argument can be found here:
http://original.antiwar.com/will-van-wagenen/2009/07/08/why-torture-is-evil/
I have linked it from my name.

Posted by: peter | May 17, 2011 3:58:54 AM

peter --

Not only does the article not demolish the argument, it barely addresses it. It simply starts out by declaring that the imminent attack hypothetical is unrealistic, and concludes, after some nicely florid descriptions, that torture is evil.

But to say that the hypothetical is unrealistic is not even to claim, much less prove, that it can't or won't happen. And to say that torture is evil is, again, to elide the central question: Is it MORE evil than allowing catasptrophic and widespread pain, suffering and death to be inflicted upon hunderds or thousands of people for want of pre-attack information SOMEONE out there had and we failed to extract from them?

A choice has to be made. A similar awful choice had to be made at the end of WWII: Were we (1) to prolong the war with an invasion of an intransigent Japan, producing untold numbers of disfigured, grievously wounded and killed servicemen, plus an unknown number of civilian casualties, or (2) shorten the war with the gruesome (and indiscriminate) power of the atomic bomb, which was sure to produce, and did produce, terrible suffering among hundreds if not thousands of civilians.

Both those things bring with them a lot of evil. The reality of it was that Truman had to choose.

The denial of awful tradeoffs in war, including the war jihad has thrust upon us, is not an answer. It's denial.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 17, 2011 5:30:35 AM

Bill -
The only possible response, if your view was to be held, is that all nation states have the authority to engage in torture as a "right of self-protection". Unfortunately, the interests of nation states are not always the same or in concurrence with those of the United States. So you have to accept that the old Soviet Union was entitled to torture not only its own people who rebelled against Communism, but foreign nationals when held as spies; that Libya and Syria and Iran, and probably North Korea, to name a few, are entitled to torture those who are seen to act against the existing authority; and so on. There is no "Holy Grail" that applies only to the United States. By attempting to show some kind of commensurate morality between the act of torture on an individual and the reprisal actions of warfare, you have gone beyond the realms of International Humanity Law as detailed by the Geneva Convention, in which these clauses as just a part:

Art. 32. The High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishments, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment of a protected person, but also to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents.

Art. 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Your current Government, and all others that we tend to regard as mature democratic states, at least publicly, and I hope in practice, do not support your view or that of the former administration in which you served. Long may that hold.

Posted by: peter | May 17, 2011 8:26:54 AM

peter --

Does that mean that Truman was, in fact, a war criminal? What he did was incomparably worse than torture. And Art. 33 states, as you note, "...all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."

Use of the atomic bomb was designed PRECISELY as a means of intimidation and terror -- specifically, to terrorize Japan into surrendering without our having to invade. The terror was accomplished, as you know, by an attack on two largely militarily irrelevant cities, knowing that the civilian population would be devasted by radiation burns, among a variety of other ghastly things far worse than anything KSM experienced.

So was Truman a war criminal?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 18, 2011 12:28:56 AM

Bill -
Had the position been reversed, and the bomb had been used against the American population to demonstrate overwhelming military supremacy, there is no doubt that you would have been among the first to proclaim that the act was an atrocity against humanity. As you did with the acts of 9/11.

When formulating International Law, it is essential to see the world as the home of humanity, not as tribes of alien species. If there must be conflict between us at times, at least we can do our best to protect and preserve our respect for the individual. Each man's life is a living symbol of who we are, and who our children will be. By disrespecting the life of our enemy, we disrespect ourselves and our children. The act of torture against another human being desecrates the essence of humanity all of us represent. As does the act of execution.

Posted by: peter | May 18, 2011 3:31:47 AM

peter --

Without saying so directly, your answer makes it clear that you do, in fact, regard Truman as a war criminal.

I would rest my case there, but I'll add one more thing: You continue to refuse to discuss the inescapable choosing between dreadful alternatives. Adults simply do not get to insist That Goodness Prevail, And That Ends It.

No, it doesn't end it. A choice among alternative courses of action has to be made, and in considering which to pursue, it is not only valid but imperative that the chooser distinguish between the savage attackers (Osama, KSM, Imperial Japan) and those called upon to stop them and bring them to justice (the USA).

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 19, 2011 2:27:01 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB