Friday, April 27, 2012

An Interesting Scenerio-Courtesy of Daily Kos

WE'd Love to hear your opinions about this!

An innocent man is sentenced to death, and is led into the death chamber on the appointed day.  At the very last minute, he manages to escape from the restraints using a weapon he smuggled in and kills the guards present who are trying to assist in his execution.  Just seconds later - so that there is no time for the prisoner's execution to be carried out by other guards - a reprieve is called in, which would have been too late if the prisoner had cooperated.  The prisoner surrenders and is returned to his cell, and during the course of the reprieve, he is proven innocent and all previous charges against him are dropped.

Now let's assume the prosecutors and judges in his state are conservatives, and decide to charge him with 1st degree murder for defending himself against the guards who were trying to murder him.  Let's further assume the juries in the state are conservatives and convict him, sentencing him to death.  The Supreme Court upholds his conviction and death sentence 5-4, ruling (as Antonin Scalia actually has in real life) that proven innocence is not a legal basis to avoid punishment and thus the prisoner was obligated to die from the original conviction, meaning that he had no right to defend his own life and is therefore guilty of murder.  I.e., he must die now because he would not die before when the state wanted to kill him, even though their justification was proven false.

What we find in this all-too-plausible scenario is that the true nature of capital punishment is revealed - it has nothing to do with criminal justice, and everything to do with asserting the power of the state to take the lives of its citizens.  Now, a practical politician would probably not allow such an execution to take place because there would be significant public sympathy for the guy - a pardon would be likely, if not from a governor, then from a President.  But the logic of capital punishment nonetheless would assert that the state would have the authority to kill him for defending his own life, because he allegedly had no right to do so when the state had ordered his original execution.  And it boils down to whether or not a human life is state property, or indeed property at all - a question that additionally reveals the unmitigated hypocrisy of conservatives and most libertarians who are in favor of or indifferent to capital punishment.

I will say it clearly: Defending one's own life is a fundamental, absolute human right not subject to any conditions.  That can lead to real complexities in war or other scenarios with armed combatants who are free to act and threaten each other, but there is no imaginable scenario in which a prisoner who is in custody and under restraint may be legally or morally killed - there are no ambiguities to that.  It is cold-blooded murder for a person in custody deprived of any capability of defending themselves to be strapped down and their life taken.  To argue otherwise is to claim that the immorality of private murders is only because they lack state approval, which is an inherently nihilistic and totalitarian argument.

But let us extend the scenario even further, and say that the prisoner did not defend his own life - let's say a member of his family killed the guards to prevent the execution taking place.  If the executioners were home-invasion robbers, no one would dispute the family has a right to defend its members.  But is the action illegitimate simply because a killer wears a badge and carries a piece of paper allegedly giving him the authority to commit cowardly, cold-blooded murder?  Or let's say the execution does take place and the innocent prisoner is murdered by the guards - something that has happened several times in the past few years - would it be legitimate for the family of the prisoner to seek revenge on the guards, or would their desire for revenge be less legitimate than the families of the other victims who had originally demanded the prisoner's death out of a false belief in his guilt?  Does the grief of a convicted perpetrator's family entitle them to less sympathy than the grief of victims' families - does the guilt of their family member transfer to them by blood or emotional connection?  No moral person would claim that, and yet our "justice" system implicitly holds that to be true.

A capital murder trial is basically the other 300 million people of US society appointing 12 of their members to decide whether to kill 1 of their members.  How is this legitimate?  Let's reduce it to the absurdity that it is: Instead of 300 million, what about a group of 10 million?  Or 1 million?  Or 1 thousand?  What about two people in a group of three deciding to kill the third?  At what number of participants does a conspiracy to commit murder become a function of "justice"?  How do twelve people have any greater claim to such authority than two?  If the claim is made that the social contract implicitly agrees to give other citizens this power, then it must also be argued that it is legitimate for the Mafia to kill its own members since their social contract also implicitly acknowledges this authority.  In fact, we must say that about all criminal organizations engaged in murder, and also extend the logic to people who merely associate with them in any way since they're aware of what could happen.  

OR we can say that human life is an absolute right beyond any authority to destroy, and the only situations where lives can be taken is where the only other choice is to allow other, less culpable lives to be taken - defense of life.  Granted, conservatives in their infinite perversity will often try to twist this principle into arguing that making an example of convicted killers saves lives, but aside from being objectively untrue, they betray once again how they think: They do not place any inherent value in a human life, only in its utility to themselves and to groups they identify with.  But this is not part of any remotely defensible definition of justice: A person's right to exist is not predicated on their political utility in keeping others in line, and they cannot be punished for the suppositional future crimes of others.  Once again, we see the deranged hypocrisy of the right in its love for collective punishment and objectification of individuals in order to control groups.

Basically, capital punishment is indefensible on every level there is, and its level of tolerance in a society indicates how advanced or how degenerate it is.  Those who have abolished it - and I mean sincerely abolished it, not merely substituted extrajudicial killings for overt process - prove themselves among the most civilized.  Those who have followed a trend of increasing restrictions and rare practice are at least proving their commitment to progress and decency.  But those parts of our country who have been unrepentant state killers of people in their custody, let alone reveling in it, prove themselves barbaric and unaccountable, and will likely threaten the safety and security of the rest of the United States as time goes on.

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