The execution of Saddam Hussein on Saturday, December 30th, 2006, once again brings to light the old debate about the effectiveness of capital punishment. The reasons why he was executed in such haste and the secrets he might have taken to grave is the subject of another article. But is capital punishment an effective tool and is it a moral approach in deterring crime?
Advocates of capital punishment argue that by executing criminals others will think twice about committing the same crime. That it can be a public lesson in the consequences for violent or immoral behavior. Hence the extreme example of public executions in some countries around the world. But, is it effective? Many reports by international organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International, and the Human Rights Watch have indicated that in countries such China or the United States, crime rates have not been affected by capital punishment whether the executions were public or not.
The fact it that criminal activity in society has many reasons, namely: poverty, racism, discrimination, and lack of resources such as adequate public education and health care. So long as these problems exist, criminal activity continues, no matter how many executions are performed. The focus of a society should be on prevention and healing and not just on punishment. Numerous studies in the US have shown that the majority of death row inmates are either poor, people of color, or both and they lacked the resources to have proper legal defense at the time of their trail. Recent DNA tests have shown that a number of people who were sentenced to death were completely innocent.
Ironically, many of the same people who are in favor of the death penalty, are the so-called pro-life advocates who insist that it’s morally correct to preserve 150 cells of a human embryo, but yet advocate taking someone’s life or bombing other countries. They claim that capital punishment is morally justified and it is an “eye for an eye.” But they forget what Gandhi said: “ An eye for an eye, will leave the whole world blind.”
If morality indicates the sanctity and preservation of life, then taking a human life is morally unjustified. When a mass murderer is put to death, the state is doing exactly what the murderer did: taking a human life or as the Pope recently regarded the Saddam Hussein’s execution as a crime to answer another crime. Executions do not create justice; rather they are a temporary relief for vengeful desires. Instead of promoting healing, reconciliation and forgiveness, executions create an atmosphere of vengeance and bloodletting.
Countries around the world should follow the great example of the European Union and abolish the death penalty forever. Humanity must aspire to higher moral standards, and one of these standards is the abolishment of capital punishment throughout our planet.
As for Saddam Hussein, he should have been tried in an international court, because he committed crimes against his own people and against the people of Iran and Kuwait. He should have been sentenced to life in prisonment without the possibility of parole. He should have been made to work: building roads, schools and hospitals in Iraq. Unfortunately, this humane approach could not have been possible in a country under a brutal occupation.
NOTE: There are a number of organizations that are working to abolish the death penalty in the US, one being the Death Penalty Focus.